The Debate Rages On: Is NaNoWriMo a good thing or not?
Emotions run high when this question is asked. I mean, folks get seriously heated. Fans of NaNoWriMo start heating the tar and gathering the feathers whenever someone suggests that maybe NaNoWriMo isn’t the best thing ever. Critics of NaNoWriMo sharpen their pen nibs in preparation to eviscerate the works produced by anyone during the event. It’s a little crazy, to be honest.
Okay, let’s pause for a moment. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, let me explain. No, there’s too much. Let me sum up. The acronym (which I’m too lazy to type yet again because of the annoy placement of capital letters) stands for National Novel Writing Month. Folks can go to the website, create an account, announce a novel project, and then attempt to write 50,000 words of material in a single month. That averages out to 1,667 words a day. I won’t bore you with the history of how this international phenomenon got started. For that story, click here.
For or Against?
I am FOR!
With some qualifications.
I agree with many others that NaNoWriMo is not a good fit for everyone. Justin Brouckaert articulated my feelings pretty well in his guest post on the Submittable blog titled A Case Against NaNoWriMo. Despite what the declarative title suggests, Justin is not vehemently anti-NaNo. He just wrote a horrible piece of trash (I’m paraphrasing him) in NaNo and thought he was going to go nuts from the pressure.
Different people have different writing processes.
Some folks absolutely adore extrinsic motivators, which is pretty much exactly what NaNo is. Other folks fold like a wet napkin in a high wind at the first sign of pressure.
Some writers thrive on establishing a rock-solid daily writing habit. I like to write every day, no matter what. (Not that I always get to do things the way I want to. See my earlier post about my kids for more details on that front.) Other people tend to write best when they produce work in a more accordion style, with long stretches of empty pages followed by rapid bursts of prolific words.
Some folks are communal writers. They love talking shop with other writers, joining up at coffee shops or in library meeting rooms to sit and write together, posting updates on all the social media platforms. Hooray for the global connectedness that is the internet! Other writers, though, are solitary people (when they’re creating, at least) and find the whole social, communal aspect of NaNoWriMo repellant.
My Own Experience With NaNoWriMo
All I can say is this: for me, there are more positives than negatives in participating.
For starters, participating in my very first NaNoWriMo taught me that I have the capacity for self-discipline needed to write an entire novel.
Also, the stamina. I mean, people! Writing a novel is like running a marathon. That might be too gentle an analogy. It’s like taking part in an Ironman competition. I went into that first NaNoWriMo all, “Yeah! I’m going to write a whole novel in just one month!” Well, that’s not what happened. I did “win” the event by writing 50,000 words in the month of November, but I was startled to discover that my book was far from finished. I continued writing (every day, thanks to the habit I’d cultivated during November) and proudly finished up my book in March of that year. It topped off at just over 96,000 words.
It was a disgusting beast of a first draft. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was a horrible piece of trash. But it existed. I’d done it. I’d written a full draft of a novel. If nothing else, I now knew that I had the sheer stamina necessary to write a book. I tucked that draft away in the bottom drawer of my writing desk, where I shall probably keep it until my dying day.
See, I think of NaNoWriMo not as a chance to pen a masterpiece, but as an opportunity to simply practice the art of writing. It inspires me. It excites me. Heck, it bolstered my confidence enough join the North Shore Writer’s Group to apply to the MFA in Creative Writing program at Lesley University. NaNoWriMo exposed me to new people and new ways of thinking and new opportunities.
So, yes, I think NaNoWriMo is a positive force for creativity, despite what some might say.
What do you think about NaNoWriMo? Have you participated? Will you again? Why or why not?
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I love NaNo and am so glad I found it last year, but I agree that it’s not for everyone. That’s why I’m with Kathy and Jemima – Camp NaNoWriMo is great because you can set your own parameters and more sustainable goals. And the cabins are fantastic.
The camps are amazing, aren’t they?! I’ll keep you in mind come April. Are you going to be joining in the madness that begins at midnight tonight?
I like NaNo because it gives me an excuse to shoo the family away with, “I have to do this! They’re keeping track! I signed up.” They say “Oh, okay” and tiptoe away. Yippee!
But the pressure gets to me and I’m usually sick with a cold by the end of it. This year, I’m unofficially signed up and planning on 2k words a day on my own. I think NaNo is Great, and if people don’t enjoy it or want to do it, they don’t have to. If they want to go at a different pace, or change the rules for their own personal NaNo, that’s fine too. It’s all good in my book 🙂
Yes to all of that! Use it, shape it, mold it to suit your needs. It’s a tool, a fun tool (IMO) but a tool nevertheless. If only “Shoo, I have to do this” worked with my family! I would LOVE that. Do you have your own writing space with a door that can be shut?
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I’m a big fan of NaNo – participated and “won” for many years. That being said, some years were a massive struggle while others went smoothly. For me, it’s about challenging myself in various ways, giving myself a deadline, feeling a part of something bigger than myself even as I sit alone in my little office. 🙂
I agree with all that you said. Deadlines help me tremendously. I love being part of something bigger than myself. And, I LOVE challenging myself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂
I am so glad you brought up the camps, Jemima. I actually prefer the April and July camps to the November event. The cabins are a fantastic idea. The November event is stale by comparison to the boisterous, ebullient vibe of Camp NaNoWriMo. If I had to do just one event all year, it would be the July Camp. July because I’m a school teacher, so that’s the month with the fewest other things competing for space on my crowded plate, but I also adore the April camp. What is it about the month of November that forces you to pass things up? November is a blah time of year for me up here in New England. The leaves are off the trees and the world looks… well, gross, quite frankly. It’s a weird, awkward phase where things aren’t really autumn anymore but they aren’t winter yet, either. My motivation runs pretty low in November, so NaNoWriMo is just the ticket to imbue me with a bit of energy and get my fingers back to the keyboard.
I don’t do Nano because it’s in November, but I am truly glad I found Camp Nano, which happens in April and July (although the first I did was in August). Indie writers have other lives plus they have to market their books, so anything that helps get through a solid bit of writing (or editing) is good.
The most successful camps for me have been where there are enough people in the cabin (I don’t know if Nano works in buddy groups) to have a few who keep going and have mini-chats with each other.
But what I really gain from Nano is the schedule. I am truly driven by getting my word count over that line.
And I can also then say “no, I can’t do that, I’m at writing camp” to anyone who asks!