NaNoWriMo: Should You Participate?

The short answer is: it depends. Let me explain.

I’ll start with why you should do NaNoWriMo.

To start off, there is a fear and a strength that comes from the act of attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It reminds me a little of writers boot camp, where only the ‘strong’ survive.

If you are already a practicing writer and you just need that focus and the support of your peers to get it done, then camp NaNoWriMo could be a good idea. Perhaps you’re a new writer, but have no expectation of getting a published work together just yet, and need a boost to get something started, then great.

If you have a lot of time on your hands and are able to immerse yourself in the writing process, then this could be for you. Or, if you need to get that first draft down and this seems like as good’er time as any, then perfect.

NaNoWriMo can help with a writer’s self-discipline, which is a very valuable habit to be able to set up. If you take only this from a month’s worth of work, you should be incredibly proud of yourself, and pleased to see that you have the ability to do it (even if you missed a day here or there).

Some writers know that they work well quickly and under pressure – in which case, this might well be the event of the year for you.

But, there are a few reasons why NaNoWriMo may not be for you:

Being a new writer is meant to be a fun time, you can experiment and find out what works best for you. Whether that be writing for an hour after class, or reaching a certain word count, or writing all day on a Saturday. Just because one doesn’t fit you and your lifestyle and another does, does not make you any less (or more) of a writer.

Most people do not reach their goal of 50,000 words. That is because it’s a lot to get done. And honestly, as long as you are enjoying writing and are improving, what does it matter if you take two months to write the book?

When the word count is all that matters, what happens to the substance of your work? If what is actually in your book is a close second on your priorities list, then something is not quite right.

Having a deadline and an aim can help. A lot. But having so much pressure that you can’t enjoy writing or imagine clearly what you are wanting to write may stifle your creativity. Which is why many writers reach burn out.

After around 3 million writers attempting it, only 250 have landed themselves a traditional publishing deal. So if this is your main aim, it’s best to think again before pinning your hopes on this process. Getting a book deal is always going to be somewhat of a mountain to climb.

It can be crushing to new writers to try writing and ‘fail’ simply because they didn’t reach a word count margin. Many attempt to hash out their novel idea, and most fail. This is because writers are human beings and not ape-like machines. True, you can try and write Shakespeare’s works by writing as many words as possible. But you don’t have to try it all in one month.

A new writer might want to try out a few writing exercises, instead. A small and regular writing practice of half an hour a day before work starts may not sound as glamorous as bashing out an entire novel within one month, but in the long run, it is much more do-able.

Around four out of five writers do not “win” and reach their aim of 1,667 words per day. And it’s no wonder. This aim leaves no time for revisions, just in case you didn’t plot your novel exactly right. It doesn’t allow for that day where the cat got sick and you couldn’t get in touch with the babysitter. It doesn’t allow for humanness.

This kind of discipline is important, and valuable, yes. But the idea that missing a few days out of a month means you have now failed as a writer, is preposterous. You cannot fail at being a writer. Even if you don’t ever write a word again, if you feel in your soul that you are a writer, then that is enough.

If you’re not sure about how you want to write, then trying out NaNoWriMo can be a blessing or a curse. You can tell pretty early on if counting words every day is your thing. So don’t punish yourself with an extra 28 days writing in a way that feels unnatural to you, just because someone tweeted about it on twitter once.

It also feels like a bit of a gimmick – professional writers will often take ten years to complete their work. And that doesn’t have the same appeal as the message; ‘you can easily write a novel within a month’. NaNoWriMo seems to be the ultimate weight loss tablet, the writer’s get rich quick scheme. It’s a quick fix to the big problem that is writing. So make sure you see it as a part of your process, and not the end of your writing career (whether you meet the word count or not).

Schemes and lists make me shudder when it comes to the creative process. But here’s the good news: Writers do not need NaNoWriMo. Thank goodness. 

You can simply start writing and develop a discipline all of your own. Then you can focus on the good stuff. What really matters – the spark of inspiration, the quality of your work, following your characters down a dark hole and then out again. Dreaming on paper.