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Are You a Friend or Foe of NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing MonthIt’s NaNoWriMo time again, and participants in the November 1-30 event are not partying like it’s 1999. That’s because National Novel Writing Month is a much bigger party now!

Yes, the number of NaNoWriMo “entrants” who attempt to author a 50,000-word book in just thirty days soared from 21 during the event’s ’99 debut to more than 200,000 last year.

But is all that “socializing” with your computer worth it? Or is the NaNoWriMo experience like attending a party so wild that you end up keyboarding your novel with a lampshade over your head?

These questions naturally motivated Writer’s Relief to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the word-frenzy-palooza some of you have tried in the past, some of you will try in the future, and some of you are trying at this very moment!

The Pros of All That Prose:
1. Writing a novel in a month can be liberating because you spill out sentences without agonizing over them. There’s little time for writer’s block (or for eating; we recommend running an IV line from your kitchen). By November 30, your pages are in a computer file rather than only in your head. After that, your pre-masterpiece can be revised—as in, extensively revised.

2. It’s great discipline to write a lot each day, and composing a 50,000-word novel in a month means averaging 1,667 words per day. We asked some current NaNoWriMo participants how many words per hour that is, and this was their mathematically precise answer: “Leave us the heck alone! Can’t you see we’re busy?”

3. Writing the first draft of a novel so quickly gives you permission to “Take chances! Make mistakes!”—as teacher Ms. Frizzle puts it in The Magic School Bus TV episodes inspired by the book series. Taking chances and making mistakes can be good for a writer’s creative process. Besides, you don’t want to spurn the advice of a fictional character, do you? Do you?

4. Having a first draft completed, rather than only in your mind, makes it easier for fellow authors and others to critique your concept. Schedule that December writing group meeting now—and don’t forget to invite Santa!

5. After completing a novel in thirty days, almost any future writing you do will seem easier by comparison. Sort of like training with weights on your ankles before taking them off when it’s time to run an official race. (Taking off the weights, that is; keep your ankles on please.)

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The Cons of All Those Consonants and Vowels:
1. While it’s good to quickly get a first draft into your computer, a novel that isn’t well thought out results in a revision process significantly more difficult than if the first draft had been better. If you want to make lemonade out of a lemon, the lemon needs to have some juice—and a structure (the peel!) to contain the juice.

2. If you’re already working on a novel, short story, poem, or other work, NaNoWriMo can be a distraction that takes you away from those endeavors. Decide what’s most important to you—and don’t split the difference by writing a 50,000-word haiku.

3. For those of you with a day job, family, or other responsibilities, the huge amount of time and energy it takes to write a novel in one month might get you fired (by your boss, spouse, or kids).

4. If you decide to go NaNoWriMo-ing, do you really want to be obsessing over your “speed novel” on Thanksgiving Day? What if the book is a real turkey?

5. Can your computer keyboard survive into December after all that incessant pounding? When November runs its course, you might be wailing this ungrammatical lament: “D’oh! MyCoWoNoMo.” (“D’oh! My computer works no more.”)

Wondering what to do with your NaNo book after you’ve finished it? Read this before you make your next move: After NaNoWriMo: Take The Next Steps To Publish Your Book Manuscript.

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not? Please keep your comment under 50,000 words!

P.S. Drop by our blog again on THURSDAY! Carolina Quarterly (a great market for writers) will be giving away a FREE subscription to one person who leaves a comment. So keep your eyes peeled!

29 Responses to Are You a Friend or Foe of NaNoWriMo?

  1. I participated in last year NaNoWriMo and ended up finishing a fantasy novel that I had hanging on my head for two years. Last April the novel got published, as a four book series. So this year I have to skip NaNo in order to get my final book done and published :)

    For me NaNo has been very helpful, I wrote like mad and I can hit 8000 words/day (on a good day) in average I wrote 2500 words. I finished up my last year NaNo having written around 85.000 words it was great exercise and giving me a lot of workable material for the coming year :)

  2. Thanks to everyone for your fantastic comments about NaNo. It’s been a very interesting conversation! We’ve loved reading all of your different points of view and learning about your experiences.

    We’ve tried to keep things balanced: five pros, five cons, and the rest is up to you! Many of you have added some excellent ideas to the discussion (especially those of you who pointed out that NaNo’s fast pace doesn’t mean that writers are not prepared in advance for it).

    At the end of the day, whether you land on the “pro” or “con” side of NaNo depends on what kind of writer you are and what your goals are.

    Keep the comments coming! And good wishes to everyone who is taking the NaNo challenge! We appreciate your taking a moment to visit our blog and chime in!

  3. I’m in my 5th NaNoWriMo (4 wins under my belt), and there’s nothing I’d rather do with my November! Letting my subconscious run unchecked is the most fun I’ve ever had. Watch for my 2008 NaNo, ‘The Shadows of Duluth’ due out next year. Without NaNoWrimo it would still be just a stupid short story hiding in a dresser drawer, with no trebuchet in sight

    How much do I love the process? In 2012 I’ll do 3 personalNoWriMos, including my first attempt at Noir. Can’t wait to see how that turns out!

  4. I’m glad I took the time to read the comments by other NanoWriters, because they covered all the things I got angry about in your article (which, by the way, did sound a little elitist). I had — oh — about 125 novel ideas in different stages of development, but never any serious accomplishment on any. Until I found Nanowrimo.But still, being in November, with the holidays and guests arriving, I never finished. Until they started CampNanowrimo this summer! Ah to stay in A/C in July and August and just write! Two novels in the pipeline, and a quarter way through this month’s already. I’ve learned that a good editing process fixes all the lost subplots. I’ve learned never to edit more than the last two paragraphs from last night. And I’ve learned that you can write anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 words in just two hours with a good road map, which we are allowed to create before the 1st of the month. So, what I’m saying is, for some of us who need the challenge, and get easily bored with perfection that never happens, it works. I’m living a life-long dream. Hooray for us Nano Geezers! And Hip Hip for Nanowrimo!

  5. I love NaNoWriMo and have participated every year since 2006, “winning” 4 out of those 6 years. I’m participating again this year. The first year, my day job entailed writing dry dull technical papers, and I desperately needed a change. I also needed to learn to muzzle my evil inner editor. It seems to have worked, because I got a great (though messy) first draft out of it. I keep intending to get back to and rewrite, revise and edit into something possibly publishable. (Only one other of the six NaNo novels I wrote is remotely worth attempting to get into shape for publishing.) Something no one else has mentioned is the Young Writers Program that the Office of Letters and Light sponsors through donations by NaNo participants. Many kids and teens are participating under the aegis of their schools, and some are doing it on their own, and it is a beautiful thing to see youth doing something so empowering and educational. (BTW, I’m in my sixties and know a lot of older folks who participate (we are called Geezers on the site), so NaNo is NOT just an activity for the young.) (Also btw, I am a “seat-of-the-pantster” writer and do minimal research and planning, which is possibly the reason only 2 out of 6 of my efforts were worth anything.)

  6. I have been participating in NaNo every year since 2006. While nothing that comes off my hard drive at the end of November is what I would call quality, what I do have is a very detailled, 50,000 word outline. As for the comment about serious writers, several NaNo projects have been picked up by various big houses (Water for Elephants is only one example).

    It is a liberating, exhilerating, adventure that I will participate in until the fingers refuse to type (I’m only 51 so I have plenty of time).

  7. First, 50,000 words isn’t a novel by most definitions.

    Second, that number was picked because it is possible for folks to do while still having family and work commitments.

    I work a full time job. I have two children, one three and the other four months. I won last year, and I am currently a couple days ahead. (A few extra words a day and you don’t need to write at all on Thanksgiving.)

    While everyone may naturrally write at their own pace, a lot of folks have problems over-planning or getting derailed by road blocks that they can learn to navigate with ease. NaNoWriMo teaches a lot of valuable novel writing skills, and the more a person writes the better they become at it.

    Ultimately everyone knows what comes out of NaNoWriMo is a lot of crap. It’s really a pre-rough-draft, or draft #0 (that is, something that comes before draft #1).

    Like so many English teachers have said, “There are no good writers, there are only good re-writers.” Writing 50,000 words is easy (and wonderfully enjoyable). Turning those words into a 75,000 word novel worth reading is harder.

  8. I gave it a try, and I’ve come to a crashing halt at 7,767 words. It just burnt me out, and between Halloween parties, my birthday (11/1), Thanksgiving, and a billion other things, it’s just not possible for me. Maybe if it was a three month fall project, I could do it. I’m more of a careful writer than one who recklessly writes 3,000 words a day. Right now though I want to finish a draft of a screenplay I wrote, and start a new screenplay soon, so that novel will just have to wait for some other day!

  9. I love NaNoWriMo! It’s a mad-cap, headlong rush into writing that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s completely exhilarating! And, yes, 95% of what I write during this 30 days turns out to be crap, but that other 5%… well, that’s the part that’s worth it. I’ve never felt more at home than I do when I’m speeding through a story I didn’t know existed with people I literally just created/met. It may not be for everyone, but it works for me!

  10. This is the fourth NaNoWriMo I’ll be participating in, and as a 3-time winner, I’d just like to share my experience.
    I think Nano is the type of thing that just makes you GO. After I made my account in August, two months before Nano was set to begin, I was terrified. I considered just abandoning the whole idea. But writing that first novel started me on the road to becoming a readable author some day. Since then, I’ve written two more Nano novels and two non-Nano novels – things I thought I would put off until I was sure I was “serious” about writing before I did Nano.
    Writing a novel in a month liberated me, allowing me to write because I love it, and plot with abandon, and not worry about whether or not what I was churning out was good enough to ever get published.
    So that’s why I’m doing this crazy endeavor for a fourth time – it’s a challenge, it’s crazy fun, and it reminds me why I write – because I love it, not because I need to be the biggest literary genius of my generation. Being a genius would be nice, but having a completed project like that feels a lot better than the fantasy of being the next JK Rowling. It proves that I, too, can write a novel. And so can you. I’d recommend trying NaNoWriMo sometime during your writing career, even if you decide not to do it this year.

  11. First, Allow me to Point out that today, on day 7, I am projected to be finished with my November Novel on the 13th, well before the holidays! That or to write 150,000 words this Month, of course that sounds so unrealistic, except that I wrote over 112,000 last year.

    Second, Although you have both logical pros and cons for why participating in NaNoWriMo can cause problems for a publishable piece of literary work. What you failed to take into account, is that many people, myself included do spend the same amount of time planning and preparing for writing that novel in 30 days. I have been participating, not necessarily with the intent of publishing the work I write in November, but to hone the writing skills that I need to write publishable work.

    Third, but far from least important, is that people need goals. Is the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month or 1,667 words per day unreasonable? I don’t think so, in fact I average over 4,000 words per day every day, so I think it is completely reasonable to assume that any person could conceivably write a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. However, I don’t think it’s reasonable or ever meant to be published without taking the same road of Editing and Revising as you would any other manuscript. After all, just because the words are there, doesn’t mean that someone should read them before you’ve looked over them at least twice.

    and to close, I participate in NaNoWriMo because…
    1. I enjoy the challenge.
    2. To meet Other like minded people – Writers!
    3. For the Critique groups and monthly write-in’s that have come from it.
    4. Because sometimes you find a very good writer, who writes something you would enjoy reading, but might never have heard of otherwise.
    5. Lastly, Because despite the stress it can cause, I enjoy the fast pace, and the wonderful people I have met because of it.

    P.S. And for those who think it’s strictly for Fiction writing, it’s not, There are several in our region that write Non-Fiction, Memoir, Research, and Educational books during November.

    Also consider this – 354 words not counted towards my Novel (Prior to this note,) How many words do you type in a typical day, and think carefully, Status posts, Emails, Text Messages (Yes some write their novels on their cell phones,) Commenting on Blogs, etc. Add them up sometime, you might be surprised what you could do, if you took 30 minutes a day to write something meaningful to you.

    Thank you for your time.

  12. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for a few years – happily I end up with a lot of words and ideas. The best thing I took from the NaNoWriMo experience is that I learned how to keep focused, at least for a month, and write out 50,000 words. I wish I could keep that focus going the rest of the year.

  13. Been there. Done that. Loved it. Got two first drafts done. Would most likely have those silly stories running arpund my head wreaking havoc if I didn’t do NaNo.

  14. Yes, I’ve participated in NaNo. In fact, I’ve done it seven times. And I “won” every time I did it. NaNo was a fantastic tool for me to learn how to complete a novel, how to get into the writing zone quickly and on a regular basis, and it let me meet lots of other writers in my area (I was also a local leader for NaNo for six years). NaNo can be a fantastic tool, but it’s just a tool.
    This year, I’m not doing NaNo because it has served it’s purpose in my life. I can write at about 2000 words an hour (yes, that means during NaNo I spent less than a hour a day at the keyboard). I can finish a novel (in fact, I have lots of finished novels!) Now I’m focusing on finding an agent and continuing my novel in progress (something that if you follow NaNo to a “T” you can’t do). I love NaNo and will always be thankful. I highly recommend it to anyone struggling to get their words out, to finish their books. It will help you if you let it. But yes, you’ll have to edit. And hey, nothing says you can plan and plot before November starts (so there’s no need to be without that structure that this article implies is lacking!).

  15. I have participated in NaNo since 2005 and look forward to it each year – it is kind of like a little writing holiday filled with coffee and goodies. I have crossed the “finish” line the last five years (2005 was my only fail as I had come to the party late). It is a very liberating experience. The voices in my head get their time in the sun and I let the “muse” take control.

    It is true that there are extensive rewrites, but I am always surprised that I can turn out half way decent writing. I write short stories and in November I get a chance to push it further.

    I would tell people to give it a try.

  16. I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I never have, and I’m not sure I ever will. I am a slow soul, and all that rapid-fire writing may send me into a senseless frenzy. I need time to pause, especially at transitions in my book, and reflect on whether I am going in the right direction. I fear I would not make sense if I tried to do it any other way. NaNoWriMo is an exciting proposition because it promises a chance to get deeply involved with your work. I think I will take that excitement that is brewing in the atmosphere this month and use it to fuel my process without falling prey to it.

  17. NaNoWriMo is very much a distraction…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    NaNoWriMo is a gimmick…and one that I enjoy.

    It is very true that you can’t rush quality writing. It is, for me anyway, a frustratingly slow process of drafting and redrafting. For me NaNo is an opportunity to write something fun and to do it in the camaraderie of others. There have been times where I have either done the contest half-heartedly as I had other things going on or abandoned it altogether as I had other projects I needed to concentrate upon.
    I can’t imagine that any serious writer would think that they would have a novel by the end of the month, especially at only 50K words. For me, it’s just a fun activity that helps distract from the drudgery of the real world. And who knows? However bad my NaNo text is, I might always revamp it into something else later.

  18. It’s usually halfway through the month before I’m reminded it’s NaNoWriMo. Not that it matters, I’ve got this novel I wrote three chapters for three years ago, and now my characters are sitting around a fire and they won’t DO anything!

    Maybe I’ll take the few pages of that magick university idea I wrote last month and call that the beginning of my NaNoWriNoval…

  19. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a snobby know-it-all, but NaNoWriMo always sounded like a stunt to me. Serious writers write at their own pace; it might take you a month to finish a draft, or it might take you a year. It could be good training for people who are just getting started (they’ll quickly learn how easy writing a novel isn’t).

    That’s my two cents.

  20. I thought I’d take a break from working my fingers across the keyboard like lightning, and give my take on NaNoWriMo.

    This is my second year NaNoing, and I love it. I’m a freelance writer by day and a fiction writer by night (of course all this writing happens in my living room, but I still have set times for “work!”) NaNo forces me to make fiction more of a priority. I have one finished manuscript from last year that I am ready to start shopping around, and this year’s story is starting to form into something I may actually be able to edit and polish and turn loose on reading public.

    The problem with fiction for me is, well, laziness. I always start with the best intentions, but I don’t get paid to write it like I do for my freelance stuff, so it always ends up shelved. By the end of NaNo, I have a rough draft that I can edit in my spare time. I find it much easier to refine my ideas than actually come up with them.

    The point of my rambling is that I feel NaNo is beneficial, because I am forced to work on my story for x amount of words a day. Plus, it has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. That’s what editing is for. ;)

  21. I’ve participated and won every year since 2002, and I credit Nanowrimo with my first successes in serious writing. Before 2002, I was like a lot of people – I was going to write a book “one day.” But I had a family and a job and a social life, and it was always easier to put that “one day” off for one more day.

    I had another problem lots of people had. I had written a first chapter. But that first chapter needed a little fixing. It wasn’t as perfect as the first chapters of some of my favorite novels, so I needed to re-construct each sentence, and by the time it was perfect, I had kind of forgotten where chapter two was supposed to be headed. Nanowrimo got me out of the “revise as you go” mindset and into the “just write some words” mindset. When I thought about my first draft in terms of quantity not quality, I was suddenly free to stop worrying about whether that sentence was the best it could be. In fact, I was okay with writing lots and lots of sentences that I knew at the time I would end up taking out. I started thinking of it this way: my mother is a photographer, and she will take at least 50 pictures to find the one that she really feels great about, but there’s no way to know exactly which picture that is without taking all of them.

    There’s no rule in Nanowrimo that says that you can’t spend your October outlining your plot, sketching out your characters, doing some world building. A lot of folks do, and they will tell you that it does make the time spent noveling easier and more productive. But just as many people will tell you that they have no idea what they’re going to write when they sit down at the keyboard on November 1.

    And just so you know, this response contained 341 words, and I’m going to count them toward my November total.

  22. I do participate in NaNoWriMo–have since 2006–and I love it. I know that the works I complete will need a lot of work (thus NaNoEdMo in December), but it’s the fact that I got to sit down and, in one month, get the ideas that have been scrambling around in my head onto the page that keeps me coming back for more. I don’t always finish, but when I do it’s like pure bliss.

    The only “con” I’d disagree with is the one suggesting NaNoWriMo novels aren’t well planned … I spend most of October (if not sooner) planning my NaNoWriMo novel. Heck, if I’m honest, I start thinking about next year’s novel as soon as the clock hits 11:59:59 on November 30th (assuming that, at that time, I’ve completed the current year’s 50k race)! I plan characters, scenes, plot, and so much more (this year’s planning including coming up with a fictional town and two street’s worth of residents, plus a fake university and most of that university’s staff). Maybe it can be a bust if you *don’t* plan (sometimes it’s a total bust despite planning), but I’d say most NaNoWri-ers go into the month-long venture with pretty detailed plans under wing!

  23. I did NaNo two years in a row, and finished my novel both times! Will I ever do it again? Nope. Why? Way too much stress. I’m doing calmer writing challenges now. But for those who are so inclined…I say good luck to them!

  24. I don’t have the stamina to participate in a crazy thing like NaNoWriMo. This is for the young folks! (Am I allowed to cite age as an excuse to not put my nose to the grindstone?) Literal participation aside, I really enjoyed this article and it did get me motivated to do some serious work on my writing. And I’ll try to remember to invite Santa to my writing group! =)

  25. I am participating in NaNoWriMo this month! It’s awesome, but it means I don’t have time to write a comment to this article…or even be reading any articles at all! In fact, I’m already 157 words behind because of this!!

  26. I never heard of NaNoWriMo till ten minutes ago, when I read two completely unrelated articles about it, this one being the second. Suddenly I’m asking myself, is this serendipity morphing into destiny? Does this mean I need to dive into the meat grinder? Mostly I think no, because A) I haven’t obsessed about writing a novel in over a decade, and none of my festering unfinished products are fiction; B) at some point this month I have to start cleaning my house for Thanksgiving; C) the whole concept is nuts. All that said, the seismic inner vibration the idea of NaNoWriMo sets off in me — the excitement of diving so furiously into an impossible project — won’t go away, because what I do know about writing is that it takes “something” … something other than inner resolve, commitment, blah blah blah … to get me to finish anything at all. I need my life cordoned off into arbitrary time periods, like semesters or whatever, to organize myself toward completion. So let’s just say that I haven’t decided yet if I’ll take part in NaNoWriMo, and while I probably won’t, if I do, this comment will be how the sucker begins.

  27. Howdy, Writer’s Relievers!

    — Have you participated in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not? —

    Nope.

    A. Because I ain’t no Jack Kerouac.

    B. Because I am really, really, really lazy.

    C. Because I had not actually either heard or read of such a thing until today, so thanks for the advisory!

    D. All of the above.

    MugRuith1

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