NaNoWriMo – national write a novel month – has been running for years. It’s a writing challenge, where you pledge to write say 50,000 words in the month of November. You can set a lower target if you like. You ‘win’ NaNo by completing it.
50,000 words is not a full-length novel, and it’s accepted by anyone who knows anything that what you write under these conditions is likely to be a rough first draft. Rougher than a billy goat’s bum.
As I grow older, raining on other people’s parades pleases me less and less. I want to be really sure before I tell people not to do something. And I’ve never done the challenge, although I have often sat down and tried to write a very large number of words over a very small number of weeks.
NaNo generates almost cult-like enthusiasm, with my Debut Authors Facebook group full of good published authors ready to do it. My writing group loves it. And yet, there are people in those groups who are silent, and some serious writers online warning it doesn’t work for everyone.
Here’s the case for NaNo
People may not start a novel because they are boggled by the number of words. Write 50,000 and that kills the idea you can’t write a novel-length text.
A rough draft no matter how shonky is something to work with and improve. Vast amounts of writing a book are in the endless editing anyway.
You may find pace and energy because you must write. You may feel the story come alive in your hands and that gives you the taste for writing. For me no plan lives until I am writing it.
There’s a supportive community, people share tips and encouragement, no one is rude to you for falling behind.
Writing more normally, a great many people endlessly cycle back to the start of the novel to change it. NaNo whatever else it does, stops you doing that. It is inherently better to finish and then fix even major changes in the first edit. We see people in the writing group spending forever on the first third of the book, Groundhog Day.
Smart NaNo people spend October planning, researching, getting characters sorted etc. You might write a book in a month starting from a prompt. Wouldn’t necessarily advise it.
Here’s the case against
So, I know smart people who say that it has helped them as a writer. Self published and traditionally published writers who still do it – although they are a) prolific and b) plan beforehand so they are not starting from scratch.
But then if NaNo was a vast effort, and what it led you to do was start again and rewrite from scratch in a fresh document… did NaNo help you? If it gives you months of block, was it really that good?
In almost every field of life, getting nervous newcomers to set an impossible target and then fail is a bad strategy.
The writer @TimClarePoet who does an interesting podcast did an episode on NaNo. He is flatly against. If I can summarise his argument:
- Tim says, if writing is presented as a tough, daily, grim challenge, it will feel like it. If you have trouble with your writing enthusiasm, it may crush it.
- He cites many writers who take a two or three month writing break post NaNo. Bluntly they burn out. They could therefore try a much lower daily total or even ignore the daily total, and be further ahead in the same time.
- Tim believes in trying to make the writing a joy. Try to write every day without bludgeoning yourself with a total.
Where am I? Sceptical. Partly for me, I know I could churn out 50,000 of word product, but not if in full time work. I just don’t know what I would have on 1st Dec would be worth working on. If your difficulty is plotting and structure and focus, as mine has been, just getting words down might not be helpful.
I have seen claims of the liberating power of NaNo that are clearly ‘very optimistic’, although not every writing coach, agent or editor is hostile. I wouldn’t argue anyone out of it but I wouldn’t advocate it either.
I think one of my most treasured learnings is that you can learn from different and contradictory writing processes. Too many writers extol a Golden Path which is different from the next writers. Be clear on your aims, be clear NaNo need not be your usual process. Treat it like a particular challenge that does not have to be your life.
What I’m doing in November is committing myself to write or edit every day come what may, to finish the rough first draft of Sekret Second Book. That’s because that’s where I am and deadlines. Not NaNo.