Home » Other Writing » I Ain’t Doin’ NaNoWriMo: An Aside

I Ain’t Doin’ NaNoWriMo: An Aside

Today begins a month-long project that most of my writer friends are obsessing about, and that most of my non-writer friends are completely unaware of: National Novel Writing Month, lovingly shortened to NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write a novel of 50,000 words or more in 30 days. (I know you’re doing the math so I’ll spare you the trouble: that’s about 1700 words per day just to make the minimum word count… yikes.)

The whole project is supposed to be this uplifting, self-challenging exercise that not only tests your capabilities and willpower, but motivates you to create something you wouldn’t otherwise have had the gumption to complete. Plus, since there’s a whole bunch of other people doing it at the same time, you’ve got this expansive community of writers to hold hands and sing Kumbayah with (or beat your heads on your desks in unison, whatever the case may be.)

As the clock has wound down to NaNoWriMo’s commencement today, lately I’ve heard numerous excited friends hailing its perks and trying to convince me to participate. I thought about it, honestly I did give it a good once-over, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no, I ain’t doin’ it.

Now immediately I know some of you are gasping or scoffing or making some sort of choking noise, I can tell (because yeah, I’m in your computer screen, deal with it.) But before you deal out a swift judgment about my literary merit, allow me to explain.

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo because I don’t need to. If the point is to push/torture yourself into tackling a huge project or to stretch the limits of what you think you’re capable of, I’m already doing that, trust me. My 365 Poetry Project marches ever on, in which I somehow squeeze in enough time to write and publish one poem a day for a full year, the only rule being that I have to be proud of whatever I end up releasing to the public. Believe me, it ain’t easy. I write through my lunch breaks, or in the car, or at restaurant tables surrounded by quasi-offended friends who haven’t yet decided whether it’s mostly amusing or mostly annoying. I wake up in the morning thinking about poetry, scan billboards and boring paperwork for inspiration, cancel dates if I’m not finished yet, and go to sleep thinking about tomorrow’s poem. In short, writing already runs my life. You’ll have to excuse me if the idea of pushing myself any further makes me laugh and want to jump out the window.

Besides that whole little “my life would fall apart if I attempted to participate” issue, I just don’t want to write a novel. I’m a nit-picker of words by nature, which is why I’m so drawn to poetry. That little three-stanza poem I published the other day? Yeah, that took two and a half hours to get it right. But for some reason there seems to be this stigma among writers that quantity of words is somehow related to quality. You see a big-ass book and immediately assume some genius wrote it. Obviously that’s not the case (this is where I cough and call out some over-hyped author of gargantuan works of garbage, but I trust that you can supply your own favorite example.) I’m not suggesting that a good poem is somehow worth more than a novel; what I am saying is that consistently completing small pieces of worthy work is just as commendable as cranking out a metric crap-ton of rough draft material.

And hey, let’s talk about what happens with those 50,000 words after they’re puked out in a steaming mess onto the paper (or keyboard.) The point, after all, of NaNoWriMo is not to worry so much about quality. Rather, we’re to let the words come however they choose so we can meet our deadline without wasting time with whether they’re any good or not. I don’t need to participate to determine whether I can meet the challenge because I already know- no, I cannot write a novel under those conditions. My end product would be nowhere near anything I would ever be proud of, and I wonder how many people who’ve completed the challenge actually have gone on to do anything with the mass of raw material they’ve created. I’m not saying it’s impossible that some authors really do need the push, but I just think that if you’re going to write a novel, you will, regardless of whatever ego-stroking challenge is going around among writers that month. As a writer, I’d rather take my time and trust my own sense of self-discipline to kick myself in the behind to get it finished this century. And as a reader, I’d much rather delve into something created from a love of the craft and a careful, dedicated approach from the start, as opposed to something sculpted from a month’s worth of word-vomit.

If you’re the type that needs a challenge to get anything done, you extrinsically-motivated types who need a deadline and a prize at the end of the rainbow, NaNoWriMo is for you. You’ll probably make tons of friends in the forums, commiserating about your characters that just won’t do what you want them to do, because writing is so fun and so hard and so cool. But if you actually give a shit about writing for its own sake, you don’t need to bother.


89 thoughts on “I Ain’t Doin’ NaNoWriMo: An Aside

  1. Love this post. I’ve never done NaNo either, for virtually all the reasons you’ve posted here. I think it can be great for people who would like to write but don’t otherwise have the motivation to do so, but for those of us with writing pumping through our veins, notebooks and brains overflowing with ideas, and several writing projects on the go at any one time, it’s just not necessary or constructive.

  2. I get what you’re saying, I do, and a large part of NaNoWriMo is getting kick-started about writing, but people also do it because they want to celebrate literature – in a kind of masochistic way (doing NaNoWriMo actually kind of sucks, and it’s REALLY hard). And the “no quality” idea of it is that it is a first draft, and they’re kind of meant to be awful. Plus, you can totally mold something beautiful out of a sucky first draft, as long as the principle ideas of the plot are good. Does it REALLY matter if someone needs to be able to “suck” during the first draft, to then write something beautiful? So what if the writing is bad? Shouldn’t the point be that more and more people are writing, and THAT is a great thing?

    I agree with the idea that you people should just love literature for literature, and not make a competition out of it. However, I also believe that NaNoWriMo, besides being this competition, is a way to bring people together through literature. I’m in Bangkok and I’ve participated, with friends in both the US and in Sweden who have participated. NaNoWriMo is a global literature event, and there aren’t many of those out there…

    Although, since I’ve participated, maybe I’m biased. I understand what you’re saying; I just don’t agree with you.

  3. I agree. I don’t like writing just to comply. But NaPoWriMo helped me a lot because I have yet to develop the discipline of writing everyday, so it’s a good push for me just to get me started into a habit of writing. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope I’d be able to have the same commitment and discipline you have someday. ๐Ÿ˜€

  4. Have you ever considered writying an ebook or gyest authoring on other sites?

    I have a blog based upon on the same subjects you discuss and would eally like to
    have youu share some stories/information. I know my viewers wokuld
    enjoy your work. If you are even remktely interested, feel free to send me ann email.

  5. This is quite a daunting effort. I understand challenging yourself to push your talents and stamina beyond your comfort zone. I tip my hat to you for your courage. I’ve always thought that my own writing was more or less done in a moment of inspiration. If I’m not moved; I’m not writing. Of course, I’m fairly lazy, so maybe I need a push….nah! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    moving on now to your works of art….

    thomas e

  6. Nice to know I’m not the only one who isn’t thrilled with the idea of being artificially motivated. If I’m not enjoying the process, why am I going to do it? I don’t think of writing as a personal or collective challenge…it is simply something I want to do…in my own time frame.

    • I envy you for having the time and freedom to be “organically” motivated ๐Ÿ™‚ I do admit to needing some sort of structure when it comes to digging deep into recesses that I don’t want to go. But I have needed to write this story for a while, so NaNo it shall be.

  7. I decided to wtite a romance novel, over 130 K. People say that is far too long. Anyhoo, the point is, it took me 15 months to write. Then comes editing. Not completed due to family illness. But, it will get done, I will epub. It as soon as feasible. I do not need the push, but some do. So for some it is a good idea. Most of us know our capabilities.

  8. I have decided that I will be doing NaNo this year. I actually do give a shit about writing for its own sake. Lol. The thing is, many of us have been walking around with something in our heads that begs to be written down. The problem there is that there are so many other obligations that family and friends are even less likely to understand if there is not some sort of looming deadline to justify your state of semi-distraction. To be honest, some fiction comes from a place we would rather not visit all that often… There will be time enough afterwards to go back and do proper editing.

  9. Hi, thanks for the add. I’m doing Nanowrimo because I find it hard to sit down and focus on a novel and I tend to start to start and forget about it,on to other projects. Nano has helped me sit down and just devote that time. I’ve “won” four times – I have two eventual novels (published under my pen name Genรจve Blue) and a 3/4 finished one that I’ve put on hold temporarily for certain reasons. I’m now on a new book this year and I hope to finish but for me it’s not about the 50k words. If I get that I’m really happy, if not, well, it was a good exercise.

    Certainly Nano should be considered a start. At the end, 50k words is a novella and to finish on time editing is not something you want to do too much of if you’re not retired or unemployed. My two books I published several years later because of the editing issue and because 50k was really just a good beginning. One book I just published this year and after reading the proof it will be one more edition before I’m truly happy with it.

    Regardless of whatever reason a person writes, it’s good for the soul ๐Ÿ™‚ Lovely blog, I’ll be back to read more of my poems.

  10. I can confidently say that my reason for doing NaNoWriMo this month is not because I don’t give a shit about my writing. Your argument could be applied to someone who sets about writing a poem a day for a year, surely? Aren’t we all just testing our capabilities? Word-vomit is an interesting descriptor, but as you point out, quantity does not infer quality, or lack thereof. Surely it’s not the old “poems are superior to novels” argument again? I didn’t think so, because that’s like saying blue is better than red. It’s just where each of us fits into the milieu. I think anything that gets people writing is a good thing. Nobody is gunning for the Nobel. Nice blog, by the way. Your photos are cute!

  11. Charlotte, I am so in agreement with you about NaNoWriMo! I signed up for it a few years ago, and after the introductory meeting decided it wasn’t for me (I had thought it might be fun, but decided not MY kind of fun; I didn’t find the goofy Brunhilde horns–apparently a standard prop–particularly inspiring to my muse). I do, however, like the idea of meeting with fellow writers around town to do “write-ins” for a few hours now and then; I participated a few times and found silently writing with a few others, then discussing writing afterwards (or before) generated a community feeling that I enjoy, a bit like meditating in a sangha gathering. Regarding a writing commitment, I am truly impressed by your daily poetry and weekly flash fiction projects. I applaud you! And I’m so delighted to have discovered your blog. Thank you!

  12. I fully support Nano for the reason that it often introduces people to the idea of becoming serious as a writer. To be a successful novelist, you have to write every day. Read some of the advice from Joyce Carol Oates or Salman Rushdie and you get constantly “write every day, no matter what it is, just write.” It has to be a regular habit. People do Nano for various reasons and not all of them plan to publish. I object to the idea that people participating in Nano produce word vomit and don’t care about their work. I would say it is the opposite. Comparing poetry to fiction is apples and oranges and smells of unneeded snobbery. I personally like the kickstart that Nano gives people, the sense of community that is rarely found outside of the month of November. I live in a small third world country where the only time any writers come together is during Nano. Right before the long stretch of holiday season, community is important.

  13. I’d definitely agree with so much you’ve said here. I am a perfectionist and I know what it’s like to be nit-picky about words. Most of my poems take about 2-3 hours to put down on paper.

    That said though, I’m a huge fan of short novels and novellas (30K-60K) like The Great Gatsby or Fahrenheit 451 etc etc. A lot of authors of the mid 20th century wrote in this style and managed to pull it off beautifully (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wording is FANTASTIC). And so I did NaNoWriMo this year not because I wanted to do something I wouldn’t normally do but because I just needed a platform to revise. I fully intend to spend the next 2-3 months slaving over and editing my 50,000 word pile of crap into something beautiful. Because that’s how I view NaNo: not an experience, not something that is done once and stopped. It is the beginning of a continuing process. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. So it’s almost 2015, and I have just discovered this post. I’ve read many of your other things, and I enjoy following you. I’m not a big commenter, though. I just had to tell you that I would have written this myself if I could have found these words within myself. May I say, Amen! For those who love this, I wish them well. But I am a poet and retired English teacher. I so admire your own 365 project! I wrote while I was teaching, but the thought of one a day is incomprehensible. But you have done it. Keep at it, and you’ll surpass the life work of Emily Dickinson : ) Wait, did I spell that right? Sigh. Take care.

  15. I’ve never done NaNo, because by the time I actually found out about it I was in college and now grad school and don’t have the time for it. And honestly, trying to write an entire story in a month sounds miserable. I don’t adhere to the “write even if you don’t feel like it” mantra (again mostly I don’t have the time to write because school). I like to take my time getting things right instead of just vomiting onto the page. But who knows, I might give it a shot once I graduate. ๐Ÿ™‚

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