The Pitfalls of NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo logo courtesy nanowrimo.org
All throughout the month of November, you'll likely see numerous articles on NaNoWriMo—or, National Novel Writing Month, during which aspiring and established authors alike attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You'll see articles of encouragement, offering up various tips and tricks that will keep you on track and help you complete your goal in time. Words of wisdom, words of cheerleading, all with the aim of getting you to the finish line.
This isn't that kind of article.
Now, let me say this straight away—I have nothing whatsoever against NaNoWriMo. I think it's a great idea, and for some authors, it is the perfect kick-in-the-ass to transform their daydreams, rough sketches and outlines into a fully-formed manuscript. As every famous author will advise: the key to becoming a writer is, simply, to write, write, write. Every now and then we just need a little push, and NaNoWriMo provides that.
But I would never make a blanket statement one way or another about the event—you MUST do NaNoWriMo, or you MUSN'T do it. Because here's the thing: every writer is different, and for some, participating in NaNoWriMo would be a very bad idea.
Let's get into the specifics of this argument, shall we?
Do The Math
NaNoWriMo is a bit of a numbers game, when you get right down to it. In order to meet the 50,000 word goal in time, you'd have to write approximately 1,667 words every single day. If you have few other commitments, or even if—to use a Thanksgiving metaphor—your plate is fairly full, but could withstand the weight of one more jellied cranberry slice... then 1,667 words a day is easily doable.
But ask yourself—do you already write every single day? All the "experts" say you should, but does that really work out for you? Do you prefer to write five days a week, with Saturday and Sunday left to relax? That would mean instead of having 30 days to crank out your novel, you'd only have 22, at which point you'd have to write at least 2,273 words a day to meet your goal. Is this doable for you?
How about if you normally only have time to write on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays? That only gives you 14 days out of the 30 to write 50,000 words—two weeks, rather than a month, to create a first draft of a novel. In order to do that, you'd have to commit to 3,571 words on those three days you have the time to write. Will those slices of cranberry fit neatly on your plate, or will they cause the otherwise sturdy Chinet paper structure to buckle under the pressure?
Whatever the scenario, if the numbers don't add up and your plate will definitely become bloated with food you can't actually eat, then it's best to leave the cranberries in their saucer.
Check Your Schedule
Continuing on with this Thanksgiving metaphor, you can always make a little room on your plate for those cranberries, right? Maybe put back some of the stuffing or turkey, clear out some space, and slap on those delicious red jelly concoctions. Yes, you could definitely do that—just make sure that you can actually do that. Because let's face it, those cranberry slices are delicious (I really do like them), but they're not exactly nutritious. Turkey has protein, as does the broccoli n' cheese n' rice; the green beans are good for the digestive system; the sweet potato salad...well, I don't know what it has to offer, but it's made from something that grows out of the ground, so that's something, right?
Speaking more directly now, make sure whatever you cut from your normal life isn't going to be detrimental to your health and happiness. Take me for instance: if I were to participate in NaNoWriMo, I'd no doubt have to cut out some time with my fiancée, and we don't get to see each other that much as it is. That's just the nature of my schedule (and my writing style). Everything else on my plate can't be excised for financial/cleanliness reasons. Time with my lady is the only thing that's ostensibly expendable, but I hesitate to even use that word, because that time is important to our relationship and important to me and my mental health. Why would I want to monkey around with something that important?
What's Your Pace?
Okay, let's assume that you've done the math, and it holds up. Your schedule won't be altered in any negative way by NaNoWriMo, so you've decided to jump in and give it a try. It's time now for you to consider your normal workflow. When you sit down to write, do you place your fingers on the keys and just go straight into typing mode, full-on 85 miles per hour, the words gushing out of you like a geyser? Or do you sit and ruminate, staring out the window, at the blank walls, then peck out a sentence at a time—slow-and-steady-wins-the-race style? Somewhere in-between? If you're a more methodical or laborious writer like this—and more importantly, if this approach has proven successful for you, i.e., you're not struggling to finish your work—then ask yourself: can you realistically meet the daily word requirements, writing the way you do. Put another way, if you typically only write 1,000 words a day, can you feasibly double that during NaNoWriMo?
Now of course, a change in pace can be a good thing. In fact, I'd say it's universally recommendable to step outside your comfort zone from time to time. And yet, there's that old saying that, despite being a bit of a cliché, still holds up: if it ain't broke, don't fix it—at least not to the the extreme of NaNoWriMo.
All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy
All other considerations aside, here's the ultimate question you must ask yourself before committing to NaNoWriMo: will doing so make you hate writing?
NaNoWriMo is meant to be fun. The only reward you will reap from participation is the satisfaction of completing your novel (and perhaps new friendships with fellow participants). There are no prizes, and there are no guarantees that anything will happen with your finished first draft once December hits. That's up to you, and you alone.
Look ahead and consider: will NaNoWriMo be fun for you, or will it just stress you out?
Now, of course, if you're serious about making a living as a writer, you can't completely view the act of writing in wholly recreational terms. It is work, and you do have to work at it. But it absolutely should be enjoyable too; otherwise, what's the point? You might as well work some soul-sucking cubicle job, if writing is ultimately no different.
I asked myself all of the above questions. Maybe a month or two ago, I was considering doing NaNoWriMo. Here and there I've been working on a book—in-between everything else I've got going on, including work on short stories—and I thought it might be a good way to kick the process into gear. Of course, after I considered the idea from every angle, I realized that it was not only impractical, but participating would absolutely suck the fun out of fiction writing, given the added time and the tight deadlines.
I don't want that. Right now, fiction is the type of writing I look forward to. It's the itch I make time for between my day job and my column writing here at LitReactor. Yes, I make time for it, but that time is one hundred percent on my terms, and so it's nothing but joy when that time arrives.
Moreover, I'm actually enjoying the sporadic work on the novel. My main focus is short stories right now, and I honestly feel I'm growing as a writer by narrowing my scope this way. When time arrives to work on the novel, it's like this nice surprise—ooh, I have a short story cooling on the sill and all my columns are turned it...hell yeah, I'm going to work on my book! This process, this method, it's working out quite well for me—it isn't broken, so why would I fix it?
Perhaps one day I might participate, but only if NaNoWriMo works for me, not against me.
What do you think? Is NaNoWriMo the right thing for you? Or are you still on the fence? Are you like me, and at this moment in time, NaNoWriMo is a bad, bad idea? Let us know in the comments section.
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