Now, I will caveat this piece by saying I am a NaNo lover.
I actually think it’s partially the reason why I’m here. (In Sweden, not ‘on the planet’ in general. My parents didn’t lock eyes over one of the kick-off parties.)
Although that would’ve been one heck of an origin story.
But in the spirit of being balanced, I’m going to try and highlight some of the downsides to NaNoWriMo (and believe me, there aren’t many.)
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo, it just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and it takes place every year in November. A bunch of writers get together, either physically or virtually, and they make a commitment to write 50k in a month.
Before you start hyperventilating that 50k sounds like a lot (spoiler alert: it is) let’s have a look at whether or not you should you do it.
Going to a kick-off party where you don’t know anyone is terrifying
But it’s also so worth it.
I remember I was working at City University at the time and the kick-off party happened to be at the pub that I needed to walk past to get home. So I stayed late at the office, working myself up into a tizzy (I don’t like walking into a room where I don’t know anyone, which I feel like is very common) and convincing myself that I wouldn’t go.
And then I walked home.
Past the pub.
And I stopped. And I turned around. And I went.
There was another woman standing awkwardly by the name badges, her hand hovering over the pen. So I asked her whether it was her first time, too (it was). The rest between us is history, we were close friends the entire time I was in London and still keep in touch to this day (you can read her awesome blog here.)
But I’m not saying go to the kick-off meeting in case you meet a Maria, we can’t all be that lucky. But go to build your writing tribe. Go to meet other people that are passionate about the same thing you’re passionate about. It’s like a breath of fresh air to hear someone speaking supportively about something you love, rather than asking you over and over how on earth you’re ever going to make money out of writing.
The write-ups are a good excuse to get your head down and put some serious words to paper
Each NaNo group has its own meetups, that you can join or not join at your discretion. They’re not compulsory, so don’t feel bad if they clash with your schedule, but they are useful. Because nothing puts the holy fire of “oh god, I need to write” into your bones than seeing fourteen other writers with their heads bent over their laptops, furiously tapping away.
The London NaNo group also did a lock-in, at the Big Green Bookshop near Wood Green, which is a very intense, 12-hour version of this. Not for the lighthearted, although I think I wrote 12k that evening, which is the most I’ve ever written in one sitting (albeit I was delirious on pro-plus and red bull and none of sentences made any sense the next day.)
Which brings me to the biggest drawback of NaNoWriMo:
The 50k Target is steep
And it’s especially steep if this is your first foray into novel writing, poetry writing, or just creative writing in general.
50k words averages out at a little over 1,200 words per day. Which, if you’re disciplined, is manageable. But chances are if this is your first serious step towards writing, you’re not disciplined. And you’ll skip a few days.
And suddenly it’s Sunday and you have an 8k deficit to try and make up without going crazy.
So here’s my advice. Ignore the 50k marker. Yes, I know, it’s the entire point of NaNo, but hear me out.
Any words are better than no words. But good words are better than any words.
I couldn’t do anything with my first NaNo novel. Or my second. Or even my third. Because I’d written them in a hurry, with very little thought as to how one sentence leads into the next and how that chapter foreshadows the one that comes after it, and so on and so forth.
It was 50k words set in the same school, with the same two characters having the same conversation over and over again (usually in the library.)
Now you could argue that this was bad planning on my part (and you’d be right, because I was a pantser back then) but I would argue that when you’re forced to write to a limit, you fill the limit without thinking of whether or not you should be adding more dialogue into this scene, or more action into the next. So if you’re attending NaNo with the hopes of publishing what comes off the back of it, take a step back. Review, analyse, plan. And perhaps don’t fret so much about that looming 1.2k
But the 50k target is also freeing
The other side of that argument is that you should write 50k. You should do everything in your power to write 50k. Pour your blood, sweat and tears into it and don’t worry about what comes out the other end.
Because it’s an exercise in writing – not in writing a polished, finished novel. And writing takes practice, and practice makes perfect.
Use NaNo as some time to really dig deep and sink your claws into an idea that has been circling your brain for a while. Write it down and don’t pause to read back over what you’ve done. Wake up and plough forward each day with that goal in mind, only that goal.
And when it hits November 30th, put your pen down.
And step away.
And consign that piece of writing to your slush pile.
But that’s insane, Sophie! I’ve just spent a month slaving over that piece of work! It’s amazing, and I love it!
Maybe you do – and if that’s the case, then cherish it. Edit it. Polish it. Publish it.
But I will bet you a penny that you won’t. I bet you a penny that the last thing you’re going to want to do is re-read it, or even see it again.
And that’s absolutely fine.
Because it means you’ve gotten all of those sub-par writing demons out of your body. And when it comes to writing your novel, your best-seller, the one that’s going to become a Netflix series and have you rolling in money, your awkward cliches and bad time representation and stilted dialogue won’t between its pages.
And that, my friends, is worth its weight in gold.