12 Thoughts On NaNoWriMo
This post was originally published in October 2012.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Are you thinking about it? Do you know what NaNoWriMo even is?
Here are 12 reasons you should or should not participate in National Novel Writing Month:
1. The Benefits of Goals
The best part of NaNoWriMo is that it sets a specific, measurable, and achievable goal: write 50,000 words in a month. As goals go, that’s a pretty good goal, and one you can conceivably accomplish. It’s only 1,666 words a day, or about 2,000 words if you take a day off each week.
Goals are proven to increase motivation. Participating in NaNoWriMo will help you focus, help you prioritize writing, and help you say no to distractions. (That’s right. Television will probably not help you write your novel.)
2. Build Community
Great writers have writing communities. Hemingway had Paris in the 20s. The Beats had New York. Lewis and Tolkien had the Inklings. Hugo had the salons of Paris. When you share a goal with a group of people, like the goal of writing a NaNoWriMo novel, you create community. If you’re looking to join or deepen your writing community, NaNoWriMo might be a great option for you.
3. Focus Doesn’t Make You More Creative
Yes, NaNoWriMo will help you focus on writing, but focus doesn’t make you more creative. In fact, focus can actively hinder your creativity. You are most creative when you’re relaxed, unfocused, and able to make serendipitous connections between seemingly unrelated things. The reason agents and publishers cringe when they get NaNoWriMo novel submissions is because they are generally formulaic, full of cliché, and derivative (all that’s to say, they’re bad). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write your NaNoWriMo novel. Just realize you’re just writing the first of many drafts.
4. The Creativity Is In The Planning
To write 50,000 words that aren’t completely bad, plan ahead. If you have time to prepare for NaNoWriMo, spend it trying to understand your characters. Develop your major plot elements. Identify your setting. They say it’s against the rules to start writing before November, but this isn’t writing. This is laying the foundations your writing will rest upon.
5. Sharpen Your Writing Tools
Writing quickly is a skill, and it’s an important skill for every writer. That’s what NaNoWriMo will teach you: how to write quickly. You can write 50,000 words in a month. You can probably even write 100,000 words. To do it, though, you might need to learn some tricks. You might need to develop a different mindset. What we’re talking about is developing skill, and this is a skill that will serve you well no matter whether this particular novel is published or not.
6. It Doesn’t End In November (or December… or January)
To be successful as a writer, you need to develop other skills: editing and rewriting skills, notably. When November is over and you’ve “won,” you will have to take on new goals. Your goal won’t be how many words you can write, but how many times you can read through your manuscript. How many clichés you can cut. How many times you can rewrite one sentence. All good writing is rewriting, and after November you have eleven months to learn those skills.
7. Don’t Make the Lives Of Agents Hell
It’s silly for you to submit your NaNoWriMo novel to an agent or publisher on December 1. Please don’t do it. This is a shortcut and your novel is worth more than that.
8. Quantity Begets Quality
Here’s what’s so great about NaNoWriMo: if you write more, you will write better. A pottery teacher divided his class in half. To one half, he told them they would be graded by the quality of their work. All they had to do to get an A is produce one perfect pot. To the other half, he told them they would be graded by the quantity of their work. If they produced fifty pounds of finished pots, no matter how good they were, they would get an A.
Who produced the best work?
The group graded by quantity. Apparently, as they produced pot after bad pot, they learned what it took to make a good one. But the group graded on quality was so frozen by the standard they inevitably failed to achieve it. Our number one goal is to write pieces of the highest quality, but the path to quality is quantity.
9. You Are Writing The Rest of the Year, Right?
Jeff Goins might disagree with me, but you aren’t a writer if you only write in November. If you want to be successful, if you want to be a pro, if this is more than just a whim of a hobby (and, by the way, it’s fine if that’s all it is), you will write December through October as well.
10. Read Something, Too
To get the most out of your NaNoWriMo experience, don’t forget Stephen King’s maxim, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Read at least one book a week in November. I also recommend studying a book similar to the one you’re writing in depth. If you study just one novel deeply enough, you will learn more about writing than from reading a hundred novels.
11. Stop Consuming, Start Creating
The detractors of NaNoWriMo say there are already enough good novels that aren’t being read. Do we really need more? The answer is, probably not. The world doesn’t really need your novel. They probably aren’t going to rush out and buy it the moment you self-publish it on Amazon. I’m sorry, but the world doesn’t owe you anything, least of all the hours of attention it will take to read your book. But maybe we shouldn’t be as interested in that anyway.
The amazing thing about writing is that you get the chance, finally, to stop being a consumer and start creating. You may have spent you’re whole life consuming consuming consuming. Maybe it’s time to do the opposite. Maybe it’s time to create, just for the joy of it. Can that be enough for you?
12. Why Are You Really Doing This?
You don’t have to be a writer to experience transcendence. Just go outside and breathe that crisp November air. Drink your coffee ever slower. Breathe so deep you feel it in the bones of your toes. Go for a walk and look at the trees, all orange and red and yellow and try to see them as if for the first time. Write thank you thank you thank you 25,000 times until you have a novel’s worth of gratefulness.
If you want to be more alive, those are all better options than going into a dark closet to stoop over a keyboard for a hundred hours.
Writing can be toil just the same as your day job. Are you looking for more toil? Or are you looking for more life? If it’s the latter, you can find life by going for a walk as easily as writing a novel. Before you begin, know what you want.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?
Spend some time seriously thinking why you want to participate in NaNoWriMo. Write down every reason that comes to mind. Then, choose your top three and share them here in the comments section. Are they good enough to motivate your writing through the month of November?