It’s time for the most sacred holiday among writers: National Novel Writing Month. Every year, the writing community comes together and pounds out millions (maybe billions) of words worldwide, all in service of finishing their novels. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is a simple: write 50,000 words (or the entire first draft of your novel, which ever comes first) in a month. The main goal behind NaNoWriMo is to discipline yourself to write everyday, no matter what distractions there are in life. Writing first! Writer’s write! Art harder!
We live in an age of constant gratification and distraction. I get it: lots of things threaten to take priority in life. Loved ones, waitressing shifts, going for a run, Steam sales, the new season of Korra…shhh, shhh I understand. I’m here for you. It’s not easy making time for creativity. Are there valid reasons to do NaNoWriMo? Yes, and here are a few:
- Writing community. Twitter and the NaNo boards are going to be JUMPING with people frothing at the mouth to talk about their new novel this month. THEY WILL BE SO EXCITED to post word count (always word count!), discuss characters, dissect plot…all of the things we writers never have enough people on earth to talk about. (Hey, it’s why I started this blog!)
- Discipline. Making time for writing is hard. Developing productive habits and getting in a rhythm is something you’ve got to learn, homefries, if you’re going to write things or just get things done in general. NaNoWriMo can and absolutely will teach you how long a scene should be, how many hours it takes before you want to bash your head into a wall, and most importantly, how to write consistently.
- Getting shit done. This is a corollary to the point above, but if you’re stuck on an idea, NaNo it out. Don’t let your little brain nugget rot away. Get it out there, see what it is on paper, and move on.
- Transitioning into a new genre. Want to experiment with writing erotica or Westerns? Never written a space opera? DO IT NOW. NaNo is the time for experimentation. Make it happen!
However, I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year, and I’m here to talk to those of you writers who feel like you’re going to be sitting on the sidelines twiddling your metaphorical thumbs this year. I’ve done NaNo; I even ‘won’ NaNo. I’m not participating this year. Gasp! Writing Sacrilege! Wait, wait, before you click away, let me tell you my experience with NaNo, and then lay out some reasons why it’s perfectly okay to opt out of NaNoWriMo and be the black sheep of the writing community.
When I did NaNo, I had a project that was partially finished, but it needed to be rewritten from the beginning. The idea changed a lot when I started to write it (this is a common theme with my writing…), and it needed demolished completely for it to be a better story. This was several years ago, and I’d known friends who did NaNo the previous year. I checked out the website and thought, ‘Why not? Need to get this crap done someday. Why not today?’ I made my account, popped open a new Word document, and stared to pound it out. I’d written ~75k by the end of the month, and in December, I finished the new first draft. And I realized the story sucked. Hard. Even after editing, it was all over the place and just not the right story for me to tell. So I shelved it and started new projects, which never would’ve been possible until I faced the cold, hard truth about that particular story.
Am I staying away from NaNo because I wrote a bad novel using that method? Maybe, but it helped me discover things about my writing, and one of those things is that I’m just not a NaNo type person. I can pound out the words with the best of them. My PR (personal record) for words written in a single day is 15,000. My PR for fastest rough draft was 88,000 words in 10 days, with multiple days of sustained 10,000 words per day to make that happen. Getting the word count down was never the problem for me; if that’s an issue for you, NaNo will teach you how to Art Hard.
That said, there really is something to all the frilly talk about the ‘creative process.’ Sometimes, what that means, is not writing. Ideas are like good wine: they need time to ferment in your head. I have to tell myself the story I want to write about half a dozen different ways before I write it down. If you’ve got an idea, and you think its ripe, write it down. Do NaNo and finish; make the dream real. But here are some reasons to bench yourself during NaNoWriMo:
- You’ve just finished a big project. I’m coming off a marathon of a writing streak from August, September, and October. Any writing I do during November is going to be more intermittent. Word count isn’t going to be a priority if I sit down and drabble out some stories.
- You’re working on other art. Maybe it’s not conducive to the NaNo format.
- Real life takes priority. November might be The Month From Hell for you to write your novel, even if it’s ready to meet the page. The good news is there’s a NaNo something just about every month now, so don’t feel pressured into November if it sucks for you. Hey, my birthday’s in November, and I still don’t know why my parents picked this month. (Hint: look at where Valentine’s Day is on the calender. Yes, this turned into a sex joke.)
- You’ve got your own writing groove.
- You don’t feel particularly inclined to participate in the NaNo specific writing community.
There are probably more reasons why you should or shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo, but I’m just listing some of them that have been prominent for me and those I know who’ve done NaNo. The idea of always writing, always being on point and ready to sell yourself, is so pervasive in creative culture today. Sometimes, you need to turn that off to reconnect with yourself and your stories. At least, this has been true for me. This isn’t a popular opinion, but when I turn that nebulous thing on to write, it’s like an atom bomb blowing up in my head. It’s powerful, but I can’t sustain that kind of energy indefinitely. The smart asses among you will say ‘build a nuclear plant, duh’, but that’s more like editing for me than rough draft writing. The power is there, but in a more controlled way. So write if you have to write, edit if you need to edit, and let your ideas get delicious in your head. Whatever it takes, and remember, if you’re doing NaNo or not: you’re not alone.