Ah, October. The month of pumpkins and black cats. But if you’re a writer, October is also the month before NaNoWriMo; the month to decide if you’re in or out; the month where people all over the interwebs start throwing around advice and opinions on National Novel Writing Month, the November event where people commit to trying to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
Some writers love it. Others hate it. A few proclaim it a blight on the face of the professional writing world.
I’m going to be upfront: I love NaNoWriMo. I love the concept of it, I love the story of how it first came into existence (spoiler: college guys wanted to pick up chicks), and I love the way it’s grown from humble beginnings into a huge, international event through sheer energy and enthusiasm. But most of all I love the environment on the NaNo forums and web page, and the connections and encouragement you get there, with hundreds of thousands of people all striving for the same goal in a non-competitive way.
But that doesn’t mean NaNoWriMo works for everybody. And if you do NaNoWriMo for the wrong reason, chances are you’ll hate the experience.
Here are five reasons not to do NaNoWriMo.
1. Because it will be easier to write my novel when I’m part of a group.
The great thing about being part of any writing community, including the NaNoWriMo one, is that there are other people there with the same goals and dreams and oddities as you. Hanging out on the NaNo Forums is almost like going to a writing convention without the need to buy tickets, leave the house, or even get out of your jammies.
But here’s the sad truth of the matter: A group won’t help you write your novel.
Being part of a group of writers can be encouraging, but no one else is going to do the writing for you. Every year, thousands upon thousands of NaNo participants spend more time writing forum posts asking for encouragement, or bemoaning their lack of progress, than they do working on their novel.
It won’t be easier to write your novel when you’re part of a group. You may get more encouragement and feel more engaged in a writing community than usual, but you will also have a great many more distractions and chances for procrastination.
NaNoWriMo might be for you if you enjoy discussions about writing and enthusiastic encouragement between sessions of writing.
2. Because I’ll be able to focus exclusively on my novel for a whole month.
Life happens. All the time. And those of us with jobs and families and friends and hobbies and other commitments always struggle to put aside time for writing. As much as it would be nice to think that with NaNoWriMo comes the freedom to put life on hold and write all the time, nothing else in your life actually changes.
Plus, November in the USA is a month full of preparation for Thanksgiving, when hordes of interstate family members arrive on your doorstep demanding sacrifices of turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie and then complain incessantly about the quality of the food, while preventing you from doing anything you would prefer to be doing. (Disclaimer: I’m Australian. My understanding of Thanksgiving is based entirely on bad sitcoms.) So not only will you not have more time during November than usual, you may actually find you have less.
If you can’t focus exclusively on your novel any other time of the year, you won’t be able to focus exclusively on your novel during November. Expecting the world to miraculously make more time for you because you’re writing is just setting yourself up for misery.
NaNoWriMo might be for you if you regularly schedule writing time for yourself, or you’re able to replace a usual activity with writing for the month of November.
3. Because I’ll write 50,000 words in a month, instead of my usual two or three thousand.
That’s great! Best of luck with that. I mean it. Just tell me one thing: How?
Firstly, unless you’re willing and able to completely change your life, your priorities, and your commitments during the month of November (which some people do), it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to increase your writing output by 2000%.
According to the “rules” of NaNoWriMo, you’re supposed to start a brand new project and write 50,000 words to “win”. But there’s a little-known secret about the rules.
No one comes to your house to make sure you’re following them.
If you want to keep working on your current project, go for it. If you want to set yourself the goal of writing more or fewer than 50,000 words, no one can stop you. You have the power to use the benefits of NaNoWriMo to your advantage, without being constrained by the rules.
Chances are, if you normally only write a couple of thousand words in a month, you won’t write 50,000 words in November. So don’t set yourself up to fail. Instead, look at your usual output and your schedule for the month, and design your own stretch target.
NaNoWriMo might be for you if you usually write close to 50K words a month, you’re willing to make major life changes during November, or you’re happy to ignore the arbitrary 50K target and aim for your own stretch goal.
4. Because in December, I’ll be able to get published.
No. Just… no. And this is the reason many authors, agents, and publishers despise NaNoWriMo. In all fairness to NaNo itself, the website is very clear on the fact that the work you do in November is not going to be ready for publication on December 1st. But every year, a slew of NaNo manuscripts are self-published in the first couple of weeks of December, and literary agents are inundated with poorly written query letters.
Firstly, let’s just clear one thing up. Unless you’re writing MG or (possibly) YA, your 50,000 words does not a novel make. An adult novel is rarely shorter than 80,000 words. (Yes, I know there are exceptions. They’re exceptions.) So the first thing you’ll need to do when you “win” NaNoWriMo is to finish writing your novel.
Secondly, perhaps there are people out there who can churn out an entire novel in 30 days and have it be perfect. But I’ve yet to come across one. What you’ve got at the end of November is a first draft. The first draft needs to sit and fester a while. Then it needs to be revised, possibly rewritten, and edited. Possibly more than once. Only after that will it be ready to seek a home somewhere.
There are many novels out there, both self-published and traditionally published, that started their lives as NaNovels. But they weren’t published in December of the year they were written.
NaNoWriMo might be for you if you realise that writing for publication is a long-term goal, and you’re prepared to put in more work after November has been and gone.
5. Because you want to pick up chicks by telling them you’re a novelist.
What do I know? Maybe that is a good reason.
What do you think of NaNoWriMo? Have you done it before? Will you be participating this year?