Still undecided about NaNoWriMo? Let me help.
What is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a wild literary adventure where you attempt to write a 50k book in November. It’s been around for 20 years and has a long history of trial and error as they get the event right. But it still has both positive and negative elements to it, so it may not be the best event for you.
Why should I listen to you?
Personally, I’ve participated in the November writing sprint for over 10 years and have seen a lot of writers succeed and fail, and I’ve had a wide variety of experiences each year depending on my drive and what’s going on in my life. I’ve won and I’ve lost, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
NaNoWriMo does several good things for writers and the community, and the writing event can help you as a writer in the following ways:
NaNoWriMo brings together the writing community
It has local chapters across the world that run forums and events to bring local writers together. These events, called Write-Ins, can be wild parties or quiet writing sessions focusing on banging out word counts. If you haven’t met local writers, NaNoWriMo can be a great way to expand your writing circle.
NaNoWriMo also has an online IRC where you can write or chat with writers in your own region or across the world. This is great because if you can’t travel to local write-ins, you can hang out with other participants online as you write. Or just celebrate or complain about your progress.
NaNoWriMo can help you finish your first draft, especially if you haven’t finished a book before
Are you the writer who never moves past chapter 3 or 10 because the chapters you’ve already written aren’t perfect? It happens to a lot of us, and it can result in us never making any progress on finishing a book over years (and decades). If you’re the writer who can’t get past editing your previous chapters to finish the book, NaNoWriMo may be the event you need to kick you into your writing gear.
NaNoWriMo specializes in finishing your first draft. The whole event is dedicated to writing as much as you can as fast as you can, no editing allowed. You aren’t supposed to go back and edit your work. You have to press forward and write the next scene, the next chapter. Editing and revision are for a later time.
Not everyone likes writing this way, and a lot of published authors have different writing strategies for first drafts, but this method does help writers who can’t get past editing and can’t finish their book.
NaNoWriMo helps you build a daily writing habit
You aren’t going to knock out 50,000 words in a month without writing daily, or at least almost daily. As you write consistently to reach your word count, you’ll begin forming a writing habit, and you’ll discover what works and doesn’t work for you when writing.
This writing habit is key to being a published author. They have a writing routine that they keep. And if they miss a day, they sure aren’t missing multiple days and weeks and months. They have deadlines to meet, books to write and edit, books to release. If their income depends on their books being written, they’re going to be writing consistently.
A lot of published authors already wrote consistently before they published. They had to to develop their abilities and hone their craft. This takes time and a lot of words written, and that comes from writing consistently.
So if you don’t have a consistent writing routine and want one, NaNoWriMo can help you develop one. A deadline and goal always helps.
NaNoWriMo isn’t without its downfalls, and you should be aware of them before going into the event.
Writing 50,000 words in a month can be a lot, especially if you don’t write consistently or only write a few thousand words a month on average. 1,667 words a day takes a lot of time. For slower writers or first-time nanoers, it can take hours. Spending hours every day slogging through writing burns out new writers and inexperienced participants. Many hit December and don’t write another word.
This can be a major red flag for many experienced writers. Some people are hesitant about National Novel Writing Month because not everyone survives the event, even if they hit the 50,000-word goal.
If you’re feeling burned out, don’t stress yourself about hitting the final goal. Instead, change the goal. Aim for 30,000 words (1k a day) or 15,000 words (500 a day) instead. Pick a goal that is still challenging but attainable for the demands in your life. Sure, you won’t “win”, but you’ll have written every day (forming a writing habit), made progress in your manuscript, and still participated in the thriving writing community. It’s better to not burnout and continue writing every day in November than it is to “win” and never write again. Because if you’ve written anything, you’re already won.
NaNoWriMo leaves a bad taste in the mouths of agents and publishers
Agents and Publishers have received so many poorly edited/revised (if edited at all) NaNoWriMo drafts in December to March that it’s created a wave in the publishing world. Advice is circulating to regular writers to not submit their manuscript those months because agents and publishers are checking out of their slush pile.
This is a really sad effect of writers who think their NaNoWriMo book is amazing and ready to be sent out the world. The idea is fuelled by authors who have published their NaNoWriMo books and been successful. But those successful books weren’t first drafts–they went through multiple revisions and editing cycles, just like any other book. Your book written in November will not be ready to submit or publish. No first draft is.
Honestly, I refer to my books written in NaNoWriMo as nano drafts, a draft before the first draft. Because the work is usually a lesser quality and sessions during word sprints are often extra messy. But this is okay because I go through and rewrite, revise, and edit multiple times, just like I do with any other book.
To help combat this view, NaNoWriMo works to help you after November with their Now What? months in January and February. Now What? goes through the revision and editing process. They know books written during the event aren’t done, and they have programs and resources to help you continue your book if you don’t know where to start.
It isn’t too late to sign up and try. You don’t have to hit 50,000 to have a wonderful experience. You can reap the benefits of NaNoWriMo by just doing your best and writing daily. The fun in writing isn’t tied to smashing glass ceilings of high word counts. It’s from the joy of writing and being a part of a supportive writing community.