NaNoWriMo, and I feel compelled to offer my annual advice concerning this November writing event. But first, for the uninitiated, a quick look at National Novel Writing Month:
National Novel Writing Month started twenty years ago and I suspect that in the beginning, it was just a fun writing challenge to give a group of coffee shop writers a way to get out of holiday preparations. Preparations that twenty years ago began—if you can believe it—on November 1st. “Sorry, hon, can’t put those lights up, got a novel to write!” Or “Oh, sweetie, I’d love to fix Thanksgiving dinner for your extended family of ninety, but this darn old novel is not gonna write itself!”
Fast forward to today, where thousands—thousands upon thousands—of writers from all over the world join together via the internet, challenging themselves to finish a 50,000 word novel before November 30th. There are virtual and actual writer meet-ups, lots of pep talks from famous writers, badges to be won, and products with the NaNoWriMo logo to be bought.
So here we are, writers, pondering or perhaps already planning, our NaNoWriMo. And here I am, throwing out my thoughts on what’s right and what’s wrong with this challenge:
What makes NaNoWriMo fun and incredibly helpful and right for a certain kind of writer is the community and the encouragement that one gets in participating. Accountability can be a strong motivator and there is nothing like a challenge (with bragging rights!) to get competitive juices flowing.
But that community can also be what makes it wrong. If you are the kind of writer that will get overly involved with the social side of NaNoWriMo, using all your time chatting and whatnot rather than writing and whatnot, then NaNoWriMo may not be a good fit for you.
Unless, the writing is secondary and you are looking at long last for community. Sign up right now if you want to meet (virtual or actual) writing buddies!
But if writing an actual novel is your primary aim in joining NaNoWriMo, we need to take a closer look at achieving that goal within this challenge.
Fifty thousand words is a lot of words, y’all, but it is not a typical adult novel. (If you’re writing a novel for middle grade or possibly even young adult, then whee! You’re done!) What is right about using NaNoWriMo is that it can get a writer who has a great concept and a good idea of where he or she wants to go with it, off and running, and even push him or her almost to the finish line of a novel. But a plan or outline prior to the challenge is really helpful. You’ll need 1,667 words per day to get ‘er done so this is where a plotter can shine whereas a pantser might write seven pages about the flowers in the park whilst working out what to do about the killer who was accidentally killed off 27,674 words ago.
Then again, pantser or plotter, both may indeed “win” the challenge. And here is what is wrong about NaNoWriMo: a writer is spending a lot of one’s precious working time to put words on a page but one can easily end up with a little—and by a little, I mean a lot—of drivel. So is it worth it?
Well, you might have a novel of sorts, not to mention that pretty legit-sounding excuse, at least for November, am I right?
(Or wrong? What do you think about NaNoWriMo?)
~Cathy C. Hall