On Not Participating in NaNoWriMo

If you’re here because you spend any time haunting the “Writing” tab on the wordpress.com reader you’ve seen the buzz. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming. In fact, it started today. You can almost hear the sounds of furious typing filling the air. The gun has already sounded, and writers the world over, holding their dreams in their hands, have embarked on the mad race to complete a novel in just one month.

In college, when people asked me if I was doing NaNo, I responded with agonizing regret. “Noooo,” I wailed, “November is the worst month. I have a million illustration projects due, and so many other homework assignments and club commitments and look at me, I’m barely holding it together as it is. There is NO WAY.” I thought I’d probably do it when I was out of school, though, because what’s not to like about a thing that provides you with vehicle and motivation to write your 50,000?

Well. The thing about NaNo is that I hear about people doing it, and it’s all very exciting, and I admire (and am perhaps a little jealous of) their drive and focus and commitment, but when the month is through, I rarely see or hear about those novels again. NaNo seems like a quick-fix gimmick. It’s a way for people to be a writer for a month, but it doesn’t provide a path for them to really make it. Anyone can write a novel in a headlong race to the finish, but how many of you can revise that novel, and keep with it through the long slog of editing when a sentence can take days and chapter three isn’t agreeing with chapter four and you accidentally removed some important information from chapter one that needs to go back in and that cool thing in chapter eight is only going to work if you start alluding to it much earlier and that’s going to mess up all those scenes in chapters four, five, and six that you’ve already perfected?

I wrote my 50,000 words. It took me from December to August, and (I suspect this is what’s actually bugging me) I won’t be made to feel inadequate by you superheroes who do it in a month. It’s not like I started from scratch in December, either. I’d already polished up chapters 1 and 2 for a portfolio project. As I wrote the rest, I had my draft from high school to guide me, and sometimes I kept whole paragraphs or even pages of that first draft. I also edited quite a bit as I went, and sometimes took days just polishing a single scene. I wasn’t as committed as I could have been, and yeah, I wish I’d done better and finished earlier, but overall I think it was a good way to work. I had my NaNo style write-ins where I just sat and did it, and the slosh of that text is sitting in my manuscript waiting for cleanup, but there are also the scenes that I polished when I wrote them, and it’s so encouraging to know they are sitting there like jewels, waiting for me to shine the rest of the piece up to their brilliant standard.

I got my 50,000 words down, any way I could, and it took nearly a year. That’s what worked for me.

Yet… isn’t NaNoWriMo all about getting your 50,000 words down, in any way you can? In this business, all that matters is making it happen, however you do it. If you can make NaNoWriMo work for you, there’s no way I can look down on you for that.

So I still love you, NaNoWriMoers. I think you’re beautiful and frightening and I applaud your tenacity and wish you the best of luck on your uphill journey. I also think you can edit and polish that novel, and I encourage you to keep climbing when November is over. I hope to see you someday at that next high, distant peak. We may follow different paths to get there, but both our paths have value, and we share the same challenge of putting one foot before the other, a single sentence at a time.

Photo ©me. Taken near Chiang Mai, Thailand

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6 Comments

  1. I agree. I’ve always kind of felt that NaNoWriMo was gimmicky, but I feel inspired by those that do it.

    So torn.

    Reply
    • Yeah, it’s like this whole thing that subsumes the writing world for a month and I find it annoying because I’ve been busy writing ALL the months, and suddenly all that matters is whether I’m playing the “Write a Book in November” game. But writing books is awesome and people should do it! And so Nano gets my grudging support. 🙂

      Reply
  2. These are some great words! 🙂 It’s the having done the deed that makes everything worth it. Last year I was able to finish my 50k words, and I have no idea how I did it. This year, I’m not going to try, but I’m using this month as motivation to keep polishing what I have down already. I have 75k words down right now, and somewhat of an outline and it’s been exactly a year since I last started this thing. So, you’re not very far behind me and what you say is true. We may have similar dreams, but our paths are very different. Good luck to both of us then! 🙂

    Reply
    • Congrats on finishing last year, I’m glad it worked for you! Taking this year to polish it sounds like a good choice to me; good luck with your work. 🙂

      Reply
  3. One (rhetorical) question pretty much settles the issue for me. Has anyone successfully sold a book written during National Novel Writing Month? Or even moved, say, a few thousand self-published electronic copies of such a book?

    Reply
    • I read somewhere that the number of books actually sold from NaNo is something like 200—not very impressive when you look at the tens of thousands who participate. Still, I have also read that some people do it more for fun, and for the achievement of having written, than for the goal of actually selling and publishing a novel. This is hard for me to fathom because I am in such deadly earnest about selling my book and turning this into a career!

      Reply

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