NaNoWriMo and why I don’t

Stabbed BookNaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. I’m going to rant a bit here, because I’m pretty much against it in every way. However, and I’ll say this again at the end because it won’t sink in with the converts, if it works for you, more power to your elbow. But what is it really working?

The principle is simple enough – for the entire month of November, you write and try to get down 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1,666 words a day on average. Any old words will do – if you get 50,000 or more, you “win”. What do you win? Well, probably several weeks or months of editing at best.

From the NaNoWriMo website we get these gems:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing… The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

First point of order – 50,000 words is not a novel. It might be a children’s or very young adult novel, but even then, not really. Most young adult novels are between 50,000 and 60,000 words. Most adult novels are over 80,000 words. The vast majority of publishers will not accept a novel of less than 80,000 words.

Then there’s this one:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Quality doesn’t matter. Lower your expectations. These are never things we should apply to our writing. EVER. The whole concept of NaNoWriMo seems to be to churn out 50,000 words of shit, just to call yourself a winner, and then try to knock it into some kind of shape afterwards.

Why not just aim for 20,000 good words throughout November? Then again in December, January, Feb and March. Then you have an actual first draft novel. And a far better one than you’d achieve using the NaNo model. You won’t have to lower your expectations and take quantity over quality. And you know what you’ve done as well? You’ve become a writer. You had a goal to write a novel and you did it. Not a goal to vomit up 50,000 words no matter what in a month and call it a win.

What do you win? Nothing, except a feeling of disappointment and an unfinished novel.

Talking about previous participants, the site says:

They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

No. Just no. They didn’t. They may very well be novelists one day, but churning out 50,000 words of shite in a month does not a novelist make.

So yes, I’m being especially harsh. It’s hard to write a novel, trust me, I know. It’s a fucking chore to find writing time, to force that thing in your head out on to paper (or screen, more accurately). Sometimes it’s like trying to crap a watermelon out of your face. I get it, I really do. And I can see why some people appreciate the drive of NaNo to force them into a deeper writing zone.

A lot of great novels may have grown out of NaNo projects. A lot of people take great strength from the whole NaNo community and the shared support and encouragement. Writing can be a lonely pursuit. I think most writers actually like that – I know I do – but we all crave community. I have many friends in the writing world and we do support and encourage each other. All the time, not just during November.

Any writer can achieve that. You start writing, you join some online forums, you join your local writers’ centre and start making friends. Join a crit group. Toughen up and listen to advice. Take any favours you can and offer your help to others in response. Before long you’re a writer with a writing community around you. That’s how we’ve all done it.

I can’t help thinking about all those would-be writers who get all excited for NaNo, shit out 50,000 words and then live the rest of the year in a mire of inactivity because they were ruined by the NaNo experience. Or all those who don’t “win” and then just have something else to beat themselves up about instead of writing.

It’s simple – writers write. Not every day necessarily, because everyone has a life, even full-time writers. But just write. Don’t mug yourself with perceived wordcounts, or pointless goals. No one wins or loses. We all write, hopefully we get published, and we keep trying to get better and get more published. Lots of little victories among hundreds of failures, but the determined and thick-skinned among us power on through sheer bloody-mindedness.

Here’s my advice. Fuck NaNoWriMo. Set yourself a new goal, a far simpler one. Here it is:

I will be a writer.

Simple as that. You write whenever and as often as you can. You keep writing whether you get down 1,666 words in a day or 6. Or 6,000. Fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Find the broader writing community and become a part of it, we’re happy to have you. And keep doing it. However fast or slow you write, just write. Finish a novel. An actual novel, not 50,000 words of drivel that might be 20,000 decent words when edited that might be part of a novel one day. Then keep going and write some more.

I see NaNoWriMo as a circus of short-term back-slapping and pointless goals, far removed from what’s really needed to be a writer. But, and here it comes again for the NaNo fans – if it works for you, go for it! I hope you get inspired, churn out 50,000 or more fabulous words and end up with the start of a novel that you go on to finish and get published. I hope it hits the bestseller lists and makes you rich and famous. I really do. But you know what? It’ll take more than 30 days. I’m just saying.

I’ll be over here, growing a moustache for Movember.

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76 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo and why I don’t

  1. LOVE this. Am just starting my fourth novel (two published, one in twilight-publishing-house-zone) and my lovely online friends keep saying “Join NaNo with us! Go on! You’ll get SO much done”… but I disagree. For one, I cannot physically write 1666 words a day. It takes me usually about 3 hours to write 1000- I’m slow and I like to think and edit and polish and prune as I go- plus I have a job! And a family! And RSI! And a blinding headache at the thought of having to force out that many words every. single. fucking. day. for a MONTH.

    But mainly, I don’t write like that. If you can, more power to you. After three novels (and two more warm ups which will never see the light of day) I know how I work- so why would I want to stuff with that?? Thank you for articulating every thing I doubt about NaNo.

  2. I think if you’re going to do NaNoWriMo you have to go in with a realistic idea of what it means. Expect to come out of November knowing you still have a lot of work ahead of you, especially in terms of editing. I personally do it as a kick in the pants to stop myself from procrastinating and get words down on the page. I’ve found what I have learned from doing NaNoWriMo has been invaluable (even if the words churned out end up being shelved) and I have been able to apply it to my everyday writing life (long after November was finished).

    Good luck with Movember!

  3. I think that what people get from NaNo is a goal. And a team to cheer them on. Writing being the lonely business it is, that can be invaluable. I’ve ‘done’ NaNo twice – never ‘won’, but don’t really care about that. Both times I used it as a way to get a novel going. To fight that urge to edit and prune and revisit and to just get words on paper to work with. If you’ve got a blank page, you’ve got nothing, right? So if it helps get people started, I don’t see the problem with it. I agree with you on the length though.

  4. LOL I love this post. I also love nanowrimo.

    Perhaps I’m lucky to be one of the writers who it does work for. However, I don’t think that’s entirely true either. My first year of nanoing, I wrote the first 50,000 words of a novel and I hated the last few days of it and didn’t want to look at what I’d written for over a year.

    The next year I got smarter about it and decided I’d find a way to make nanowrimo work for me. Instead of exhausting myself with a novel I’d probably not care about afterwards, I chose to be a rebel and used the 50,000 word goal to write short stories, poetry and articles. The kinds of things I’d normally write anyway. Sure, a fair bit of it was crap, but that would happen anyway, and more importantly, a decent proportion of it was good and worth working on.

    As a stay-at-home mum studying my masters, it works for me to spend a month solidly churning out new work I can spent the other eleven months drafting into a publishable standard.

    I do agree with a lot of what you said (and had a good chuckle as I read), though I do truly find the online community a rewarding and encouraging experience. Be sure to share pics of your Mo.

  5. I’m going to walk straight into the centre of this shit storm and say, (and thank you Alan for qualify that it does work for some people)… I’m one of the people it works for.

    I’m a binge writer – I write lots in a short space of time and like Karen spoke about at Conflux – I build outward from a skeleton. My first drafts almost always suck because they’re not fleshed out – they’re ideas coming together – so for the next 30 days I’m (hopefully ) rigging up some scaffolding of something which hopefully has legs. It won’t be quality – it will be unearthing a diamond to polish later on. I need an arbitary date and some rules, because other wise I will ensure other things get priority over writing – editing and publishing.

    I wrote “Kissed by the Sun” as part of my word count for NaNo last year – the story published in Dead Red Heart. And for the past two years my output after NaNo has exceeded any other month – all stories which went on to publication.

    This year I’ve set out to treat NaNo as bootcamp – to force me to write and to do it in a way which compliments my ‘day job’. I don’t buy into any of the official rhetoric – its just my job for the next 30 days to get down as many of those beginner words and ideas as I can.

    I do agree its wrong to give people the impression that any writing is better than no writing and ppor quality writing makes you a writer of note, that quanity over quality isalways the best approach … as a carte blanc statment. It lends nothing to all the time an effort which goes into rewriting, editing, rewriting again, or the slog of getting a book to publication… but I guess we do all have to start somewhere.

    I’d like to see one month a quarter dedicated to community writing efforts – where everyone comdes together to support each other in achieving a word goal for the month. For me the community support is everything. Everyone writing together and encouraging those around them to do the same.

    This year I’m returning to my roots, the idea which spawned Chinese Whisperings and writing interconnected short stories. They won’t be brilliant but they will be there at the end and hopefully perfect for the 50K word count.

    I guess at the end of the day, you make of it what you want. YOu Should have NaNo working for you, not you working for NaNo.

  6. And I should add – yay the Mo! Dave has decided after immense peer pressure in the office, he will be joining up too – which will be – umm interesting!

    Can we expect a future story based on a man changing his appearance for the good of charity?

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Interesting perspectives.

    I see that a few people use the NaNo thing for general writing motivation rather than novels per se. That’s a good idea, I think. Using NaNo as a means to writing shorts stories and other projects, and giving yourself a month where only your writing is a priority, etc. is actually a far better use of the period. Of course, you could pick any month for that stuff.

    And yes, I’ll keep track of my Movember progress here and on Facebook and Twitter, so watch along.

  8. I can write 8000 words per day if I push myself. I know because I’ve done it several times. However, over the past seven years the only time I’ve sat down and written regularly is during Nanowrimo.

    Like Jodi, above, I’m a binge writer. The idea of forcing myself to write every day, all year round? Brrr.

    What matters to me is the deadline, and the fact I can use Nanowrimo to finish a draft, write a chunk of my next book, and – for one month – allow writing to take over my life instead of the other way round.

    BTW Hal Spacejock No Free Lunch is the result of a couple of my Nanowrimo efforts, and Hal Junior The Secret Signal (along with the second in the series) were both written during Nanowrimo 2010. The distance between those initial efforts and the published novels is a vast gulf … something in the order of ten times the effort I expended writing the books in the first place. (It’s no exaggeration to say I write solidly for a month and then spend 11-18 months tidying, extending, rewriting and editing the novel into shape.)

    For those who go into nano thinking it’s going to make them a real novelist … it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s a creative endeavour and some of them WILL go on to become published writers.

  9. Some of them MAY go on to become published novelists. But, as I mentioned in my previous response, you fall into the category of people who use NaNo for something far greater, and it’s something you could really pick any month for.

    I also, for what it’s worth, don’t believe in the “write every day” adage. I believe a writer writes all the time, but that doesn’t mean every day. It means every day they can, at least on several days a week. Take a week or two off here and there when you need it. Just write as much as possible and make sure it stays a priority in your life.

  10. That’s part of my argument though – I can’t write any month. It never works because there are so many other things I need to do. I may write for a week, or every three days, but I never sit down for 30 days and force myself to write 50k.

    Nanowrimo is a crutch and an excuse, but I’m fine with that. I have many, many higher priorities than writing books for a few hundred people to enjoy. I love the intellectual challenge of writing and editing my novels, but they don’t feed my family and I don’t expect they ever will.

    That’s why Nanowrimo is useful to me. I can pretend I’m a full-time author for one month of the year.

  11. Ah, now there’s an interesting distinction. And a very honest one! I don’t think I’ve ever pushed out 50k words in a month, but every month I do push out several thousand. Writing for me is one of my highest priorities and I do want it to feed me, and ever better food into the future. I pretend I’m a full-time author all the time, I just also have another time intensive job as well, running the Kung Fu academy. 🙂

  12. I think NaNo is great — but I’m not a rabid fangirl about to shriek that everything you said is crap, either. In fact, I agree with just about everything in your post.

    If you start NaNo believing that you’ll write 50,000 words, which is a finished novel, be published in November, and start raking in the $$ by December, then you are probably also about to inherit a few million dollars from a poor, imprisoned Nigerian prince.

    On the other hand, if you start NaNo with an idea, a dream, and a desire to see if you can actually do it, if you can actually write 50,000 words and be part of a writing community, then the experience may be just what you need. Especially if, like many of us, you come from a family where the idea of being a writer rates right up there with the idea of being a hooker. Except at least hookers earn money.

    I did NaNo for the first time in 2004, and “won” with a 70K first draft that deserved to be burned at the stake for crimes against narrative structure, characterisation and cliche abuse. But what I learned from that experience was invaluable. Firstly, I learned that those things exist. But, more importantly, I learned that I was capable of writing a whole novel, and I met some great people who formed the core of my writing friends for a number of years.

    Only 20% of people who start NaNo each year “win”. But the experience of writing more on one story than you ever have before, and realising that writing is a valid way to spend your free time, is a bigger win than word count.

    (As an aside, I’m not doing NaNo this year. I’m cruising along quite nicely at 10-15K per month on my WIP, and don’t need the validation or arbitrary goal.)

  13. Interesting post. I’d sort of signed up to NaNoWriMo this month – but haven’t registered on the site or anything like that. I’m not the least bit interested in that. I’ve just decided that I want to try to focus some energies on writing.

    I had no idea that the goal was to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I thought it was just to write – which is what I plan to do.

    I’m one of those guys who has a heap of ideas and confident I have the ability but the challenges of working ridiculously long hours and the added pressures of balancing family and work means I generally have no time to spend writing.

    For me, the benefit of NaNoWriMo is just a bit of a public motivation to try to write more. And for that I think it’s fun – maybe it needs to be deconstructed a bit and made less formal, but I think most people just use it as a bit of a push to self-motivate.

  14. Like some other commenters here, I find more value in NaNoWriMo for the encouragement/writing community side of things than in terms of productivity. I did NaNo last year for the first time and got 50,000 words. And threw away probably 35,000 because it was crap. That being said, I did manage to double the amount of ‘good’ words I’d had before starting, but I would have been better off aiming for a lower target and being able to keep all of the words (at least until draft 2). A lot of the problem is that people write their 50,000 words of crap and go “Yay, I have a novel! Now to send it to all the publishers and let them fight over my masterpiece!” without realising that it takes months (if not years) to polish a novel to publishable standard.

    I’ll be doing NaNo again this year, but I’ll be aiming for the more achievable goal of finishing/editing my first four chapters.

    “Sometimes it’s like trying to crap a watermelon out of your face.” This sentence is gold 😀

  15. 50,000 words doth a ROMANCE NOVEL make 🙂

    As someone who’s in the school of get the sucker down so I can edit – the idea of Nano works brilliantly for me. In fact, I tend to Nano a lot of the year – I’ll pick a month (so far this year it’s been January/February, June, July and October) and whatever project I’m working on will be the one that I just spew words onto (result this year – completed two paranormal romances at 110,000 each and two contemporaries, one 50,000 one 42,000). I can’t go slow at this point because I can’t think too much about words.

    This means I edit a lot more than other people I’m guessing – multiple drafts, lots of time spent pondering the finished result and working out what’s right and what’s wrong.

    Agreed that the idea that some people have that NaNo novel can immediately be subbed is a bad one (and I know the agents and publishers are coming to LOATHE December for that reason) but I think that’s a problem easily dealt with from the NaNo side by some explicit explaining that these 50,000 words, while worthy, are just a draft and NaNo isn’t about writing something publishable but about writing.

    Anyone who completes a draft of a story or novel is a winner, in my eyes. But then, I am becoming increasingly convinced that I’m Australian SF’s Pollyanna 🙂

  16. Jo – “Only 20% of people who start NaNo each year “win”. But the experience of writing more on one story than you ever have before, and realising that writing is a valid way to spend your free time, is a bigger win than word count.”

    You’re right, but I worry about the potential damage done to the budding writing careers of the 80% who don’t “win”.

    Paul – “I had no idea that the goal was to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I thought it was just to write – which is what I plan to do.”

    This is the problem for me. If you seriously want to write, it needs to be a more than one month a year motivation. You can build a community of like-minded people around you (IRL or online) and motivate each other all the time.

    Rebecca – “I’ll be doing NaNo again this year, but I’ll be aiming for the more achievable goal of finishing/editing my first four chapters.”

    That’s not really NaNo. That’s just being a writer. 🙂

    Jen – “It seems weird to have such passionate loathing for something you admit you aren’t a part of.”

    It’s really not passionate loathing. It’s more distinct irritation every November. I think it engenders poor practice and can do more to damage a potential writer than help.

    But once again – If it works for you, go for it!

    Nicole – “50,000 words doth a ROMANCE NOVEL make.”

    Really? No wonder you romance people get through so many books!

    Also – “In fact, I tend to Nano a lot of the year”

    Again, that’s not NaNo. That’s being a writer.

  17. Nicole – “50,000 words doth a ROMANCE NOVEL make.”

    Alan – Really? No wonder you romance people get through so many books!

    This is true 🙂 Of course, it’s an interesting thing to try and fulfil an entire story (in this case have two people meet and fall in love) in just 50,000 words. Writes very differently to longer novels.

    Also – “In fact, I tend to Nano a lot of the year”

    Alan – Again, that’s not NaNo. That’s being a writer.

    Not sure I agree there. Not everyone spills the words out, then works on them like I do. It’s a style of approaching the writing, rather than being a writer in my view. Like lots of folks have said, it works for some people. And I was intrigued by Simon’s position that it helps him focus and he feels for that one month at least he’s a professional writer. From that perspective, perhaps a good learning curve for the workload involved when you become contracted?

  18. I fell into the trap of assuming 50k words in a month = a finished novel. Didn’t happen. I got to 35k somewhere in December. It felt like I was half-way but I hadn’t planned and it was too big for me to do on the fly. I will get back to that work one day.

    In the meantime, I’ve been learning a lot about writing and have written other, shorter things. The level of shittiness in my writing is slowly going down (I think) as I come to terms with what creating a story means.

    I signed up to NaNoWriMo again. This was a no-brainer: my writing group grew out of a heap of NaNoers from last year. And although I’m going to go for 50k+ words this year, I’m using it as a lever to get the fool thing planned and written. Plus there’s a lot of competitiveness in my writing group, which I like from time-to-time.

  19. True – not everyone does work like that. But that’s your method of working. The fact that it resembles several NaNos a year doesn’t make it like NaNo, which is a once a year word vomit. I understand the point you’re making, but not sure I agree. We all have different writing practices, but whether it’s binging like you, or more steadily going like I tend to do, we’re still writers all the time.

    Whether you’re published or not, serious or not, if you write all (most) of the time throughout a year, you’re a writer. That’s the key.

  20. Sorry – my previous comment was to Nicole.

    Wade – it sounds like you’re using NaNo for a much better purpose, but you’re making one very important distinction. “The level of shittiness in my writing is slowly going down” – this is good. This is VERY important. NaNo stifles that with its quantity over quality mantra.

  21. Alan – so perhaps what needs to happen is a second part of NaNo – now people have the experience of having written and understand what’s involved in at least starting and getting words on the page, you then have to finish and edit it. Perhaps a National Novel Editing Month – in March or April to work on the books finished after NaNo?

    Although that doesn’t settle your argument about a writer writing, as a regular part of their life. Perhaps it’s a case of not everyone is meant to be a writer, and while NaNo is a way to introduce people to it, it’s also a way to weed out those who aren’t really writers because they do that little bit and no more?

  22. Perhaps. But weeding out people while prescribing quantity over quality is pretty poor practice in my mind. Why not have NaNoWriSup – National Novel Writing Support? A year round site where people can buddy up and help each other with an ongoing writing career, concentrating on quality and good practice rather than vomitting up an arbtrarily high (for the timeframe) wordcount.

    Oh, wait a minute, that’s being a writer, and taking motivation and support from the existing and extensive writing community out there. 🙂

  23. I’m a strong believer that, when it comes to writing, people have to find what works for them. Pantser vs planner, set writing routine vs when the Muse takes them etc, there is no one size fits all. The key is actually writing.

    For me, NaNoWriMo is about proving to myself that I can write a novel length manuscript, that I can set that goal and stick to it. And, when the month is over I will have 50,000 words plus that I have invested too much time and effort and stress in to just let lie around gathering dust.

    I know there will be more writing, more editing and more kicking my desk in frustration once November is finished, but I am using this as the kickstart I need to stop just talking about the great novel idea I have been sitting on for years, and actually start it.

    I am still going to stick to my word goals for my other writing, it is not taking away from that, so I see it as a win/win siutation.

    NaNoWriMo certainly isn’t a guaranteed path to fame and fortune and a fat publishing contract, just like anything it is only as good as what you put in. But, if it encourages people to write when they otherwise wouldn’t, and they take that in to next month and the month after and the month after that and so on, it can’t be a bad thing.

    I do think though that Alan makes some valid points, and hopefully it gave people something to consider before just jumping in.

  24. But Alan – what about all the people out there who deserve to have their hand held and be led step by step through the whole process? You can’t expect them to go out and find like-minded people themselves! 🙂

  25. David – “But, if it encourages people to write when they otherwise wouldn’t, and they take that in to next month and the month after and the month after that and so on, it can’t be a bad thing.”

    This is true – but again, I wonder how much damage it does to the potential careers of all the “losers”.

    Nicole – You’re right. It’s not like there’s some kind of portal that just sits on a desk in everyone’s house, all year round, capable of connecting them to likeminded people all over the world. Oh, wait…

  26. I never realized I could write, or how much I loved it, until I did nanowrimo 2007. I was always held back by the idea I needed some secret formula to put out a novel. It took nanowrimo to give myself permission to write (yes I admit it) utter drivel. Then I spent time trying to figure out how to be better. After all, even Hemingway said, “the first draft of anything is sh*t.”

    I agree with many of your points, but I think you are missing nanowrimo’s main point… To keep your inner editor from telling you not to bother. After all, you can’t edit a blank page. If it hasn’t been for doing Nanowrimo, I wouldn’t have discovered how much I love writing.

    And while 50k would be a thin novel, my favorite book “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is around 50,000 words. So there. :p

    I was actually skipping nano this year because I’m editing l last year’s nano novel, but my son decided to try it again for young writers program. So I’m revising mine while cheering him on.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  27. “This is true – but again, I wonder how much damage it does to the potential careers of all the “losers”.”

    But couldn’t you say the same about the endless cycle of rejections we have to deal with? Or the bad crit experiences? It may sound a little harsh, but I kind of feel that if that’s all it takes to ruin someone’s potential writing career then maybe writing isn’t really for them.

  28. I completely agree with David. If not achieving an arbitrary word count target causes someone to decide not to pursue a writing career, then that may be the best thing for them. That person may be better served following their other dreams and aspirations. Being a writer is full of perceived failures, rejections, and esteem-crippling reviews.

    Although I’m curious as to what originally prompted your concern about NaNo damaging the potential careers of writers. Everyone that I’ve interacted with, whether they’ve “won” NaNo or not, has seen it as a positive experience and they’ve learned something from it — even if all they’ve learned is that they don’t write well under pressure. Have you had people tell you that they’re giving up writing because they couldn’t “win” NaNo?

    (Also, although I “won” my first NaNo in 2004, I’ve done NaNo another 5 times since then, and my next best effort was 25,000 words. But losing 5 times in a row didn’t impact on my decision to be a writer.)

  29. ganymeder – thanks for sharing your thoughts. Nice to hear a positive result. I know it can happen!

    David – Of course, all writers deal with a constant stream of rejections and have to plough on regardless. It’s part of the process. But NaNo encourages quantity over quality and it’s easy to fail on two levels:

    1. Not reach 50k words, feel like you’ve failed (“lost”) and give up, when it’s actually an incredibly unrealistic goal.

    2. Churn out so much shit that it could never be published and subsequently think you don’t have it, when a more measured and thoughtful pace would actually yield a far better result.

    I guess there are no figures to back up my points there, either for or against. ganymeder’s comment above yours, however, is a good indicator of NaNo working for someone.

  30. Jo – “If not achieving an arbitrary word count target causes someone to decide not to pursue a writing career”

    But 50k words in 30 days is a completely unrealistic goal, even for a jobbing writer! And it sounds like you’re a writer anyway, with or without NaNo.

    My real problem, apart from the potential damage to writers’ careers (which is where these comments have drifted), is more the whole quantity over quality to produce a 50k word “novel”.

  31. Alan,

    I can certainly see that those are things to be mindful of. Whether I agree with your initial post, I do think it is something people doing Nanowrimo should read, if only to ensure that they have actually considered those things, and not just taken in the positive buzz that surrounds it. It’s alwasy useful to weigh up the pros and cons of something, rather tahn just one side of the debate!

  32. Alan – As I said initially, I agree with pretty much everything you originally said. And yes, too much emphasis on quantity over quality is not a good thing. On the other hand, too much emphasis on quality over quantity (especially in the early stages of learning the craft) results in would-be novellists writing and rewriting the first 2-3 chapters of their “book” ad nauseum, wondering why it never seems to get any better and why they never get to the end.

    Perhaps my overall point is that NaNo fills a niche for a certain type of writer, at a certain point in their career.

  33. “Perhaps my overall point is that NaNo fills a niche for a certain type of writer, at a certain point in their career.”

    If I might edit that slightly to reflect my opinion:

    NaNo might fill a niche for a certain type of writer, at a certain point in their career, but it could do more harm than good.

    🙂

  34. Holy cow – wandered away to write and attend to my ‘day job’ and this exploded.

    Could I suggest a further edit/addition to your above codacil?

    NaNo might fill a niche for a certain type of writer, at a certain point in their career, but it could do more harm than good…

    …Therefore forearmed is forewarned.

    and I’d also add…
    Know what you want to get out of NaNo so you enter with realistic expectations.

    All the people who speak here ‘for’ NaNo have a realistic agenda for what they want to get out of it.

    And all the discussion spawned the gears in my head to start moving with future ideas for Write Anything and how it might better support a community of writing and solid writing practices in the future.

  35. Jodi – “Know what you want to get out of NaNo so you enter with realistic expectations.”

    Very wise words. And good luck with Write Anything.

  36. Since my 10/31 blog post was about NaNo, and I took a more positive spin, maybe this should be our podcast topic.

  37. aHHHHH I came across this after staring at a screen with a measly 600 words on it. Yesterday I wrote 88. Ha. I went to bed depressed and annoyed. Thank you for the perspective. I’ll do it myyyyyy waaaay. : )

  38. “But 50k words in 30 days is a completely unrealistic goal, even for a jobbing writer!”

    I don’t know whether I’m reading this wrong, but it’s easily achievable. 250 words on the hour, which takes ten-fifteen mins tops including quick line editing, for ten to twelve hours per day. That’s 2500-3000 words per day or 90,000 in 30 days. I usually stop at 50k about 5 or 6 days before the end of November (at least, I have the last five times), and I always lose one or two days along the way to family/work/etc.

    Obviously the above isn’t possible if you’re working full time, but you can adapt it. 250 words when you get up, 250-500 in your lunch break, 4 x 250 at night working from 6pm to 10pm in four ten-minute bursts.

    The hardest part for me is ‘what do I write next’, but once I have a scene in mind I can dash off 1500 words before drawing breath, and I never learnt to touch type properly.

  39. “It’s really not passionate loathing. It’s more distinct irritation every November. I think it engenders poor practice and can do more to damage a potential writer than help.”

    Okay, so it’s a distinct irritation and you’re against it in every way. I think the reason you’re getting a big response here is because there are a lot of aspiring writers who look up to you because you have a couple books out, so your words mean something to them.

    I respect you a lot, but what irritates me is that they’re looking up to someone who is making false statements. For instance, your statement that 50,000 words is an unreasonable goal even for a professional. That’s just not true. It’s 2000 words a day with a few days off in a month. If a professional writer must produce one or two books a year (not an unusual request from a publisher) they most definitely have to write that much on first drafts. This is one of the good things about NaNoWriMo: it shows aspiring writers that these apparently insane goals are actually achievable.

    Your idea that 50,000 words doesn’t make a novel has already been blown away by someone regarding romance novels, and it’s also false if you consider YA, junior books, or many adult books that have been listed elsewhere.

    And about not lowering our expectations for writing, ever? That’s what a first draft is for! Not writing every perfect word, but getting the story out so you can edit and improve it later.

    I’d be fascinated to hear about anyone you know or have heard of who has had their writing career permanently damaged by NaNoWriMo.

  40. Dave – I missed your post. Here it is for the others commenting – he’s much kinder than me. http://davidwoodonline.blogspot.com/2011/10/morning-wood-nanowrimo-whats-use.html. And sure, let’s talk about it on the next podcast.

    Amanda – excellent!

    Simon – What you describe is like the writing equivalent of crash dieting. Sure, it works in the short term, but it’s not healthy or sustainable over the long term. That’s one of my main beefs with NaNo. People who really want to write should be developing a sustainable writing habit. I get using November as a mad crash month, but I bet loads of people burn out and do nothing for months afterwards. If they spent their time developing a sustainable writing habit, they wouldn’t need NaNo any more.

  41. Jen – “Okay, so it’s a distinct irritation and you’re against it in every way.”

    No. I’ll say it again – If it works for you, go for it!

    “I respect you a lot, but what irritates me is that they’re looking up to someone who is making false statements. For instance, your statement that 50,000 words is an unreasonable goal even for a professional.”

    Thank you. But it’s not a false statement. 50k words in a short time is not unreasonable, but in 30 days it’s unrealistic to be sustainable. Once, sure, but on a regular basis? It’s unsustainable and uneccesary. Even if a publisher requires two books a year, you have 6 times that to get out each one. And some great authors only write a book every few years. Writing a good book is important, not how quickly you write.

    “Your idea that 50,000 words doesn’t make a novel has already been blown away by someone regarding romance novels, and it’s also false if you consider YA, junior books, or many adult books that have been listed elsewhere.”

    Outside of romance and YA, you’d be very hard pressed to sell an adult novel of under 70,000 words anywhere. It’s not impossible, of course, but you’re very unlikely to get any interest from a publisher for a 50,000 word novel outside romance and YA.

    Having said that, the rise of e-publishing is opening up all kinds of vistas and novella length and short novel length will become much easier to sell as time goes on, because print runs are not an issue. So maybe there’s a place for the 50k word NaNo novel in the future. But I won’t hold my breath just yet.

    “And about not lowering our expectations for writing, ever? That’s what a first draft is for!”

    I really disagree – and herein lies my main beef with NaNo. Quantity over quality is a terrible thing to promote. Of course a first draft is going to be really crappy and need lots of work. But the less you care about quality on the first draft, the more work it will take later, perhaps to the point of giving up on it because it’s too messy to fix. Or you spend 1 month writing it and the next 6 or 12 or 18 trying to fix it.

    I’m all about getting the first draft down. I tell people not to worry about it, don’t agonise and edit too much as you go along, just get it written and tidy it up later. It’s how I write too. BUT, I would never suggest that people ignore quality along the way.

    “I’d be fascinated to hear about anyone you know or have heard of who has had their writing career permanently damaged by NaNoWriMo.”

    Me too. But I bet most wouldn’t even know it themselves, because they tried NaNo, “lost” and decided they weren’t cut out to be a writer.

  42. “Once, sure, but on a regular basis? It’s unsustainable and uneccesary.”

    Haha, you have heard of Karen Miller, Sean Williams and Kevin J Anderson?

    I’ll see you on Saturday at the Anywhere But Earth launch, Alan. Maybe we can ask Karen together what her daily word output is 😉

  43. Haha! I know there are people out there with a production level that boggles the mind, but those people aren’t normal!

    See you Saturday. 🙂

  44. Hmmm. Aren’t they?

    I have the sneaking suspicion that their kind of (enviable) work ethic is normal – for writers who make a viable income solely from the sale of their fiction. And maybe the slow writers, like Richard Harland, while in the minority, can get away with it because their books get optioned for films and win awards in France.

    I thought NaNo last year was fun. Targets are good. Competition is good. When bloody Haynes was finished in about a week (or something!), I didn’t feel like giving up in despair. I felt like it was proof that published writers that I admire had the kind of writing stamina that I hope to someday acquire, and that I was on the right track by setting increasingly more difficult goals for myself.

  45. I think the thing is that there’s no such thing as normal. I sometimes write at that kind of level, then don’t write a thing for weeks. Certainly, the higher your output the more likely you are to make a viable income from writing.

    But the things that NaNo espouses, I think, are damaging to that. I bet all of those writers built up to that kind of output, rather than trying to start there. It would certainly be interesting to ask them…

  46. “Jen – ‘Okay, so it’s a distinct irritation and you’re against it in every way.’
    No. I’ll say it again – If it works for you, go for it!”

    You said in your original post that you’re “against it in every way.” I’m just quoting you, here. But as for repeatedly giving me permission to go for it… gee thanks. 😉

    “But it’s not a false statement. 50k words in a short time is not unreasonable, but in 30 days it’s unrealistic to be sustainable. Once, sure, but on a regular basis? It’s unsustainable and uneccesary. Even if a publisher requires two books a year, you have 6 times that to get out each one. And some great authors only write a book every few years.”

    If a publisher requires two books a year, you have 6 times that to get out each one *only if you never edit.* And of course you have to edit. A first draft is not complete. And many great authors write at least a book a year, and their fans expect it–for example, most of the crime fiction I read like Tess Gerritsen and Val McDermid. Also, people who write those Berkley series paperbacks, and someone else mentioned Karen Miller & so forth. If they don’t get their yearly book out fans start to get uppity. They aren’t the unusual writers, Stephen King is, who wrote The Tommynockers, Misery, The Dark Tower 2, and The Eyes of the Dragon in 1987 alone. He definitely didn’t think 2000 words a day was unreasonable.

    Of course, all writers are different. Which is why it bothers me that you’re making this statement as if it’s fact when it’s a subjective slippy slidey opinion.

    Regarding a shitty first draft, fair enough that you want your own first drafts to be more quality. But again this is up to the author. I like to write the first draft of anything–novel or short story–without knowing how a lot about its ending. I don’t outline. So my first drafts can be very rough, and I spend more time editing, but this is how it works for me.

    “Haha! I know there are people out there with a production level that boggles the mind, but those people aren’t normal!”

    So I’m not normal. Okay. Well, I’d be grateful to know where you got the statistics for that judgement.

    It seems that you don’t like NaNoWriMo because it would never work for you, for the length of books you write and the time you spend on your first draft and how much you write in a day. But it clearly works for a lot of people, and you only have your assumptions to suggest that it has ruined some people’s writers’ lives. I’m glad you posted your opinions on this because I’m often interested in what you have to say about the writing life, but I am disappointed with your negativity when it seems based more in your own preferences than the facts you say you’re presenting.

  47. Jen

    “You said in your original post that you’re “against it in every way.” I’m just quoting you, here.”

    Fair enough, I’ll give you that. I am, as far as I’m concerned, and I’d advise others against it. But it’s only my opinion. I draw your attention to the header of this website.

    “But as for repeatedly giving me permission to go for it… gee thanks. ;)”

    You don’t need my permission, and neither does anyone else. You’ve clearly got your thing working for you and that’s great. Methinks you doth protest too much. Read the post again – see what I’m really saying.

    However:

    “If a publisher requires two books a year, you have 6 times that to get out each one *only if you never edit.* And of course you have to edit. A first draft is not complete. And many great authors write at least a book a year, and their fans expect it”

    Of course you have to edit. But editing isn’t as time consuming as the actual process of writing. Assuming you didn’t just write absolute drivel, most of which was wasted time and effort. But you still have three months to write and three to edit. Or four to write and two to edit. Etc. Then you go on to “many great authors write at least a book a year” which is 12 months to write and edit.

    Besides, you’ve made a huge leap here. These are people who are already established novelists, with a practice and a process in place. I’m sure they didn’t start out writing 50k words every month, and often still don’t.

    I was being tongue in cheek when I said those people aren’t normal, hence the smiley. But the vast majority of novelists of any note don’t churn out two books a year.

    We’re comparing full-time writers, who have been honing their craft for years, with first time writers who are told they “don’t win” if they don’t make 50k words. Apples and oranges.

    “They aren’t the unusual writers, Stephen King is, who wrote The Tommynockers, Misery, The Dark Tower 2, and The Eyes of the Dragon in 1987 alone. He definitely didn’t think 2000 words a day was unreasonable.”

    And no, 2,000 words a day is not unusual. But even at 5 days a week, every week – extremely full time writing – that’s closer to 40k in a month, not 50. And no one is likely to keep up that pace all the time. Especially newbies trying to make a go of writing.

    “Of course, all writers are different. Which is why it bothers me that you’re making this statement as if it’s fact when it’s a subjective slippy slidey opinion.”

    It is a fact that in my opinion NaNoWriMo is a waste of time and effort, possibly damaging and an unhealthy way to approach a writing career. 🙂 And I’ve explained why.

    “Haha! I know there are people out there with a production level that boggles the mind, but those people aren’t normal!”

    So I’m not normal. Okay. Well, I’d be grateful to know where you got the statistics for that judgement.”

    I know a lot of writers. We all boggle at the kind of output people like Sean Williams maintain. I know a few people who do write that kind of volume, but they’re the distinct minority.

    “It seems that you don’t like NaNoWriMo because it would never work for you, for the length of books you write and the time you spend on your first draft and how much you write in a day.”

    Correct. But I could make 50k words in a month if I had to because I’ve already written three novels, I’m working on a fourth, novellas, numerous short stories, etc. But I wouldn’t and couldn’t do it regularly, nor would I want to. I also think it doesn’t work for lots of other people. I think it works against a lot of people.

    “But it clearly works for a lot of people”

    Does it? How many “winners” have gone on to have that novel, or any other published? How does it work, exactly? What does it achieve?

    If it does give someone a kick up the arse and gets them into a space where they realise they can write and they go on to be a successful writer then that’s awesome. But I would suggest that most who do go on to be successful have the drive and ability anyway, and it would have been honed with or without NaNo.

    “and you only have your assumptions to suggest that it has ruined some people’s writers’ lives.”

    I do, yes. It’s a pretty impossible thing to measure, really, but I would certainly be interested if there were any numbers.

    “I’m glad you posted your opinions on this because I’m often interested in what you have to say about the writing life, but I am disappointed with your negativity when it seems based more in your own preferences than the facts you say you’re presenting.”

    I don’t really purport to be presenting any facts. It’s all opinion. The facts I do mention about book lengths and so on are valid, with some exceptions highlighted here in the comments which I accept. Most of my readers won’t be writing romance or YA, though.

    As I said in the post – “I see NaNoWriMo as a circus of short-term back-slapping and pointless goals, far removed from what’s really needed to be a writer.” I also suggest what I think is a much better way to go about it. I honestly believe that if you’re going to be a successful writer it’ll be through slowly developing a craft and a voice, building up a community around yourself and producing quality work. Using NaNo as a part of that kind of endeavour is cool if you can do it, but I think it’s unnecessary. And possibly detrimental.

    An analogy – I work in the fitness industry as my “other” job (martial arts instructor and personal trainer). To me, the whole concept of NaNo is akin to the dangerous practice of crash dieting. The only way to lose weight and keep it off, while being healthy, is to eat less and exercise more. Safely lose one or two kilos a week. It’s slow, but it’s healthy, sustainable and you’ll have developed a lifestyle change and a habit you can maintain. The weight will stay off. People who crash diet lose a lot of weight really fast, can’t sustain what’s required, and end up putting it all back on, possibly even gaining more.

    NaNo is the writerly equivalent of crash dieting.

    In my opinion.

  48. Just to comment one more time, there are plenty of books – QUALITY books – that are more than 50,000 words. For example, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby. Also, I don’t have the wordcount handy, but I’m willing to bet many Agatha Christie novels are about 50k (judging by the thickness).

    And according to Duotrope, a novella is 15-40K, while a novel is above 40K. I realize that’s only one source and it’s up to the publisher to determine what they’re will to consider a novel, but I’ve seen these numbers other places as well.

    I do agree with Jen’s opinion that you are being a little too negative. It’s one thing if it’s not for you, but why discourage it for people it does work for. And I know you put your caveat in your blogpost, but for someone like me who was already thinking that writing was way too daunting, that would have discouraged me a lot and I may have missed out. Even if I totally sucked (which I did the first time) and never wrote anything again, I would have missed an opportunity to try something new and also to gain a new perspective on the whole novel-writing experience. No one, as far as I know, says that you don’t have to edit afterward. But the point is to get you to sit down and write something, try something new, and don’t let your inner editor keep you from writing if that’s what you want to do. It’s a way to keep from procrastinating by giving yourself a deadline, basically a month long free-writing exercise.

    They do say on the site that it’s a 50,000 word *rough draft* novel. But they say ‘novelist’ over and over as a means of encouragement, not to downplay ‘real’ novelists. They even make jokes about mocking ‘real novelists who take more than 30 days.’ REAL novelists… obviously they know that a rough draft novel is not a REAL novel until it’s completely editsd.

    I do enjoy your writing, your posts, and your banter with the commenters on the site. I just thought the point about novel length and nanowrimo’s ultimate goal was worth repeating.

    Thank you! 🙂

  49. ganymeder – regarding novel length:

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – originally a radio play in 1978, book published in 1979.

    Brave New World – published in 1932.

    The Great Gatsby – published in 1925.

    These are good examples, but they were published a long time ago. Things change. Getting a novel of 50,000 words published in this market is really hard, outside of the exceptions mentioned above, especially for a new author. And let’s not forget that everything about NaNo is aimed at the new author.

    From wikipedia we get this:

    Novelist Jane Smiley suggests that length is an important quality of the novel.[1] However, novels can vary tremendously in length; Smiley lists novels as typically being between 100,000 and 175,000 words,[2] while National Novel Writing Month requires its novels to be at least 50,000 words. In part because of this wide variation, the boundary between a novella and a novel may be arbitrary and difficult to determine.[3] But while the length of a novel is to a large extent up to its writer,[4] lengths may also vary by sub-genre; many young adult novels start at a length of about 16,000 words,[5] and a typical mystery novel might be in the 60,000 to 80,000 word range while a thriller could be over 100,000 words.[6]

    The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America specifies word lengths for each category of its Nebula award categories:[7]

    Novel over 40,000 words
    Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
    Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
    Short story under 7,500 words

    Here the novel is categorised as over 40k too, so there is a case for what you say, but I maintain that you will still have enormous trouble selling an adult targeted novel of under 70k or 80k, especially as a new author.

    Of course there are exceptions. Also, with the rise of ebooks, where printing costs and print runs are irrelevant, the market for novellas and short novels is starting to open up, which is a great thing. And the options to self-publish any length as an ebook is also changing the game. But my original point still stands, especially for readers here who are most likely to be into some form of spec fic.

    “It’s one thing if it’s not for you, but why discourage it for people it does work for.”

    I’m absolutely not discouraging people it does work for – I’ve said over and over that if it works for you, then go for it. But I think it’s a poor practice for the vast majority of start-up writers, who would be far better off developing a healthy and sustainable writing habit.

  50. What about a follow up December Darling Death Dance (DeDaDeDa) where everyone swaps their NaNo efforts and the flensing begins in ernest? I may have just read your next post…

    I’m not doing NaNo and haven’t signed up, but all the activity surrounding it has given me enough of a virtual kick up the arse to pull out, dust off and revisit a bunch of first draft shorts which have been composting gently on my USB since my baby was born.

    As a matter of fact, I’m gonna stop reading blogs, finish the day’s work ASAMFP and get cracking before home time.

  51. oops- sorry, hit return accidentally. I was going to say – & I still don’t get it. I’m not a published writer, but I am a writer because I write every day & have done for the last ten years, and I always, always aim for quality. I’m still aiming for quality now I’m doing Nano – and loving it. Once a year the whole internet (okay, nowhere near, but it feels like it) is talking about novel-writing and it’s fantastic. Writing doesn’t belong to those who intend to do it professionally, or write in a certain way, or are deemed to take it seriously enough. It’s everybody’s birthright. This post to me reads like a pro footballer mocking some kids who are having a kickaround. Why on earth shouldn’t they? Who loses? How on earth do you know that one of those kids won’t turn out seriously good? The aim of Nano ISN’T to churn out crap – it’s to write, whether what you’re writing is good or bad. Everybody is crap sometimes, and everybody is crap when they start. A lot of the rhetoric surrounding it – like the “win” for example – is just jokey, light-hearted. If it annoys you fair enough, but I think to take it too seriously is to misunderstand.
    Also, I think you’re deadly wrong that lower your expectations is advice that should never be applied to writing. Of course you should aim to do the very best work that you can – of COURSE. But if you are a person who suffers from a crippling dose of perfectionism, then you have to come to terms with the fact that your writing will never be as good as your vision was – never. And do the best that you can anyway, killing as that can be. Nano can really help with appeasing inner self-doubt enough to finish – not so much that one deliberately turns a blind eye to bad work, but enough to keep going.
    Also, 1667 words a day really isn’t that much. If it’s too fast a pace for a writer than I agree that they won’t help themselves by trying to force it – but a lot of writers write more than that daily, and some people write better fast than slow. I don’t see why “50,000 words in a month” and “quality” are mutually exclusive. For some people, but not for everybody.
    I am writing a novel in November. And my aim is not to vomit up 50,000 words in a month – my aim is as always to strain every nerve to write well. Only in November, I know that thousands of other people are doing it too – celebrating creativity and the written word, investing themselves in the process, not just in the outcome – and that makes me happy, not angry.

  52. Laura-F: “I’m not a published writer, but I am a writer because I write every day & have done for the last ten years, and I always, always aim for quality.”

    Good for you! But that also means that this post doesn’t really apply to you. You clearly have a developed practice in place and use NaNo as an extra part of that each year. That’s cool. You’re not a newbie, desperate to be a writer, led astray by the kind of advice and claims of the NaNo model that I take issue with.

    And best of luck with your future writing.

  53. I do NaNo and this is what I have discovered in 4 years:

    1 – the majority of people who are doing this are doing it for social reasons or for a writing exercise, or just to see what it ‘feels’ like to write every day.

    2 – The Majority of those don’t finish, or they finish with no intentions of doing anything with their output.

    3 – There are a few of us (me included) who use this as a serious exercise combined with an excuse to get out of chores, to avoid ‘play dates’ and other distractions, and for one month of the year, put our writing first. My goal – to flesh out a first draft that I can then use as the clay of a novel. Literally – I am mixing water into clay (which makes a big gloopy mess) but gives me the rough material I need to work with when it comes to actually crafting the book. This is how I work anyway, but NaNo gives me an excuse that others will buy for concentrated ‘alone’ time. I am a writer, year-round, but until I am a published author I have to juggle all the other priorities. NaNo lets me pretend (just for one month) like writing already pays the bills.

    I freely admit that the 3rd category of people is the smallest in the crazy world of plot ninjas and octopuses, but we do exist.

    As for the others, they are hobbyists who truly do no real harm to writers – no more than all the amateur painters detract from Van Gogh. Who cares if Joe the housepainter thinks he is on a par with the Dutch masters?

    I say live and let write!

  54. Eddie Louise – thanks for the comments. I’m glad it works for you, but one point of order:

    “As for the others, they are hobbyists who truly do no real harm to writers – no more than all the amateur painters detract from Van Gogh.”

    I’ve never said they do, and I certainly don’t believe this to be the case. I worry about the writers who may damage their own careers through NaNo.

  55. I don’t know man. It seems like someone has a case of the “I was a writer before it was the COOL thing to do.” That being said, writing is hard. Especially when you go through the angst and pain and years of struggle to jot down the perfect words. Then here come these excited newbies who pump out 50k words in one month and claim the same title as you.

    it doesn’t seem fair. It’s like when those hippy Indie bands hate on Pop hits.

    But I will say this, it is a good community. Writing 50 thousand words in November doesn’t make you a novelist, but it sometimes is the kick in the ass that you need. It is an incredibly rough draft to those who really do have a creative block. It’s like psych 101ing you into removing your inhibitions and self imposed insecurities and telling you “be free and write.” It probably will be bad. It probably won’t get published. But you’ll have the birth of what could be a novel. You will have the beginning you don’t let yourself have because you think you don’t have time/you don’t think you’re good enough.

    I use NaNo as a push. In 2010 I wrote the 2nd half of my 100k novel. Which I sold to a legit pub house and is coming out Spring 2012. Mind you, I’ve written novels that’ve taken years to put together and shopped them around without a single hit. It could be coincidence.

    The way I see it, it IS a social scene. But I still get excited when it rolls around. I’m a solitary writer. I don’t like cafes. I like being in my cave alone. But I also feel this crazy sense of GOOD when I know somewhere out there, I’m not alone in my struggle.

  56. I’m having a lot of fun with NaNoWriMo. I’ve been kicking around a number of plot ideas for some time. The project was just the motivation I needed to sit down and have at it. I knew what I wanted to accomplish. I just wanted to see how my ideas would gel by the end of the month and how those ideas would measure out when applied to a printing page. 20,000 words? 50,000 words? Maybe 100K. I had no idea what to expect. I just needed to sit down and start writing. NaNoWriMo gave me the motivation to do it.

    The month isn’t over yet. I have simply used the project as a starting point. I haven’t taken part in any of the social aspects of the project. I just log my word count at the end of each day and think about where I will go with the story the following day. I’m currently over 66,000 words so I have more that made it the “goal.” That’s great. There is a sense of accomplishment. But more importantly I have had fun and I know where I am taking the plot next. And my work won’t be over come December 1st. That’s not what this is about for me.

    I think that NaNoWriMo’s main benefit to would be writers is that it motivates us. We might make it to 50K, or we might not. But 50K is a realistic expectation for a novice. And 30 days is a time span that people can wrap their head around without feeling defeated from day one. I think they are just arbitrary metrics to help keep people feeling positive. If folks are having fun and happy with the path their story is taking, I don’t think that 50K is the finish line. For me, I really think this is only the beginning. I already have a follow up story in mind based on what I am writing right now!

    I hope the people taking part are primarily doing it to have fun. Skill levels will vary. But if NaNoWriMo turns out to be a bellwether event for even a few of the participants, then I think it was an effort worthy of participation. I think participants should be commended. Taking part in NaNoWriMo is far more productive than plopping down infront of reality TV each night.

    That’s my two cents…

  57. Steve, that’s great to hear. But, and I don’t mean to split hairs… who am I kidding? Of course I do! You didn’t use any of the NaNo social aspects, you didn’t worry about word count and you’re not stopping come December 1. So, essentially, you didn’t do NaNoWriMo – you just decided to be a writer at last and it happened to occur in November. Well done!

  58. Hey Alan, how’s it going? My published novel, A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, was drafted during National Novel Writing Month. I first did NaNoWriMo in 2000 – year two, I think. There were 27 of us. And I’ve done it five times since. I now write more regularly but for a long time I didn’t – I relied on that one month a year to give me ‘permission’ to dedicate myself to writing amid all the other things I thought were more important obligations. (I think being published has now given me that permission in another way, and allowed me to see myself as a writer and take myself seriously enough to write more regularly even if it means neglecting other obligations.) One of the best things for me has been the concentrated focus on a storyline – when you’re writing a lot every day you think about nothing else, and get all kinds of great (or maybe terrible – you should buy my book so you can check!) ideas that I think may not come to you in a less immersed state. I like the hallucinogenic quality of having a brain full of nothing but a story. And it’s fun to write that way – great to break out of the boring daily routine of work, family, friends, bars, reading, tv – and live such a febrile life for a short while.

  59. Great that it worked for you. As a writer, I’m focused on story all the time as well as the daily routine you mentioned above. Making the decision to be a writer can (should!) be completely independent of something like NaNo.

  60. Call me nuts, but I reckon different people need different ways into being a writer. Some just need time. Some need an independent income. Some need a room of their own. Some need encouragement. Some need to be left alone. Some need to take a course. Some need to read all the time. Some need to write short stories. Some can’t bear to write novels of less than 120,000 words. So I think the more things there are on offer to help people writers find their own way (and realise there is no one way), the better. Nano’s just one of those many things. Deciding to be a writer – for me – happened sometime in primary school, but I flailed around for a long time trying to figure out how to do it. Nano was one of the things that’s helped me with that figuring.
    I’m jealous you can focus on story all the time! Life is so distracting. But you do seem a much more focused person than I expect I’ll ever be.

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