So let me start this little piece with the fact that I am not some massively successful writer. I have written for some sites, I have a few self-published pieces, and I, of course, have this blog. Know that this is coming from my personal opinions and take it for what you will.
We are once again coming up on NaNoWriMo. For those that don’t know NaNoWriMo is a challenge for writers to complete a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. There are a lot of opinions floating around about this idea, and I can certainly see why people are so mixed on it. In reading over these, I have my own personal pros and cons and thought I would share them with you.
For my experience with NaNoWriMo, I have never actually signed up for the site, but instead, read the general guidelines of the challenge and worked on it on my own. What I think is a great thing about this is that it shows that writing, if you do it consistently, is something that can produce results in much shorter time periods than people tend to think. 50,000 words over 30 days averages to a relatively small daily word count, and if you allow for breaks without having to overload on other days to make up for it. Another great thing it teaches people is the importance of just writing. I had always heard of NaNoWriMo in the context of “this is a draft, not a finished product” to show and encourage writers that just getting a draft done is an essential first step. A lot of writers, especially new ones, get hung up on making every draft perfect, NaNoWriMo takes a different approach of just getting that first draft done and taking that first step.
I think both of these are great things for writers to learn. Learning that the greatest challenge of writing is sometimes just doing it. That getting a draft of a novel finished is not some mountain that is impossible to climb, you can, in fact, make significant progress and strides in as little as a month. The key is to give yourself word goals and stick to them and stick to a writing schedule. And just write.
There is another possibility that I think comes with NaNoWriMo in that it can be a creativity challenge. Maybe spend the month working on a project that you’ve been thinking of for years but never set out to complete. Spend it revisiting an older work that you gave up on but never felt like you wanted to trash. Or use it to write something out of your comfort zone to flex your creative muscles. So that aside from the habit building that it can do, it can also be helpful for creativity.
However, it is worth noting that some writers, including well-established ones, do not like NaNoWriMo. Much like Inktober for artists, many believe that the stress of needing to produce a set amount on a daily basis can actually drive down creativity. That at some point you just start plugging words to hit your word count, without actually thinking about the health of the story you are trying to write or the drain on your creativity.
Another con that people list is that while it can encourage the habit of writing on a schedule for some people they find that it doesn’t do this in the best of ways. Getting obsessed with a daily word count can be stifling. Some days you will easily be able to reach 1k, 3k, even more. Other days you will really struggle with that, and it’s important to recognize what that means. Is it burn out? Are you just struggling with that spot in your story? Do you need to take a break from that particular story overall? Is it just a bad day? There is any number of reasons why you might struggle to hit a daily word count which is why it’s important to see a successful day of work in terms other than “did I write 1,600 words today?”.
There is also the fact that it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle that NaNoWriMo should be used for a draft. A lot of people consider what they write in that month completed at the end. Even the NaNoWriMo website sets asides other months for the challenge of revision and seeking publishers. But while it’s good that it encourages revision putting everybody into a box of, you do x in November, y in January, and z in February is not realistic to the entire process.
Finally, a lot of people feel that many writers don’t prep for NaNoWriMo, so they go in without an outline and details that are important to have worked on before getting to the first draft stage. What each writer needs at the first word points stage varies for each writer, but unless you are doing a no prep work challenge then there is going to need to be some, and it’s often forgotten.
So what does this mean?
Well, I think it means that NaNoWriMo like most tools depends on the user. I think it can be a fun challenge, teach the value of consistency with writing, show that writing is possible if you go for it, and shows the importance of just getting the words down. It can also cause burn out, give unrealistic expectations of the process, and encourage bad habits. There are pros and cons, and it’s really up to each writer to find what works for them.
If you decide to do NaNoWriMo, I would go in understanding that not completing it is not the worst thing in the world, as long as you don’t just give up right away. That average word count is likely more important than daily word count because you’ll need breaks. And that it’s important to understand you are writing a draft, and that writing a novel will not always unfold the way they outline. I still think there are benefits, and as mentioned it’s a good way to flex your creative muscles if you so desire.
However, if you don’t want to do it, I see nothing wrong with that, or if you decide to take the same basic formula of writing 50,000 words in a month and do it on your own in a different month that that is also acceptable.
As for whether or not I am doing it this year? Well, I haven’t decided so the odds are unlikely that I will. There is a back burner project that I am planning on committing to in 2019, so I might just try to work on it a bit as a way to get myself prepared for it. I do not sign up for the website as I mentioned, so I have no real way to say whether it’s worthwhile or not. I encourage you to explore the goods and bads of NaNoWriMo and encourage anyone who wants to tackle the challenge to do so, but with realistic expectations.
But again this is just my opinion, so to those doing it good luck! And to those are not, still good luck in your writing endeavors!