Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

If you didn’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal, in my understanding, is to motivate someone who has always wanted to write a novel to actually sit down and do it. You have a daily writing goal of 1667 words per day. If you meet this goal, you will have produced a 50,000 word novel in one month.

I successfully did this in 2010, and I decided to do it this year as well (though I decided about 5 days into the month, and I still haven’t made up my 8,000 word deficit). I’ve been trying to meet my Wednesday blog goal in addition, so this is going to be a short and poorly edited post.

I’d like to give an analogy with running a half-marathon (something I did for the first time last month). To be successful at either of these tasks, it is something you have to want to do. If you don’t actually want to put the work in, then nothing I say after this point will matter.

So now we’ve established that you want to write the novel. In this case, NaNoWriMo is an excellent opportunity for you. I’ll give a list of helpful things NaNoWriMo provides.

Impediment to Writing a Novel 1: You have no pressure to sit down and do the work.

Solution: If you sign up on the NaNoWriMo webpage, make a profile, tell people you are doing it, have the website give you word count deadlines, etc, this external pressure gives you incentive to do it.

Now maybe adding stress to your life with extra artificial deadlines, or your family continually asking you how its going, isn’t the healthiest thing in the world. But it is only a month, and then you can choose to never think about it again if you want.

I think of this in the analogy as signing up for the half-marathon. I had started training programs many, many times in my life but always quit well before the day of the race. I think this was because there was no pressure to complete the program once it got tough. I could drop out with no consequences. If you sign up, then your name is out there, you put some money down to do it, people you’ve told get excited for you and would be let down if you dropped out.

Impediment to Writing a Novel 2: Working through slow or difficult writing periods, i.e. staying motivated when you hit the wall.

Solution: NaNoWriMo provides an enthusiastic community. No matter where you live, there are probably lots of people who meet up and do “write-ins.” When you are feeling down, you can post this in a message board, and get tons of helpful tips to stay motivated. When other people post, you can be the one to provide cheery feedback.

I think you can’t underestimate the feeling of doing this in a community. There’s something about being in a group of thousands of people who are doing the same thing at the same time.

This is similar to the half-marathon. You can’t imagine the number of times I thought to myself, “If all of these people can do it, then I definitely can do it. They can’t all be special superhumans.” The race itself is full of nonstop positive feedback. Similarly, you get all sorts of motivational and positive feedback from famous authors in your email throughout the process.

When you find yourself thinking that you can’t keep up this pace of words per day, it is nice to think that most of the people participating are just normal people like you, and if they can do it, so can you. You can even meet many of them and bond over the experience.

Now on to some of the downside of NaNoWriMo (why have I not ended this post yet? I still have over 3,000 words to write today in addition to this…). I guess one could ask what is the point? In some sense, you produce a terrible rough draft of about a third of a typical novel length.

Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose you want to publish your novel. This means that if you work at this furious pace for two more months after NaNoWriMo has ended, then you will have a rough draft. I personally estimate editing something to take about 3 times longer than it took to write.

This means that you can’t really consider NaNoWriMo to be an intense experience, because you have to keep it up for a full year if you want to even start sending it out to places, which might take several more years. There have been famous examples of people doing this, but I think one downside to NaNoWriMo is that it gives people a false sense of how much work producing a novel is.

If you want to go all the way to publication, it is like running six marathons, but only having the excitement and support for the first half-marathon. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you understand what you are getting into when you start, but if it is your first time, it is easy to fall prey to the hype and not realize that at the end of the whole thing, you have basically nothing that you can show people (please don’t make people read your unedited 50,000 words that spewed out of you at this rapid pace (even if they beg you for it!)).

So why do it? I guess you could ask why do anything? It gives you a real sense of accomplishment if you succeed. It is cathartic to produce. It is a community building exercise. It teaches you a lot about yourself. It can be extremely fun to invent the plot twists. It exercises your creative muscles. It gets you away from TV and mindlessly clicking through cat videos on youtube in your spare time. Plus, I plan on publishing mine someday.

I think there is a way to link my progress bar to WordPress. I’ll try to do that so that I can stay accountable to you all as well.


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