Is NaNoWriMo right for you?
It’s almost the end of October, and as a writer, you’ve probably been seeing words like Preptober and NaNoWriMo all over your social media lately. Yep, it’s almost that time of year again—the time when writers race to finish a 50,000-word novel by the end of November. The question is, should you participate? Is NaNoWriMo right for you?
What is NaNoWriMo?
For the as-yet uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, an annual writing event during which writers try to finish a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. The organization itself is a nonprofit that supports education and writing fluency programs.
The goal of NaNoWriMo, besides writing the 50,000 words, is to give writers a structured event and a community to prompt their creativity, push past perfectionism, and finally make the dream of writing a novel come true. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate each year.
There are a lot of great things about NaNoWriMo. Obviously, if there weren’t, so many people wouldn’t join in each year! Here are the top benefits of joining:
It encourages you to prioritize writing. NaNoWriMo is all about making writing your top priority for a whole month. It’s easy to push writing to the bottom of the to-do list when there’s so much else going on in your life, but a structured event with a specific timeframe gives you an excuse, a permission slip, to put your writing first for a while.
It breaks your established writing habits. For most, NaNoWriMo is a huge disruption in their usual daily routine, and it turns out that disruptions often lead to creative sparks! Approaching writing in a different way can knock loose some of those mental blocks that are holding you back, allowing you to create in new ways.
It provides you with a community. With hundreds of thousands of people all striving for the same goal, it’s easy to feel like you’re part of something bigger. Writing at most times is a very solitary activity, even lonely, but NaNoWriMo makes it social. With write-a-thons and write-ins and word sprints and online writing retreats, you’re able to meet up with people doing the exact same thing you’re doing and get encouragement and commiseration in a way you’re hard pressed to get the rest of the year.
However, that doesn't mean that NaNoWriMo is the best thing for everyone, or even works for everyone. It can have some downsides to it as well.
It can lead to burnout. Doing NaNoWriMo, during which you’ll need to write 1,667 words every day for thirty days to finish, can be far too much to maintain a healthy relationship with writing. This is especially true for you writers out there who are naturally slower drafters. Pushing yourself really hard for one month may not be the key to completing your personal writing goals.
It can lower your confidence. If you’re struggling to make the 50k, but the writers you’ve surrounded yourself with are flying through it, it takes a lot of mental fortitude not to see yourself as inadequate.
It can add stress to your life. If making the 50,000-word mark is going to be a big strain, then NaNoWriMo can feel like a huge stressor rather than a fun way to get that draft down on paper. It’s a lot of words to write in a month, and it’s especially a lot to add to an already packed schedule.
NaNoWriMo novels are messy and badly written.
I mean, any quick-drafted first draft is going to be pretty messy—that’s true enough. However, that doesn’t mean the later drafts are equally as messy. That’s what revision’s for. (Here’s a list of books whose first drafts were written during NaNoWriMo. I haven’t read all of these, but none of the ones on the list that I have read were badly written or messy, at least in my opinion!)
Agents/publishers always turn down NaNoWriMo novels.
It’s true that a lot of novels written during NaNoWriMo get turned down by agents and publishers. But then again, so do a lot of books in general. The reason a lot of NaNoWriMo novels in particular get turned down is because some writers mistakenly believe that the first draft they completed in November can find an agent in December with no revisions, no self-editing, no beta feedback, and no rewriting at all. That, of course, is not the case, as it’s not the case with any first draft.
So, should you participate in NaNoWriMo?
If you struggle with your inner editor, are looking for a community of writers like yourself, and like (or at least want to try) fast drafting, then NaNoWriMo is right up your alley, and you should go for it! There are no penalties for not getting to 50,000 words, and you’ll probably end up writing more in a month than you typically do at any other time!
However, if you’re a proven slow drafter, you struggle with comparisonitis, or you just have so much going on at home or work that there’s no way you could make the time, then I say skip NaNoWriMo, at least for this year. There’s no reason to add extra stress to your life or try to force yourself to do something that’s not even possible.
An in-between option is to be a NaNo rebel. Typically, NaNoWriMo participants write 50,000 new words in a new novel, starting November 1. However, lots of writers rebel against this and either revise their already written novels, add 50,000 words to a novel they’ve already started, start writing a bit early or keep going beyond November 30, or just go for a different (often lower) wordcount altogether! You can still get the community aspects of NaNoWriMo without being a fully rule-compliant participant.
Personally, I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice and never made the 50,000-word mark myself. But this year, I’m giving it one last valiant try before writing it off (heh) as not for me.
What about you? Are you going to do NaNoWriMo this year? If you are, or if you just want to see how it’s going for me this November, come follow me on Instagram! I’ll be posting daily wordcount progress updates in my stories and sharing other fun and/or helpful NaNoWriMo content over there. I’d love to support your progress, too!