NaNoWriMo Anyone?

November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, and with the 1st looming right around the corner, the online literature community is already starting to buzz with anticipation. For those of you who haven’t been acquainted with NaNoWriMo yet, here’s the breakdown:

You have 30 days to write 50,000 words.

There’s more to it than that, with community involvement, etc. but that’s pretty much the gist. Anyone interested can find out more here. I’m sure you’re sensing my ambivalent attitude by now, and you would be correct. When I first discovered its existence via the glorious lurking of literature forums, my initial response was one of fascinated curiosity. The idea of a motivational tool that forced you to write is one that instantly appealed to my procrastinating, heel-dragging laziness. But that was soon followed with trepidation at the thought of writing 50,000 words in a single month– a feat I haven’t even accomplished in 15 years of writing! And that was soon replaced with a general sense of reservation toward the whole thing.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think it has merits. I do. So let’s look at it a little closer.

The spirit behind NaNoWriMo is one of community. It’s an encouraging place for aspiring and established authors to convene, providing structure and the ever-motivational pressure of a deadline. It’s presented as a competition, but really, there is no single winner. The idea is that if you meet the goal, (because, obviously, not everyone will), you will be inducted into their “Winner’s Page” and receive a commemorative certificate and web badge. So there’s nothing really at stake but personal glory.

The point of NaNoWriMo is simply to write. It’s supposed to teach writers how to get past their inner editor and just hammer out a rough draft as quickly as possible, with the implied intent of revising after the competition ends. It also helps those who suffer from procrastination learn to work under a schedule. (Both of which I fall squarely into.) And it does all this while supplying writers with a network of support in the form of fellow participants and writing resources. In that sense, it’s a fantastic and friendly tool to any would-be author. But there’s still that intimidating element of trying to cram 50,000 words into 30 days.

What does that actually look like? Well, it depends on your approach.

  • If you write every day from Nov. 1st – Nov. 30th, you would need to write 1666 words a day. (Ok, that’s not so scary. This post is almost that long.)
  • If you write only on the weekdays, you would need a minimum of 2272 words a day. (Hmm, a little more intimidating, but with enough coffee, probably not impossible.)
  • If you only write on the weekends, you’re looking at 6250 words a day. (Yeah, that’s a little intense. Not sure I could do that even if I spent 8 hours both days trying!)
  • And if you’re a procrastinating masochist and wait until the last minute, you’d have to write 50,000 words in less than 24 hours! (And knowing me, this would be my fate. Can we say insanity much?)

While I strongly believe in the use of deadlines as a form of motivation, they can be a double-edged sword. If you’re not a prolific writer, or you have to work a day job to, you know, eat and stuff, attempting to write 50,000 words that quickly will be a massive, panic-inducing endeavor. You’d have to throw out the idea of inspired quality and, instead, watch your word counter tick ever closer to that final goal like a bomb waiting to explode. Can you imagine what a novel written under those conditions looks like? If I did it, it would be a huge pile of stinking mess that would be beyond salvaging and would never see the light of day.

I think every writer has to find their own system. Some thrive under strict regimens of daily word count requirements, others work only when the muse bites. Some rush head-long through a rough draft and spend double that time fixing it, others edit as they go. There is no right or wrong way to be a writer. It’s all about finding what works for you. At this point in my career, I’m pretty confident in saying that NaNoWriMo won’t work for me. At the end of it, I would probably be drooling in the psychiatric ward after suffering a psychotic break.

But if you’re still looking for your method, and the thought of writing 50,000 words in a month doesn’t make your stomach clench in fear, then, by all means, sign up! Even though I view NaNoWriMo as a lesson in self-torture, doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be perfect for you. I’ll cheer you on from the sidelines. That way, I can keep my sanity intact. Well, mostly, anyway. After all, we can’t all be Hares, some of us have to be the Tortoise. 😉