Why You Should Do NaNoWriMo… And Why You Shouldn’t

That title suffers a bit from multiple personalities, doesn’t it?

I know some people are on the fence about whether or not to do NaNoWriMo, and that’s a bad place to be because sitting on a fence is very unhealthy for you. Guaranteed hemorrhoids is all I’m saying. And then you have to go to the doctor and explain that. “Why the hemmorhoids?” the doctor asks, shrugging. “Sitting on a fence again,” you say. And then he chides you for your indecision and then has to shoot your butthole with a laser —

Okay, that’s probably not how they get rid of hemorrhoids but it’d be cool if they did. I mean, c’mon. Lasers should be involved in more things, not less. Except maybe buttholes? Hm.

You know what? I’m driving way off the road here, so let’s get back onto the asphalt.

Here, I will give unto thee reasons to partake in National Novel Writing Month…

…and reasons to avoid it like a hot cup of gonorrhea.

Ready? We begin.

Why You Should Partake

• It will teach you discipline and diligence.

• Writing every day will teach you a lot about writing, good and bad.

• Writing every day will teach you a lot about your own writing habits, good and bad.

• It’s goal-oriented. Writers live by deadlines.

• It’s geared explicitly toward finishing your shit, and finishing your shit is about the only single piece of writing advice you can really, genuinely count on to be true.

• It’s also community-driven — writing is quite explicitly an individual and often lonely endeavor, but this has the spirit of a creative word orgy. You come into the room, put your keys in the basket, lube up the ol’ story-makers, and start writing like a motherfucker. Community in this regard is a good way to feel less alone. It gives you shoulders to cry on, minds to bounce ideas off of, and ink-stained hands to high-five. It’s the closest you’re gonna get to a bunch of writers just humping the sweet hell out of each other, unless you’ve spent any time at Harlan Ellison’s love ranch.

• I don’t know that Harlan Ellison has a love ranch, I’m just making that up. I’m clarifying this because Harlan seems like the kind of guy who would hunt me for my pelt if I angered him.

• But, I am saying that if anybody has a love ranch, I could believe Harlan Ellison has one.

• That or just a room where he sometimes goes to yell at cats. About how they’ve failed him.

• I think I need a love ranch.

• Okay, getting back on track now in 3, 2, 1 —

• Modern writing careers — successful ones, anyway — are increasingly predicated on producing a lot of content quickly, and, well, this is a good way to practice exactly that.

• It will help you take your Internal Editor and drown him in a mud puddle. Writers have to, have to, have to grow comfortable with writing shittily. Shit happens. Shit also washes off. Put differently, it is sometimes necessary to write badly so that you can edit and rewrite and turn bad writing into good story.

• This is a very good way to sprint through and create a zero draft.

• Treating it like a month-long writing exercise instead of The Future Of Your Writing Career lends this a strong mindset that creates bonafide self-instructional value.

• Gamification works wonders for some people in terms of motivating action.

• Being a writer is about writing. Full-stop. Partaking makes you a writer. End of story.

• Time isn’t going to wait for you and you’re going to die someday so, fuck it. Write now. Not later. You might be dead in December. Maybe the world will blow up. But that story inside you? It’s ready now. So, fire up the ol’ wordithopter and fly yourself to the distant land of Bookopolis.

Why You Should Run Far Away

• Actually, maybe that story inside you isn’t ready now. Maybe those brownies aren’t done baking yet and if you try to rush it all you’re gonna get is a goopy pan of chocolate slurry. Which, admittedly, also sounds delicious, so if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to go slather choco-goop all over my body.

• Back now. I am delicious. Mm. *licks self*

• A month is not a lot of time to write a book and most people take longer than that to write one. Let’s be honest, it’s setting a fairly unrealistic pace to complete a book. I write fast like a squirrel with a Roman candle shoved up its fuzzy nethers, and even I can’t finish most books in 30 days.

• The win/lose condition through gamification can be toxic — to speak frankly, writers often have issues with depression or anxiety, and this really doesn’t help. (I speak from experience on the latter. For some reason, NaNoWriMo amped up my anxiety rather than dampened it. No idea why. I don’t get that way with deadlines, but this made me feel really agitated when I tried it years ago.)

• You have a pace, and maybe this isn’t it. A story takes the time that it takes. Maybe you write it in two weeks. Maybe it takes you two months or two years. There exists no “one schedule fits all.” Acting like that is a good way to feel like a giant fail-flavored crapsicle.

• Further, for some, writing every day is a boon. For others, a bane. Again, trying to conform HOW YOU WRITE to this one pattern can be like trying to headbutt a square peg through a circle hole. All you end up with is a throbbing headache and a feeling of shame and worthlessness.

• Sometimes doing something different from what everyone else is doing is clarifying and valuable. Writers are not particularly good at following orders, I find. In fact, every writer is basically ten ferrets. You can’t control one ferret, much less ten. Ferrets will not be commanded. FERRETS CARE LITTLE FOR YOUR NATIONAL FERRET WRANGLING MONTH (NaFerWraMo).

• Put differently, this month is very much about comparing yourself to other writers, and engaging in uniformity. And comparing yourself to other writers and trying to conform to their habits and their schedules is a very good way to feel very bad.

• November is a dogshit month to accomplish, well, basically anything. At least for me. Forget it, Jake, it’s Holidaytown. The way the holidays are around these parts, the festivity shit-parade kicks up around Halloween and doesn’t stop stomping down the road until January at the earliest. Plus, right at the end there you get Thanksgiving — so, instead of 30 days, you kinda have like, 20-25. And then if you have kids they usually end up with a whole week off, and if you’ve eaten too much turkey and potatoes you probably lose a day on a recliner — bloated and serene.

• Fifty thousand words does not a novel make. I mean, by most expected metrics.

• Sometimes writing crap is good. Sometimes writing crap is sad-making. And this isn’t just writing crap — it’s extruding crap quickly. Speed is the essence. The finish line is king. At the end if what you have is just a handful of wet shit, how will that make you feel?

• NaNoWriMo focuses overmuch on writing, but here’s the dirty truth — writing is a crass, mechanical act. It is a necessary part of the process, but it’s just pure craft — it is fingers going pok pok pok tap tap tap on the keyboard until a giant block of prose is regurgitated. But if fails to focus on story. Story is why we write. Prose is secondary and supportive. Story, character, theme, all that stuff isn’t background. It’s great and it’s glorious and it’s why we come to the page, most times. (Sure, some folks come only for writing, but I think most people come for the narrative and the ideas presented by that narrative.) Story only exists in permanence when we transcribe it, and writing is one crucial method of transcription — but make no mistake, that’s all it is. Transcription. By focusing so much on that, something threatens to be lost.

Reminder: 30 Days In The Word Mines (And The Gonzo Bundle)

Last year I wrote and put out a book called 30 Days In The Word Mines — and the goal of that book is literally to take you through thirty days and, every day, give you a little something to think about. It’s motivational, philosophical, and practical advice all in one, and every day is different. Some folks told me that it fared them well day to day through NaNoWriMo and beyond, so that’s cool. If you wanna check it out, you can find it at Amazon, B&N, or buy it direct from me here.

Alternatively, if you want it as part of a larger bundle of writing-related e-bookery, then the eight book gonzo bundle is $20 — or $15 if you use coupon code NAPLOYONOMO by 10/31.

89 comments

  • I’m a bit puzzled here. Finish a rough draft or finish a book in 30 days? I can’t finish a book in 30 days [we don’t want to talk about editing nightmares and second guessing yourself which screws up your plot and… well lots of editing woes.] But a rough draft? Yeah. I can do one in 30 days as long as I know where I want the story to go. I average about 75000 words a month so NaNoWriMo is a bit slow for me. And that rough draft is with Alpha readers reading each chapter as it comes off the press.

    I can’t finish it in 30 days IF I have no clue what I am doing [call it pantsing.] It can be as simple as two cops meet and fall in love. Old flame shows up and wants one back. Serial killer complicates the entire thing. And they all live happily ever after. I can run with that.

    Once I have that it is all “What happens next?” Each scene is what happens next to get them to the end. It’s simple really. [or not… I’ll get back to you on that in a few years]

    NaNo did me a favor. It taught me to shut up the inner editor that kept me from writing. I owe them that. It’s a big one because it kept me from writing. Now if I figure out how to quiet it down while editing, I’ll be doing even better. She’s a bit neurotic, judgemental and overly critical with strong borderline traits. Sounds just like my mother but that’s a different therapy session [and might be why she’s a she not a he.]

    NaNo taught me that my speed is about 72,000 to 75,000 words a month. Any more and I get sloppy. Any less and I’m bored and lose interest. It taught me I MUST have a loose plot to follow at the least and an idea of some of the rocks I want to throw at my characters but it NaNoWriMo didn’t teach me I needed rocks to begin with.

    After that? It’s a fail for me. Puts me in mind of a bunch of 7th graders putting on Shakespeare for some reason. Well, unless they offer some really good prizes in which case, I’ll shoot off that 50,000 just to collect.

  • God, November is the worst month. I don’t have local family so the holiday isn’t really a problem (we usually spend all of Thanksgiving morning holed up in Starbucks) The biggest thing that’s a concern is the Christmas baking, which I’ve learned to start early, because I have to get it in the mail and get it out to family. So stuff that holds up in the freezer always ends up on my list.

    I really can’t emphasize the community aspect enough, though. My whole social calendar for the year revolves around NaNo. Without exaggeration. Pretty much all of my friends are fellow WriMos, especially since we moved. My drinking buddies/book club/critique group consist of our two MLs, our other ambassador, and a couple of other die-hards. I would find a way to do NaNo even without the structure of the 50K goal, because it’s simply the most I get out all year.

  • Not only are there festivities but if you are in college November either means Finals week or studying like a crazy person for finals week.
    This, too, will cause additional stress to your word flow during the end of NaNo.

  • This will be my 12th year doing NanoWrimo. I started in 2003 and I never looked back. I started late that year and I still won. I also got it published. 😀 I agree, it’s not for everyone and I’ve lost more times than I’ve won, but for me it’s the adventure of writing and creating that keeps me going.
    My 2013 novel went on sale september 30th and as of yesterday it hit 309 Sales. So yeah, I’m happy… even if I loose.
    What you guys probably DON’T know is that there is a Camp NanoWrimo held in April and another in June *I think, don’t quote me on it* You can find the link here:
    http://www.campnanowrimo.org

  • I read this post and signed up for Nano. It’s day 6 and I am at 9197 words. At this rate the stats say I will be finished by December 3rd, 2015 so I need pick up the pace a bit. I am running 2 websites, working a job, and have two kids. I am already trying to think how I will get any writing done when the kids are out for five days at Thanksgiving. Methinks there will need to be some 5 thousand word days to make it. I have written about my experience so far on my blog here: https://offworlders.com/nanowrimo-path-taken-have-i/ where I blame, errrr, thank Mr. Wendig for convincing me to get involved.

  • I haven’t done NaNoWriMo before, but I started out with some short stories this month, and I have about 60,000 words so far on those plus another 20,000 for the novel I’m working on. I never understand other people’s word counts. Last year, I wrote a 75,000 word rough draft in 11 days. Then, I took a week off, and then took 4 more days to edit it. It’s being published soon. That’s about standard for me– 5-10,000 words a day while I’m working (as a teacher) and more in the summer (8-12,000). Is this unusual?

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