November is an exciting time for writers. For some writers, at least. November is “National Novel Writing Month” or, “NaNoWriMo.” What the heck does that? It is pretty simple – it is the goal of writing basically everyday in November to have 50,000 words written by the end, approximately the length of a novel. Their website states, “NaNoWriMo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes your story matters.” A handful of successful books, like “Water for Elephants”, started as NaNowriMo drafts. It also boasts of its sociability – it brings writers together; cities across the world hold writing events and even more online groups hold virtual events.
It is also controversial.
Some people swear by NaNoWriMo. They believe “writer’s block” is just a form of procrastination, and the set goal – 50,000 words by month’s end – is a tangible to keep you coming. Some think it is great practice. Others believe that writers must write everyday, so what is the difference? Others feel that it is a good time to reinvigorate your writing skills, which admittedly can stalemate without use, like anything else.
What is interesting about NaNoWriMo is that only approximately 15% of writers reach the 50,000 goal each year. That isn’t a lot at all. But people get pumped for NaNoWriMo. They swear by it.
The New York Times wrote about how to get the most out of NaNoWriMo, article found here. Author James Clear (“Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones) is one of those who believes that writer’s block is a myth and “rooted in negative emotion.” He also says that the goal of NaNoWriMo is not to write a book, but to make writing a habit, saying “The real goal is not to write a book, but to become a writer.”
Back up a minute.
I kind of really dislike this way of thinking.
I’m a writer. I’m a storyteller. I don’t have any books published; but I’m a writer. It is in my job title. I blog. I’m working on a draft of a book with ideas in the back of my mind. I’ve published magazine and website articles. I’ve written short stories, essays, poetry, fanfiction – if you can think of it, I’ve tried to write it. You don’t get to call me a writer or not. Writing success is not measured by how many words written and certainly not by how many words written in a time period. It is not measured in how many consecutive days you write. Writing is about quality, not quantity. So let’s back up on you thinking you get to decide who gets the writer label.
In a perfect world, I would write everyday for at least an hour. But it isn’t a perfect world. Right now (for me) is the perfect example. I have my day job 40 hours a week, I wake up an hour and a half earlier so I can go to the gym, I have physical therapy twice a week in the evenings which takes up between an hour and a half to two hours of my time including travel, fire department responsibilities, and I have to make time for myself, too. Sometimes my brain is too fried to write, and I can’t write for the sake of writing words. I’m not going to write crap just to reach a word count; I know that my writing is better than that. Writing for quantity and not quality just irks me. Word counts drove me nuts in college and grad school too.
Maybe this way of writing works for some people, but not me. I’ve always been in the camp of not forcing writing. There are a surprising number of people who think you have to write everyday to be a writer. I can’t force writing. I just can’t. There have been times where I’ve been pleasantly surprised how a writing session went because I thought it was for sure going to suck, and there have been times where I thought I was going to do some fantastic writing and could barely form a sentence.
Writing isn’t a science to me, it’s an art. NaNoWriMo looks at it more from a science aspect, I think.
I don’t even know how people think of ideas so easily. My latest book idea came to me in a very odd way – I had an idea to write about witches in Pittsburgh. I just kept that thought in the back of my head. Witches in Pittsburgh. I would just think about it and let it simmer on occasion and eventually, I got what I needed. My creative process is weird. I need a keyword and then to be able to let it grow. I don’t let it go. I let it grow.
This blog post “Should You Do NanNoWriMo” is a really fair look at doing NaNoWriMo – it’s not for everyone. It is a lot of pressure (depending on how much pressure you put on yourself), it is a lot of time, and it is not as easy as you think. Like the post says, you try writing nonstop for forty minutes and see how simple it is to try and get the magic 1,667 daily number in the estimated shortest time amount possible.
She also touts how supportive the NaNoWriMo community is, and I don’t doubt that at all. I really haven’t delved much into it, but it does seem quite supportive. There are numerous writing events throughout Pittsburgh (although, not really many in the North Hills – what gives?). She also says there are Twitter accounts dedicated to NaNoWriMo that are great for support (I wouldn’t know – I had to delete Twitter because people keep posting spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker. Not playing that game). So there definitely seems to be a plethora of support for writers if that is what motivates you. Some people like having a writing group, others don’t. Just like anything else.
Another thing to consider is what you’ll end up with at that month’s end. When I started this month, I utilized a project that I had already started, my current work-in-progress “When the Demons Come.” This handy guide gives you an idea of how long your novel should be – 50,000 words is the minimum. I’m writing a horror/thriller/fantasy combo thing, and I’m guessing, if I keep on pace for how I have it outlined, I will be closer to 100,000 words. And horrors usually are between 70,000-90,000 words. I do not at all anticipate having a finished draft by the time November is over.
The one thing I will say NaNoWriMo is good for is trying not to edit as I go along. That is a terrible habit of mine, and one of the reasons why I did decide to sign up for NaNoWriMo. I need to just write a first draft. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It won’t be perfect. Don’t edit as you go along. Just write the damn book.
Then there is this point of view: Don’t do NaNoWriMo. Sean Munger believes that NaNoWriMo goes about the wrong way of trying to create writers and actually discourages them in the process. He emphasizes their emphasis on word count. It doesn’t matter if those words make sense or if the characters have complexity to them – just get the words on the page. It does so with the idea that you’ll go back and make it perfect later, but damn, that makes me cringe. He also claims it confuses discipline with motivation which people tend to do a lot. I could get the discipline to write everyday. That doesn’t mean my heart is in it. And I think that is why I’m so against forcing my writing. My writing is an extension of myself.
I do disagree with him saying that you have to write everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I think about my writing everyday. I think about my book multiple times a day and how I’m going to plot or write something. I keep notebooks in all my bags just in case I have a writing idea. So I would say writing is still part of my life even if I don’t write words to a page everyday.
What I do agree with is the vapidness of NaNoWriMo – “coffee” is the number one thing NaNoWriMo says you need in your “emergency” kit. Not an idea. Not a story to tell (although they say the world needs your story) Not motivation or passion or drive. A stimulant. Yeah, I agree, that is kind of insulting and stereotypical.
I also agree that writers don’t need NaNowriMo. I liked the idea of it, completing my book in a month. Saying I wrote 50,000 words in a month. But I don’t think it is doing wonders for my “discipline.” Because guess what? This past week, I was so busy I didn’t have time to really dedicate to my writing, and my mood wasn’t cooperating either which kind of killed my creativity. And I knew better than to force it. I know that I’m still a writer. I still have a book in progress. Also, I am dead-set against word counts. I’ll write until my story is done.
It does seem like something fun to compete in. There does seem to be a great sense of community and support. But those ways aren’t my ways.
I have my own set of writing rules – but they aren’t aligned necessarily with anyone else’s. And I wouldn’t expect them to. My writing isn’t going to match anyone else’s, and it shouldn’t. I can’t define my writing by a word count or have it fit in a time period. I’m more than content with my writing growing as it does and not on any timeline. That’s what works for me. So, I’m not going to worry about NaNoWriMo or how anyone else defines “being a writer.” I’ll just write.
And hopefully in a few years, you’ll see “When the Demons Come” on bookshelves everywhere.