Reflections on NaNoWriMo

Starting tomorrow, on November 1st, the National Novel Writing Month officially begins. The goal is for a concentrated month in which participants aim for at least 50,000 words written during that month (even though novels are generally 80,000 words). However, they do admit that the length they choose makes most novels turn out to be short novels or even novellas. Their reason being:

We don’t use the word “novella” because it doesn’t seem to impress people the way “novel” does.

Water for Elephants was written as a result of NaNoWriMo and later went on to become a major motion picture.
Water for Elephants was written as a result of NaNoWriMo and later went on to become a major motion picture.

NaNoWriMo is nonprofit organization and runs largely off donations and sponsors. Their main focus of prizes is simply that winners get the satisfaction of completing their novel, the winners being people who meet the writing goals. There is also a list of other prizes that winners get, such as 50% of the Scrivener writing software and other discounts to writing related perks. Also to boost their credibility they have sections dealing with media coverage of the event and a list of books published as a result of NaNoWriMo. One of the most famous novels published being Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants”.

There are a lost of obvious benefits of organizations like NaNoWriMo. It gets people in the spirit of writing and the motivation to hone their craft. It accounts people for how much of their goal they stick to and provides a healthy amount of peer pressure to fulfill that goal. And plus giving a hard deadline of November 30th drives a lot of people.

One unexpected downside of NaNoWriMo is that it floods the market with new novels all at once. I’m all for traditional publishing, but publishers feel a sharp surge during this time of year that makes the market even more competitive and highly saturated. This is felt with self-publishing as well. This year I’ll probably pay closer attention to the kindle market before and after NaNoWriMo to see the difference better. Some advice for participants would be to wait for the frenzy of NaNoWriMo to settle down, spend time watching the market and polishing your book, and then once that have quieted down attempt to publish.

Another consequence of NaNoWriMo is that writers often lose the urge to write any other time of the year. Everyone needs something that drives them, but with many writers they don’t feel the need to find that drive for any of the other eleven months. In a sense, people become overdependent on this one month. Something I would suggest to counteract this would be to set smaller, more easily reached goals for every month. There are thirty days in November, which means that to reach the official goal of 50,000 words people have to write a minimum of 1,667 words per day (rounded up from exactly 1,666.6 words). A noble goal for the other months would be just 1,000 words a day, which would generally come out to be 30,000 words per month.

The point is being obligated to write every single day. Depending on your working habits and your style, 1,000 words per day could take up anywhere from 30 minutes to 60+ minutes. Considering how much time all of us spend on the internet, watching movies, or just sitting doing nothing, I don’t think this is an unreasonable goal. Other people could change the goal from 1,000 words to 750 or even 500 depending on their priorities and work loads.

NaNoWriMo works better for some people than others. Some need that set date to drive them to complete their writing, others work out of their own motivation and find the date to be restricting. It really depends on your personality. Whether it works well for you or not, NaNoWriMo does have the best intentions at mind. I urge those interested to participate or at the very least to consider it. Due to current projects I won’t be participating, but I’m in no way against it. Chances are I’ll give it a try next year.

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16 thoughts on “Reflections on NaNoWriMo

  1. I signed up for NaNoWriMo ages ago, but I can never seem to find the time to actually participate each time it rolls around. I try to put out a new novel every three months so for me at least, setting aside one particular month to crank out a book seems a bit redundant. Still, it would be interesting to see if I could push myself a little harder to do one in 30 days.

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  2. The question for myself is always one of either “quality” or “quantity” though just letting it spill out of you might be a feast of the brainstorm or a kind of early draft that can always be improved, later. The point is “to just get it down, on the page somehow” as that’s half the exertion. You can always go back and “clean-up” later. . . . .

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  3. This is actually the first time I have heard of NaNoWriMo. Oddly enough, I do understand what you are saying in the article. An amazing read, and your idea of 1k words a day is a good one. I definitely should add that to my daily routine and try to finish my first book, and many more afterwards if successful, from that objective.

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  4. Hey this is certainly spot on. NaNo isnt for everyone, it can be a blessing or a curse. I think the real power to it comes for unppublishe and first time writers. The first major obstacle for someone like that is to finish their rough draft.

    I personally dont feel anyone should shop a NaNo project for publishing on Dec 1st. Its a great first draft but on the whole it most likely still needs a lot of work. Mainly editing and publishing.

    I was under the impression that originally NaNo was using the Hugo award standard for its classificatiomln of novel. Where its true the line has blurred with the advent of ebooks and 80K is more or less the norm, technically to be eligible in the novel category u only need to be +40K plus.

    Hugos define novellas at 17.5k – 40k.

    But thats all just symantics. Excellent post… I wish I wasnt stuck at work so I could start my own NaNo project.

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  5. Have to say I’ve never been tempted and won’t be bothering this time either, which isn’t to say I think it’s not a good thing for a writer to have a shot at. It would certainly be a shock to the system to aim to have something of that length completed in a month – something reasonably rounded and readable I mean, which is a feat that’s certainly beyond me. A first draft of 80K generally takes me about a year – enough time to feel my way through, as I never have the plot outlined beforehand. Maybe if you did have the idea fairly tightly plotted before Nov 1st, you could then just plough through the story, but I think I’d find that a chore.

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  6. My Creative Writing professor assigned us to reach at least 25K of the 50K threshold (as most of the other students are slackers), so that’s a great motivator for me!

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  7. I don’t like NaNoWriMo because it promotes laziness. If someone wants to write a novel, they should approach it professionally. Sit down and just do it. Rather than developing a work ethic for the whole year or life, the event encourages people to just grind it in a month.

    Writing is supposed to be fun or at the very least an emotional release (it is for me) but you should develop a professional attitude toward it if you want to write full time. Every month is NaNoWriMo for me.

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  8. Can a writer, a deep-in-the-heartwood writer ever ‘lose the urge to write’? I’m guessing that sometimes the voice can be lost, and the words become ungaspable mists of themselves? But the urge?

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  9. I typically don’t participate in NaNo, despite being signed up for it. This year, however, I am absolutely participating because I’m going back to school in January.

    I’m not sure how NaNo promotes laziness as the participants I know are writing year-round, some on the same scale and some on a smaller scale.

    Many of the people who participate in the Monthly a writing Challenge on Twitter are participating.

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  10. Thanks! Balanced, thought through, well reasoned. Inspired me to do one day of themed sequence poems in one day, which I call PoeNoNo (you have liked most of it so far), Goodnight. G

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