Every year around NaNoWriMo time, there are inevitably a few blogs or articles written on why a writer should or should not participate in NaNoWriMo. I’ve done NaNo every year for the last 8, and I’m here to firmly throw my allegiance to the YES DO IT side.
I’ve been writing my tuchus off for the better part of 2017 for various contests, the most prominent being Brenda Drake’s PitchWars since July. That one isn’t over until the first part of November. It involves a ton of writing, rewriting, editing, murdering darlings, rewriting again, and general staring into the void and questioning everything I thought I knew about writing (it’s a hoot, you should do it).
Even so, I’m doing NaNo this year.
I found several blogs and articles titled things like “DON’T DO NANOWRIMO” or “NANO RUINED MY LIFE.” If you want to read some, all you have to do is Google “don’t do nanowrimo.”
Yeah, there are people pretty passionate in their hatred of NaNo, which is completely their right. And just as they have detailed why you shouldn’t do it, I’m going to detail why you should, by discussing their reasons why not.
Reason 1: The finished work is just a bunch of crap.
I have a secret for you. Come here. A little closer. A little… closer…
ALL FIRST DRAFTS ARE A BUNCH OF CRAP.
Every first draft ever written is a pale shadow of dogpoop compared to its revised, edited later manifestation. I write pretty clean first drafts, but they’re just cleaned-up crap. I don’t have typos or anything mechanical like that, but I do have plot holes, characters who need more definition, imagery that needs fleshing out, etc.
Everyone needs to revise. Everyone. If you think your first draft is perfect, oh honey. You’re going to want to sit down for this, because it’s probably going to hurt.
Your first draft…
Writers can be HUGE perfectionists, and we don’t give ourselves room to make mistakes in the first draft. It can be paralyzing. I was like that for years. I didn’t finish anything. I would rewrite the same chapter over and over without pressing on, because it wasn’t perfect. It was painful.
Then, NaNo. The first NaNovel I did was the first one I actually finished. Not during NaNo. Oh heavens no. I finished it months later after some hardcore rewrites and revisions. But the act of having those 30 days to just write with senseless abandon, and not worry about screwing up (after all, the point of NaNo is to just write garbage), cracked open the dam of perfectionism that had kept my creativity bottled up.
I wrote things I never would have thought of, just to keep the words coming. I didn’t write linearly: I took my characters to places they never would have gone, and met people they never would have met. A lot of what I wrote during NaNo never got used, but it didn’t matter. The things I learned about my characters and the world were the foundation for the later 80k+-word novel that developed out of it.
Reason 2: NaNoWriMo is only about quantity, not quality.
Like I mentioned above, the goal of NaNo is just to force you to write something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s not going to be perfect, and it’s not supposed to be.
I read a quote about writing on the Twitters recently, which I love, and I repeat it whenever I can.
Think of NaNo as a month to shovel all the sand you can into a sandbox. Then the 11 months after that are the months you’ll use all that sand to build some pretty bitchin’ castles.
Reason 3: 50,000 words isn’t long enough to be a novel.
True, for adult and YA novels. For Middle Grade, it’s not too bad!
50k is a good goal to hit during NaNo. But you’re not supposed to produce a perfect, publish-ready novel in 30 days. You’re supposed to write 1,667 words every day to develop a writing habit, and get ideas flowing, and get to know your story.
Another writing quote I totally love?
Bruh. On your best day, all of these guys were better writers than you on their worst. And they unanimously agree: you have to rewrite. You can’t just barf up a draft of something and call it good.
NaNo isn’t about revisions and rewriting; it’s about just plain old writing. First draft sand shoveling. Rewriting comes later, but the writing has to happen first. NaNo is the perfect opportunity to just write and get it all out.
Reason 4: NaNoWriMo corrupts the very essence of writing!
I dislike people who have this attitude. I dislike being told how to do my hobby. And yeah, writing is my hobby. I’m not a professional writer. I don’t have a slew of books available at bookstores and libraries. I’m a nurse in real life, and I spend my free time writing, reading, reading about writing, writing about reading, shipping my own characters who can’t be together for plot reasons, and studying for various nursing certification boards (because if you’re going to get paid for something, you should do it well, right?).
Everyone has a different writing journey. I saw one complaint about NaNo comparing writing a novel to building a house. The point was, how are you supposed to build a house with a bad foundation? Likewise, how are you supposed to write a novel if you haven’t done any plotting?
Well to that I say PHOOEY because not everyone plots. I do, with relish, because if I could marry a spreadsheet I totally would. But it’s not everyone’s jam to plot first. Some people are pantsers, especially during NaNo, and if that works for them, then LET THEM PANTS!
I say PHOOEY AGAIN because for some of us, NaNo IS the foundation. Or at least, NaNo is the concrete mix. We stack those bags up in piles, and then when the time comes to pour the foundation, we have plenty of material to build with.
And for others, NaNo is the hobby wood shop where you almost cut your finger off that one time but you made a birdhouse and no birds live in it but you know what you made something and you like it and that’s what matters.
And perhaps the only reason I can actually get behind: It can make an already anxious creative-type person even more anxious.
My dudes, if the thought of NaNo makes you anxious, don’t do it. It’s supposed to be fun, and if NaNo’s constraints make you feel ill at ease, then there’s no pressure to participate.
Or you can participate, but be a NaNo Rebel. This means you don’t write a novel. You could instead write a series of short stories, or character interviews, or observations about people you meet on the bus.
One year I set out to write a novel, and instead I wrote two short novellas featuring minor characters in my main novel. Because NaNo is for discovery and flow and creativity. NaNo is for making you happy by turning on that word faucet. NaNo is for creating whatever you want to create.
Well, you read all my awesome reasons and you don’t want to do NaNo.
That’s cool, girlfriend. I understand. Go forth and write in whatever way makes you happy. All I ask is that if someone says they are doing NaNo, you please don’t disparage them. Give them knuckles and keep doing your thing.
You have decided to give NaNo a shot.
AWESOME! High five! I love it!
I’m going to ask a similar thing here: if you meet someone who isn’t doing NaNo, give them space to be on their own writing journey. Say good luck and continue on.
I wrote up a short list of ways to succeed during and after NaNo:
- Don’t stress. Win or lose, you come away with new words, and that’s what counts.
- Revise that NaNo draft. Remember how all first drafts are hot garbage? That includes yours.
- Participate in the NaNo forums. They’re fun and you could meet cool people!
- Rewrite your revised NaNo draft. Twice. No, three times. As many times as it takes. Stick it in a drawer until February. Don’t even think about it. Write something else.
- Join in the NaNo Twitter community.
- Is it February? No? Get away from that revised NaNo draft. Don’t make me hit you with a broom.
- Find a local or online writers group! Take something other than your NaNo draft. Learn how to graciously accept criticism, and what to do with that criticism once you get it.
- Be my friend on the NaNo site! My username is sr-pasternack. Also, you can follow me on Twitter @igotsaturnip!
- Okay, remove your NaNo draft from your drawer. Dust it off. (If there’s no dust, put it back. It hasn’t been there long enough.) Revise it again. YOU HEARD ME.
- Don’t even think about querying an agent with your 2017 NaNo story until after NaNo 2018. Give it time. Give it appropriate revisionary effort. Give it to beta readers and CPs and sensitivity readers if you need to. Polish it up. Make it shine.
I’ve heard people compare NaNo to a marathon, but it isn’t. NaNo is a sprint. You can accomplish what some people do in a whole year in a single month, and that’s great. Writing can be a sprint, but rewriting is always a Forrest Gump-esque run back and forth across the same land, down the same roads, over and over, back and forth, until one day you come to a stop and say to yourself, “I’m done.”
Marathons are hard, but sprints can help you prepare. So do your NaNo sprint, shovel that sand, make friends who can sprint and shovel with you, and above all else HAVE FUN! I’ll see you over at nanowrimo.org.