Monday, October 13, 2008


So, someone asked me about National Novel Writing Month. I figured I might as well share that answer here.

I have mixed feelings about NANOWRIMO:

Pros: 1) I'm for anything that gets people who want to write writing. It's a great exercise for getting an initial draft done for one fairly large category of writers. 2) It's a great way for someone to learn that they really can crank out a lot of words on a deadline. 3) There is a large group of writers for whom the exercise of being forced to shut down the internal critic is a fantastic thing.

Cons: 1) Unless you're talking YA, 50,000 words does not a novel make and expanding something from 50,000 to a more reasonable number is a lot of work, more in my opinion than simply writing 90,000 to start with would have been--if the goal were 50,000 words of a novel in a month instead of a 50,000 word novel, I'd be much more enthusiastic. I do that on a not irregular basis. 2) A lot of writers, even a lot of pros simply can't hit that pace, and fostering the idea that you need to be able to write that fast to get somewhere can be actively harmful to slower writers. 3) There is a small but real number of writers out there who need to be encouraged to listen to the inner editor more rather than less and NANO may encourage them to foster bad habits.

Overall, I would recommend to most writers that they try NANO at least once or twice, but not to get too upset if it doesn't suit them. I'd also recommend that they move on from NANO to Novel in 90 or some other challenge that has both a more realistic end goal and pace.* Even among the pros, 50,000 words a month is very fast. I can name maybe a dozen writers who beat it regularly and no more then twenty or thirty (me included) who hit it occasionally during parts of a book. One book a year, ~500 words a day every single week day is both much closer to the average and much easier for most to manage.

* Update: I should note here that anyone who finds that NANO works well for them should absolutely keep doing it as long as that's the case. Never give up on something that genuinely works for you.

What about y'all?


Michael Damian Thomas said...

I'm with you on this one. I think it just adds more pressure to the process. There's a big plus to “finishing” something, but the idea of pumping out 50,000 words in one month just makes me nauseous. In my case, it took me nine months to write my first novel (98,000 words). I would be happy to cut that down to six months. I just don't see my process working well if I tried to do it in two.

Kelly Swails said...

Y: yeah, I'm right there with ya. Good for an absolute rookie so they know they can actually write a book ... but I don't know that I can really get behind the process all that much. Everyone's writing style is different, blah blah blah, and the idea that one *has* to write 50K in a month can be detrimental. I'm one of those writers that needs to lister to her inner critic, and that pace doesn't allow me any downtime for thinking.

Douglas Hulick said...

I always thought it was an intriguing notion, if for no other reason than it encouraged you to simply write and not worry about it being "perfect". That is certainly a skill I would like to work on. However, I've never had a month to set a good chunk of my life aside and focus compulsively about dumping words on the page at a gawd-awful rate. I think if I did, I wouldn't be so worried about getting a "book" done, as long as I got 50k coherent consecutive words together that could lead to a longer finished work.

But like I said, I don't have a month to set aside, so I'll try to toddle along at 500 words a day (which won't be happening this week, due to various factors) and be happy.

Jonna said...

Nanowrimo is in November, which strikes me as a bad time. During that month, I typically have at least 50,000 words of student writing to grade. So for me it doesn't matter whether the concept is good or bad. It's just not going to happen!

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks for the input folks. As I said, my feelings are mixed. I think it can work very well for some writers but I worry that it could cause problems for others if they don't have a good counterbalancing model in their heads.

Ours is a solitary job in so many ways, and when you're isolated it's easy to get your head wrapped around an idea that may not work for you, especially if it has a good PR department and no one standing up and saying: It ain't necessarily so.

Calenhíril said...

I have to admit, I love NaNo. I like the pressure of the deadline, and I like the social aspects of it...and it's always kind of nice to tell people why you've become a hermit during the month of November and see their impressed face when they hear exactly how many words you wrote that day. I'm one of the folks who interprets the 50k as *part* of a novel. There's only been one time when I finished a novel during NaNo; the other three novels are patiently waiting to be finished...or trunked, as the case may be, and all of those have grown to something like actual novel length. I do NaNo because it's fun. Stressful, but fun. And I do keep writing throughout the year, so all of my productivity doesn't get used up in the fall.

Anonymous said...

I did it in 2005 and 2006 and won both times. I didn't do it last year because I didn't have the time or the strength. I'm afraid this year is much more of the same.

I'll second what Jonna said - November is a really bad month to be doing something like this anyway. imho.

Kelly McCullough said...

Calenhíril, that's fabulous! If it works for you, that's a great thing. I absolutely don't want to give the impression that I'm down on the experience for everyone.

Mari, Jonna, yes November is pretty much as bad a time of year for that as possible, family stress, holiday stress, academic stress.

DKoren said...

I've done it successfully for four years, and, like calenhiril, also interpret it to be 50K of a new novel, not necessarily a complete novel.

It's been a useful tool for me because I have several writer friends who join, and the friendly competition/deadline keeps me going when I would otherwise feel like flaking. And it lets me get half a novel in a month. Then I usually spend the next 6 months getting the second half done because I simply can't sustain that pace after November. But for one month, it sure gives me a nice output.

I also try to do my homework in advance, so I know where I'm going and nano doesn't turn into a free-for-all. That I don't like. Nano, for me, is really just a simple a way of enforcing writing discipline. None of my other writing habits change. I just work harder every day for that month!

Kelly McCullough said...

DKoren, that's great! I'm glad it works so well for you.