and also, maybe, why you shouldn’t…
We’re almost halfway through November—how exactly did that happen?! And if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo you might be wondering why on earth you’re doing this to yourself. If you’re not participating this year, you might be wondering why on earth so many other people are choosing to do this to themselves! There’s no doubt writing 50 000 words in a month can be a bit of an ordeal, and for every good point of this crazy month-long writing challenge I’ve seen a totally valid criticism. So, since I’ve got NaNo well and truly on the brain, I thought this would be a good time to take a long, hard look at the question: Why should you attempt NaNoWriMo? And, equally importantly, why is it a no-good, very-bad, terrible idea?
You should do it because… it’s good practice.
If you wait to write only when inspiration strikes, you’re going to have a hard time hitting your writing targets. NaNo doesn’t afford the luxury of waiting around for your muse; if you have 1667 words to get down, you’re going to have to go out, grab your muse, and force it to cooperate. Or just start without it! And if you’re interested in writing for more than just the enjoyment of putting words down on paper, if you want to have a finished project one day for example, chances are you’re going to need to figure out how to write when you don’t necessarily feel like it. During November, we say “move over” to motivation and instead embrace dedication. Sure, it’s less sexy, but ask almost anyone: motivation might make you feel good, but it’s dedication that gets you where you want to go. NaNoWriMo forces you to step up and practice dedication to your writing.
You shouldn’t do it because… it encourages bad writing.
The old saying, “Practice makes perfect,” has fallen a little out of favour recently. It’s been suggested that a better, more accurate, phrase would be, “Practice makes permanent.” Meaning that if you do the same thing over and over again, you don’t necessarily get better at it, you just get more used to doing it that way. NaNoWriMo encourages many things, but careful word choice and paying close attention to your grammar? Not really on the list. Trying to get a thousand words written in half an hour of down time between other commitments isn’t exactly conducive to great, thoughtful writing, and there’s a valid criticism to be made that NaNoWriMo encourages people to write quickly rather than well. Quality is better than quantity, right? Well, not in November!
You should do it because… it forces you to make time.
I’ve written before about the difficulty of making time to write. I know it, you know it, people are busy. We’re all busy! And no matter how good our intentions are, it’s so easy for writing to slip off the to-do list with so many other things going on in our lives. For one breath-taking, bewildering month, NaNoWriMo gives you the permission—nay, the responsibility—to put writing first. My husband isn’t a writer, and doesn’t tend to get involved with my writing, but during the month of November he resigns himself to the fact that I will not be cooking, cleaning or communicating with anything like my usual frequency. You want to talk about your day? Cool, I’ve got a minute and a half and then I’ve got a sprint starting.
(I’m kidding, I’m a supportive wife. Honest.)
You shouldn’t do it because… it’s totally unsustainable.
The problem with going all-out for thirty days is that it can very easily leave you burned out. I know it’s happened to me in Decembers past, where I’ve closed the laptop on the project I’ve been living, eating and breathing for a month and not written another word until the new year. NaNoWriMo is a massive undertaking, and it can be exhausting—mentally, for sure, and sometimes physically if, like me, you have a tendency to wait until the evening to decide it’s time to get those words down. That’s fun, in its own way, but it doesn’t make for the building of a great long-term habit. If what you want is to build writing into your daily routine, NaNoWriMo might not be the best way to go about that, making the prospect of a daily writing habit seem unattainable.
You should do it because… it’ll prove that you can.
Challenge is good for us, and completing a challenge feels amazing! There’s nothing like getting to the end of a month, looking back at a mammoth word document that didn’t even exist in October, and knowing that you made that happen. 50 000 words in a month is a lot, and when you’ve achieved that you might be surprised at the other things that suddenly feel within reach. Editing and redrafting your story? Writing a collection of poetry or essays? The world is your oyster—you’re a NaNoWriMo winner!
You shouldn’t do it because… failing can kill your motivation.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that you won’t manage to hit that 50 000-word mark by the end of November. Life might get in the way, you might lose all interest in your project or get totally stuck, injury might make it painful or impossible to write, any number of things can hold you back from a NaNoWriMo victory. That’s rough, but worse than the immediate frustration of not succeeding at a goal you’ve set yourself is the possible long-term effect. You don’t want your writing to feel like something you “lost” at, that’s a fundamentally unproductive mindset to find yourself in, but it’s difficult not to start feeling that way as you watch the target wordcount for the day slowly slipping out of reach as the month progresses.
You should do it because… you won’t be alone.
I know I’ve talked about this a lot, both the importance of community generally and how highly I recommend getting in on the collective NaNoWriMo spirit. But seriously, the sense of community around NaNoWriMo is amazing, and being part of a group of people with the same goal in mind is a really powerful thing. Whether you’re steaming ahead or scrambling to catch up, there will be people ready to celebrate or commiserate with you. If you want to bounce story ideas off somebody the NaNoWriMo forums are full of people ready to listen, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to return the favour. Writer Twitter is absolutely full of NaNo talk at the moment, and if you’re not already part of it, aren’t you at least a little bit tempted to join in the fun? Go on, you know you want to.
Are you joining in with NaNoWriMo this year?
If not, have you tried it before, or might you have a go in the future? This is my sixth attempt at NaNo, but if I manage to get to 50 000 words it’ll only be my fourth NaNo “victory”. I’m on track so far, but we’ll have to see how the rest of this month goes!
If you are participating this year, are you on schedule? Ahead of the game? Or looking for your chance to catch up? Wherever you’re at, I’ve got my fingers crossed for you—not necessarily for a win, although that would be cool too, but that you can come out of this month proud of yourself, because every word you wrote was a word that couldn’t have existed without you. Keep up the good work, fellow Wrimos!