That stands for National Novel Writing Month. The premise of NaNoWriMo is that writers and potential writers make a frantic dash to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. The idea pits quantity over quality in an attempt to get people writing on a daily basis.
Some authors love it. Others hate it.
My thoughts on it are somewhere in between.
When I was first starting out as a professional writer, I needed something to kick me in the butt–something that would put my rear in the chair and get me writing on a daily schedule. Neil Gaiman recommends writers write every day. And he’s correct!
NaNoWriMo pushed me to do just that, and the competitive nature in me loved the race for 50,000 words. For a few years, NaNoWriMo worked very well for me. It made me write and pushed me to see what I could do. During the month of November.
The first year, 50K was hard. Like pulling teeth. The second time, it was easy. Almost too easy, so I added in Camp NaNoWriMo to see if I could do 50K again in a month not November (all the while working 50-60 hour weeks). The third year, I dared myself to aim for 90K in one month. If I could conquer 21 graduate hours of classes for my master’s degree, work 50 hour work weeks, tackle the holidays, and write 90K, I could do anything.
And I did it. I almost killed myself trying, but I did it.
I can’t say the 90K was the most glorious piece of work–actually, it’s not that good at all–but it was writing.
After such a break neck pace, I had two questions for myself:
- If I could write 90K in a month from hell, why wasn’t I writing every month? Why was I writing only in November?
- Was writing quantity really worth the effort of revision? Why not focus on quality and quantity both?
And that was when I outgrew NaNoWriMo as an author.
NaNoWriMo is great, in my mind, for beginning authors or people who are struggling to develop the discipline to write on a daily basis. But once a writer “wins” NaNo, meaning they successfully write 50K in a month, then they graduate. They outgrow it.
I knew that if I could write 50K in a month, that limiting myself to 50K/month once a year, was not only silly, but it was never going to kick start my professional writing career. If I was serious about writing, I needed to write daily, every day of every month. That means NaNo isn’t November. It isn’t April or June’s Camp. NaNo is every month of the year.
So when people ask, “Do you participate in NaNoWriMo?” My answer is, “Every month.”
The content I was turning out in a mad dash to set world records wasn’t giving me my best work either. Now that I was writing daily, I focused on quality work. Does that mean I stop to edit every little typo as I go? Nope.
But it does mean that I plan, outline, research, and organize before writing, and once I’m writing, I write with the end in mind. I pay attention to plot arcs and character development. I show vs. tell. I aim for decent work I can be proud of, rather than focusing only on the finish line.
So when people ask, “What do you think of NaNoWriMo?” My answer is, “It’s a great beginning tool that serves its purpose, but only in the beginning. At some point, we all have to graduate beyond it.”
Anyone can publish 300,000 words of a phone book. That doesn’t make it literature.