National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and it receives a fair bit of criticism from those who have never done it. It can seem to promote a few bad writing habits and some misinformation about what it takes to be an author, but if you know enough about writing to look past this, then it’s easy to see the benefits that NaNoWriMo has to offer.
1. Writers’ block doesn’t just go away
Skipping days catches up with you fast. 1667 words turns into 3334 which turns into 5001 and after just a few days, the finish line is nothing more than a speck on the horizon. By participating in NaNoWriMo, you’ll learn that writers’ block doesn’t just go away and that if you want to keep up with your daily goal, you need to just push through it.
2. You need to just start
Life is pretty exhausting. At the end of any given day, you might not feel like sitting down to write over 1000 words. But if you commit to writing every day and you put your butt into that chair and just start writing, you might find that the hardest part is sitting at your laptop and writing the first few sentences. A lot of the time I find that I might not have wanted to start, but by the time I hit my word goal, I don’t want to stop. Starting is the hardest part.
3. Planning is important
You might think you can wing it through November, but coming up with 1667 words about a scene you know nothing about is not a process that is sustainable for 30 days straight. Pants your way through it all you want, but if this is your first draft, you’re probably going to hit a few walls. You can’t afford this. Even if you don’t follow it exactly, having a backup plan is going to help you through those days when you don’t know what to write.
4. Knowing your characters is vital if you want to let them lead
Sometimes our characters do the complete opposite of what we want them to do, and it’s exciting to let them take the reins. This is all good fun until they want to take a break from being the boss, at which stage you need to figure out what comes next yourself. It’s a lot easier to follow your characters when you know what they want and what they fear.
5. You have your own writing process
One of the most beneficial things you can learn about yourself by participating in NaNoWriMo is your writing process. Make this a month of experimentation and by the end of it you’ll know if you like marathons or sprints, writing in the morning or the evening, and what environment allows you the most focus.
6. The first draft doesn’t have to be good
The first draft should be about finding the story, not writing the best prose you’re capable of. The first draft SHOULD NOT be submitted to an agent or publisher, so there’s no reason for it to be spectacular. Give yourself a break and just get through it. It doesn’t need to be great. That’s what revision is for.
Things to remember:
- A month is not a realistic timeframe in which to write a novel. NaNoWriMo is a challenge and should be considered as one. Those who have never attempted fiction before should not fall under the illusion that this is how professional authors work.
- Additionally, because this is not how authors work in the real world, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t make it to the finish line. It doesn’t say anything negative about you at all. All not winning says about you is that this particular November, you weren’t able to write 50k words. It doesn’t mean you can’t hack it as an author.
- Still on this point, if you want to write a novel, you actually have to write a novel; however, you don’t need to write it in 30 days. It takes however long it takes.
- Don’t consider yourself a writer just because you can write 50k words in 30 days. Firstly, a novel is longer – usually much longer – than 50k words. Secondly, if the first draft of anything is shit, the first draft of a novel written in 30 days is going to be even more shit. Word count says nothing about quality.
- By the end of November, you might not have churned out anything that will ever be publishable. Participate in NaNoWriMo for what you can learn, but don’t expect that it’ll beget a best-seller.
- Please, please, please don’t expect that you can send your novel to an agent or publisher in December, or even in January. You’re going to need to revise it several times before you can even consider this.
- Writing a novel is about more than just writing. There’s a lot of thinking, planning and revising that goes into writing a novel. Even if you can write something semi-decent, don’t assume that all you need to do is write every day.
- NaNoWriMo doesn’t suggest that you shouldn’t write outside of November.
- If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, participate in NaNoWriMo. Do it because it’s a challenge. Do it because it’s fun. Do it because writing is your hobby, even if you don’t aspire to do it professionally. There are a lot of people who loudly complain about it, but sadly, they miss the point. There are also a lot of people who think winning NaNoWriMo means they’re ready to send their novel out. Sadly, they’re misinformed. That shouldn’t stop anyone else from trying out this challenge.
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