Why I don’t do NaNoWriMo

By November 21, 2011Comms

Back from Philcon, which was (surprise!) a blast. Apart from getting to handle a custom

Darth Myke

made Sith-tuned light saber, I got to reunite with old friends, make new ones and spend hours shooting the breeze with Cory Doctorow about making a living from writing and a room full of George R.R. Martin fans about how much we love A Song of Ice and Fire.

This is my JOB folks. We’re talking, tax write off. I must have done something incredible in a past life.

But, anyway, all my blog entries seem to be about how great it is to be in nerd heaven, so let’s shift gears and take a dissenting view.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is just wrapping up (it’s November of every year, I think). It’s a neat Internet driven meme that challenges folks to write 50,000 words in a single month.

Here’s what I like about it:

– It stresses rigor, discipline and regularity in art. Once you commit to NaNoWriMo, you’re going to be pulling some late nights to get your word count in. 1,700 words a day for most folks is going to mean treating your hobby like a paying job (you don’t go to bed until the work is done).

– It kickstarts folks who have been looking for an excuse to take a step off that ledge and start a novel.

– It has a cool sense of community and brings like-minded folks together.

Here’s what I don’t like about it (and mind you, this comes from the perspective of a traditional/Stackpolean “House Slave” writer. If you’re writing for fun, or plan to self-publish, then this may not be as relevant to you):

– 50,000 words isn’t a novel. While there aren’t hard bottom limits, my general sense has always been that 80,000 words is around the minimum length for novels published by the “Big 6.” I am sure there are exceptions, but I keep thinking it should be called NaHaNoWriMo.

– It encourages people to write quickly. I think this is the single biggest problem that beginning writers face and was the thing that kept me from going pro for the longest time. I *still* struggle to slow myself down and concentrate on perfection over word count. Producing 3,000 meh words pales in comparison to producing 10 good ones. In the end, it is QUALITY rather than quantity and speed, that counts in producing successful writing (I wrote a blog post on this very topic a while ago). All of my favorite writers (George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Richard K. Morgan) are SLOW. They go ages between books. While I haven’t spoken to all of them personally, I have spoken to some of them, and the common thread I am finding is that they are perfectionists. Deadlines or no, they do not turn in work until they know it is the very, very best they can produce. I firmly believe that attitude is the difference between world-changing writers like GRRM and mid-listers or aspirants who can’t get a book deal. I see blog posts and websites with meters that measure word count all the time. What I rarely see are indicators of the quality of those words.

I can see why NaNoWriMo is popular and I certainly don’t bash it, but its focus on quantity and speed rather than quality of output may be counterproductive. Maybe December should be Edit-The-Crap-Out-Of-The-50K-Words-I-Just-Wrote-Month.


Author Myke Cole

Myke Cole is an American writer of history and fantasy who leverages a lifetime in military, law enforcement and intelligence service to take you to battlefields, real and imagined.

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Shecky X says:

    I don’t participate in it, but I’ve seen enough different writers to be able to say this with a fair amount of certainty: individual approaches/styles/talents have a HUGE variety of ways to Make It Happen. But sometimes, it can be useful to stretch the writing “legs” in an exercise to make the actual work of writing a little easier. And that’s what it is – an exercise. And, as with physical exercise, there are some exercises that benefit some people and not others. For people first getting into the work, something like NNWM might be just the key to kickstart their creative juices and get them used to making that “point of departure”, a pack of words that at least gives them something to work WITH. For some others, it might actually be (as you say) counterproductive; those folks create better stuff when able to focus solely on the creation itself and not on adhering to externally-imposed strictures.

    It’s an individual thing. Power lifting really doesn’t do a whole lot for marathon runners, and running the hurdles is usually counterproductive for 400-relay swimmers; the same applies to different writing approaches.

  • So… my first published book was written during NaNoWriMo. The thing that this post seems to be assuming is that NaNoWriMo is about producing a finished, publishable novel in a month.  It’s not. They emphasize that on the website. The vast majority of the participants know that as well, and the ones that don’t? They are the crazy-pants who would submit an unedited manuscript anyway.

    NaNoWriMo about getting a first draft down and actually finishing something, instead of talking about doing it someday.You know what the biggest stumbling block is between most writers and being published? It’s that they never finish anything.

  • Kelly Tompkins says:

    I’ll be editing the crap out of my 50k in January, hopefully adding a bunch to it, and changing the POV… so I suppose that means total rewrite. Nanowrimo is fun though and challenging. I participate because I am one those people that loves starting things, but never finishes them. Can’t tell you how many time I’ve started a novel only to set it aside. With Nanowrimo I get to experience middling and ending a story. I can see why I professional/full time writer might not reap the same benefits as the aspiring writer.

  • David J. Fortier says:

    It seems like every November I’m in revisions, so this never seems to be a concern for me. That said, I should kick myself for not being as rigorous as the folks doing NaNo.

    *scurries off to revise*

  • JMHO, fast or slow, the key is consistency.  It’s been my observation that lots of writers treat their writing like they treat their personal physical fitness: they slack for most of the year, then come January they *swear* that this is their big moment — to finally get in great shape — and they whale on it for 30 to 45 days… and then burn out and go back to slacking until December.  Such is NaNoWriMo.  Slam!  50K in 30 days!  Go crazy.  But what are we doing for the other 335 days in our year?

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