NaNoWriMo Is Not A Cult

Let me preface this by saying National Novel Writing Month – aka NaNoWriMo – is awesome. The annual event challenges you to write one novel – or 50,000 words – in one month (namely November), all while providing you with an awesome community to brainstorm, share your work and compete with and much more. If you want to write a novel or have ever thought about writing a novel, stop reading this and sign up now!

But . . .

But . . .

If you are a seasoned NaNoWriMo participant and can’t seem to hit 50,000 words, or you just aren’t happy with the finished results, it might be time to consider if Nanowimo is part of your writing process or not. I’m a three-time NaNoWriMo winner, but something was missing from each project, preventing me from making the much-needed corrections during the revision phase. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered what it was.

I am a pantser. I still use an outline, but I write best with the freedom to move around and explore my narrative from the seat of my pants (or more accurately, shorts). While having a one month deadline is a great motivation for my deadline-oriented mind, it really kills the creativity in scene after scene. I need time to explore my story, time to get to know my characters. So over the past two years, I’ve carved out several months to write a novel. Now I have two finished projects – one that I’m sending out to agents, and one that I’m workshopping through a writer’s group. In either case, I came to the same conclusion: taking it slow and steady worked better than rushing through.

Of course, you might find the opposite to be true – NaNoWriMo might work wonderfully in your wheel house. If you are an outliner or a singularly focused pantser, you might be able to write a satisfactory 50,000 word draft with little problem. Or you might be like me, and require a little extra time to get the bugs out. Everyone’s writing process is different.

You can still use NaNoWriMo’s tools to craft your novel, even if you aren’t taking the 50,000-word plunge. Every time I start a new novel, I buy a copy of NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s workbook “No Plot, No Problem”, which features tons of exercises for figuring out your story before you begin. I’ve heard of writers customizing NaNoWriMo for their own needs, such as by number of hours editing or outlining in a single month. There’s also Camp NaNoWriMo, a summer/spring version which lets writers customize their own word counts for the months of June and August.

Even if you aren’t participating in NaNoWriMo at all, you should still try to approximate its tools to your own writing process. Make sure you have a writing group or organization to provide you with a sense of community. Try to listen to podcasts from fellow writers and other creative types to keep motivated. Don’t forget to set a goal or deadline – but make sure it’s one which doesn’t rush you or hinder your creativity.

NaNoWriMo provides an excellent kick in the pants for many writers. It helps you find the cracks in your schedule where you can squeeze in writing time while also evicting all those nasty doubts. But it’s not a cult sacrifice to your muse. It’s not the writing tax you have to pay in November. It’s not any kind of obligation. It’s simply a great way to start exploring your own unique process.

Where you take your writing from there is up to you.


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