NaNoWriMo–The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I’m going to preface this by saying I’m not dumping on NaNo or the people who participate. I’ve done it, and I had a lot of fun with it. However, there are things about it that aren’t ideal and create misconceptions and even bad habits.

Let’s start with the good, though. NaNoWriMo is great for motivating people to write. The community is full of excited, positive writers who are all working together to accomplish their goal – write 1,600 words a day. That’s awesome. Having a good, motivated group of writing partners is a fantastic thing. I am a member of several Facebook writers’ groups, and having people to talk to about writing is important. For some people, NaNoWriMo is the only time they take their writing out of the closet and dust it off. For others it’s the only time they connect with other writers. I think NaNo is an important part of our writing culture for that alone, not to mention the other positives like imposing word count deadlines on people who otherwise procrastinate.

The bad, however, is pretty bad. I’ve seen competition between writers that spiraled into absurdity. The pressure to write that much that fast is too much for some folks who then felt like they were “losers” for not finishing on time. I’ve also seen people who become so frustrated with being unable to “win” year after year that it discourages them from writing altogether because they have this (inaccurate) thought that you must be a NaNoWriMo “winner” in order to be a “serious writer”. While I think writing 1,000 words a day is important if you can manage it, it isn’t the measure of whether or not you are a serious writer. It just isn’t. The dark side of NaNo is the people who don’t quite fit into it and hover on the outskirts, wishing they could join the party. I know that many writers have the same perspective I do (it’s fun and worth it, but doesn’t mean you are a good or serious writer; the reverse is also true), but some people end up feeling left out in the cold. No one should do that!

And, finally, the ugly: the slush pile in December. So many people think that finishing the first draft of their novel (and not even reading it or self-editing it) means it’s time to slap it up on Amazon or send it to publishers and agents. Even “NaNoEdMo” in January isn’t enough to adequately prepare a book for publishing. You need to go through it a number of times – potentially rewriting it from the ground up – and really polish it before you consider publishing it. While I congratulate the winners for succeeding this month, don’t forget that finishing your first draft isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a much longer (but worth it!) journey.

In the end I still think participating in NaNoWriMo is a good thing. If you use it to help yourself get through everything and really put pen to paper then you’re using it the way it was meant to be used.

TL; DR:

  • Have fun with it, but don’t feel bad if you don’t “win”.
  • Don’t think your novel is finished at the end of November, because it isn’t.
  • Novels are a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time with it and make sure you’re doing it properly rather than fast.
  • You are not in competition with other writers for how fast or how well you write. Don’t get into that mindset.
  • We’re all in this together – support each other year round and spend time with other writers as often as you can. We need each other in order to succeed because that support network who understands is vital to writing.
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