So I have signed up for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) nine times in the past, and I’ve succeeded seven times in writing 50,000 words or more. Some of those times, I actually did write a brand new novel from scratch, and sometimes I was a NaNo Rebel, revising or fleshing out a revision, or working on a series of shorter pieces rather than one continuous novel.
I love nanowrimo because I get to be part of a community that is celebrating progress in writing, rather than, say, awards in writing or impressive publications… because if that’s the only thing we can celebrate, we won’t get to celebrate very often, nor can we all celebrate together. I also have to admit that it is the act of writing that I love the most.
It helps that I enjoy fast drafting and free writing. It does not bother me that most of what I write will have to be revised later. Plus, I am apparently a sucker for motivational tools such as bar graphs and online badges. I also seem to do better when I write a small amount daily, and I am not the type to shine with last-minute-under-the-gun brilliance, so reaching a reasonable daily word count works well for me. If I fall behind, it gets harder And sometimes life happens, and I just have to say, okay, Nanowrimo is not a good fit with all that is happening in my life right now, and that’s fine.
Bottom line: I can’t wait for November. I have tried the Nano Camp in the summer once, and I’ve considered trying to use the tools they make available at other times of the year, but there is a certain buzz that comes in November because so many other writers are doing this, too.
All of this is leading me, finally, to my main point, which is to try to give a pep talk to people who have wanted to be a part of Nanowrimo but for lots of really good reasons, they can’t participate in the traditional way.
Here are my thoughts, for what it’s worth. First, there are so many amazing writers who probably would gain little from engaging in the Nanowrimo challenge. You may be one of them. Pat yourself on the back. You know who you are, and what works for you, and that’s fine.
On the other hand, if you want to be part of it but the traditional approach to write at least 50,000 words in a month on a brand new novel just won’t work, here is another approach—
Use the Nanowrimo website and word count as a way to celebrate whatever progress you did make, whenever you happen to make it. When I revise, I usually am cutting a lot, not generating words, or sometimes I am just staring at the words and not a lot seems to be happening. If that was the work I needed to do this month, I could just guesstimate at the end of each day what might be the right number of words to represent the quality or length of my writing work. It is as if I give myself a grade at the end of each day.
For example, I might give myself credit for 1,250 words for spending 45 minutes jotting down a few thoughts and revising one sentence to perfection. Such estimates might not be appropriate for, say, a diet or billing a client, but let me be clear: Nanowrimo is only about you writing more. Whatever that looks like. Whatever you want to celebrate. And you don’t have to reach the 50,000 word goal (or even a guesstimated grade) to feel good about what you get done in November.
As far as I’m concerned, any writer who can say, “I got something done,” deserves to be congratulated.
Again, let me stress, if you already know that nanowrimo is not a good idea for you, that’s so fine. But if you really want to try it but you know the traditional approach is not good for you, come join us. It’s all good. There are some people who go onto the discussion boards to celebrate writing 100,000 words by day three, and if we could, we’d all be exchanging looks with each other behind the teacher’s back at that, but it doesn’t matter. You go, 100,000 words in three days! It could be true. It doesn’t matter. No one is getting paid for this. Just let it help you go further. And to be honest, some writers (maybe most writers) produce ten words in a month that are so much better than my 50,000, and I’m trying not to resent that, because I’m going to be happy about my 50k and I want you to be happy about whatever you’ve done that’s writerly. We aren’t competing. That’s what’s so nice about it. We are just cheering each other on as we cross whatever finish line makes sense for us.