What is NaNoWriMo really about?

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  The month when thousands of writers all over the world embark on an insane journey together.  When they decide that they will write 1667 words a day and accomplish a massive feat: writing one 50,000 word novel in a month.

But what is NaNo about?  What is the whole point?  After all, anyone can write 50,000 words if they just type random drivel.  La la la la la la.  See, that’s 6 words already.

In the end, NaNo is not about writing 50k words in one month.

But…but that’s what its all about, isn’t it?

No.  Writing 50k words in one month is how you win NaNoWriMo, yes, but that’s not what NaNoWriMo is really about.

NaNoWriMo is about writing.  It’s about setting goals for yourself on a daily basis, so that you get into the habit of writing every day.  It’s not about writing something perfect.  It’s about writing the first draft.  No one writes a perfect or quality first draft.  Seriously.  No one.

I’ve loved writing since I was 11 and the bug hit me out of no where.  Suddenly I couldn’t help but come up with tons of fantastic ideas for books.  One of my mother’s friends gave me an old laptop that I could use for writing.  I remember that at one point I had 26 stories started.  Most were outlined and the first chapter had been written, but none of them made it further than that.  By the time I was 12 my mother flat out refused to read any more stories I had written until I finished them.  She explained she was tired of never knowing what happened next.

I continued to edit and rewrite many of my story ideas, and the first couple of chapters changed drastically over the years.  But none of them were ever finished.

It wasn’t until NaNo 2011 that I finished my first novel.  It was one of the stories I had started when I was 11 years old.  Finally, 10 years later, I finished it.

As a writer, I’m a fantastic editor. No, I don’t catch every mistake.  But I really like doing it.  I edit a lot, all the time if I can get away with it.  But I’m a terrible writer.

I know it sounds odd to say that as a writer I’m a terrible writer, but its true.  I have the hardest time sitting down and writing.  I can edit, and plot to my heart’s content, but actually getting the story out is the hardest part for me.

With NaNo, I can accomplish that.  NaNo provides a bit of competition, and a decent word count goal.  I’m driven to write, to at least finish the first draft of a novel, every time November comes around.  I always start with a plot and an outline, and I hope to finish with a novel.

NaNoWriMo is about writing.  Just writing.  It’s about getting that stupid story out of your head and getting it out on the paper.  It’s not about editing, or revising.  That can come later.  This is about finishing what you started, its about having a complete project at the end of a month.  And it’s just the right kick in the butt I need to actually write a book.

Professional writers often write way more than 1667 words a day.  They may often write 3-4k words per day.  If you aren’t already in the habit of forcing yourself to write daily, then you are going to have a difficult time churning out books for your publisher.

I don’t always write daily.  In fact, this month, I’ve been a fan of doing writing marathons.  Sometimes, with work, pets, cooking dinner, and spending time with my fiance, my life can get a little too crazy for writing.  I do want to be able to have some fun time, after all.  If this is the case, I will set one of my weekend days to be my writing marathon day.  For that day I will spend 8-10 hours working on my novel, with limited breaks.  The first time I did this, I wrote about 8070 words in one day.  The second time I managed over 10k.  It’s not easy.  I definitely felt a little fried at the end, but it works for me.  I get incredibly immersed in my story, so that writing becomes easier over time.  I don’t have to try to figure out where I left off, or what was happening.  It also allows me to keep up with my word count goal for NaNo.  And I find that is usually a good thing.  The more I can keep up with or ahead of my NaNo goal, the more likely I am to actually finish my story.  If I get behind, I tend to give up and go play some video games.

Some people will tell you to edit during NaNo.  They’ll remind you that editing is important, that it makes your story so much nicer.  But really, there is time for that later.  Unless you don’t care about winning NaNo, or, unlike me, you have no issues writing and finishing your novels.

We recently received a pep-talk on the NaNo forums, and the writer, Patrick Rothfuss, actually suggested you break the rules with NaNo.  Some of these suggestions are good.  In fact, all of them are pretty good, in moderation.

Patrick advises that you don’t start a novel from scratch.  That you sometimes work on a project that you’ve already started (but you obviously can’t count previously written words for NaNo).  He also advises that follow your enthusiasm and revise sometimes.

And while I don’t intend to mention this in any bad way, I will also point out that Patrick failed at NaNo the one time he tried it.  This is not bad though!  He managed to get a good start on a project he had been putting off, and even managed to finish a project he needed to complete.

However, it needs to be considered that these things are usually only good in moderation, at least if you’re anything like me.

I can’t afford to edit.  I would lose momentum, fall behind, and probably never finish the story.  That’s essentially what happened with my YA novel, The Feather.  I didn’t edit, but I had to do so much research about the time period that I feel behind and just gave up (there were some life complications as well).

I also feel that its important in NaNo to write whether you want to or not.  So what if you’re bored with a scene.  You can edit it later.  This for me is a great tool against “writer’s block”.  It means that I don’t have time for writer’s block during NaNo.  I fought my way though sticky scenes or writer’s block all during my last 10 hour writing marathon.  And you know what?  I wrote 10k words and finished several major scenes in my book.  I did all of that when I could have just stared at my computer screen, or played video games, or watched The Office.

I’m not saying this method is for everyone, but if you are a participant of NaNo, then you probably understand what it’s all about.  That it’s about writing, daily, whether you want to or not.  That it’s about finally finishing a project, getting that dream out on paper.  Sure, winning is nice, but it’s not about the winning.  Not really.

It’s about writing a novel. Your novel.


About lvadams

I grew up in Central Florida for most of my life. I was one of those strange kids who liked to catch lizards and snakes, and brought everything home from stray kittens to baby chickens and ducks. I started writing around the age of 11 and never really stopped. I now have a Bachelor's of Science degree from Auburn University and hope to get a job working with animals. Until then I keep on writing. :)
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