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What No NaNoWriMo Taught Me

December 1, 2009

As in years past, this week seems to be one of reflection and dissection. It makes sense, after a month of shared stress and potential misery to either commiserate or co-celebrate.

This year I made the choice not to participate. I have made the same decision each of the past two years—to not participate—but each of those years I have caved in to peer pressure (or maybe just to the idea that I was missing some shared experience). However, this year I stuck to my guns, and stayed out of the fray.

And after watching the NaNo Scrum from the sidelines I am positive that I made the right decision. But to take it a step further, standing on the NaNo sidelines I have decided that I won’t participate in the future.

Why? you ask. It’s all the rage…everyone is dong it.

Well, since you asked I’ll do my best to put my feelings on the matter into words:

  1. It’s a gimmick. It may be a gimmick that works for some, but it’s a select few. Most of us either fall short, or don’t finish the novel.
  2. It’s not habit forming. Contrary to we have all led ourselves to believe participating in NaNoWriMo for 30 days does not form lasting habits, because we’re practicing a non-sustainable habit (at least for those of us who cannot afford to write full-time). NaNoWriMo no more gives us healthy writing habits than cooking a huge holiday meal gives us good kitchen habits.
  3. It’s too rigid. I’m not a fan of the one size fits all goal and structure. But on top of the the fanatical, nee maniacal, pursuit of the 1,667 word daily goal forces most of us to make silly, spur-of-the-moment choices. We make bad plot decisions, and with no opportunity to go back and correct things, many of us take perfectly good ideas and grind them into dust.
  4. It’s exhausting. And not in a good way. Does anybody cross the finish line jumping for joy and with the drive and interest to keep pushing on? I’m sure some do, but no one I know. Everytime I’ve hit December 1, it’s been with the same sigh of accomplishment given at the end of a grueling marathon…in Las Vegas…in summer.
  5. It’s peer pressure. Be honest here, and raise you hand if you only NaNo because everyone else is doing it (in case you’re wondering, my hand is up).

So I’m through with it. If my writing buddies join in next year I’ll wish them well. I’ll cheer them on. If they’re successful—whatever that means to them—I’ll congratulate them. And if they fall short, or lose interest in their character, or carry 50k word rough draft with them for the next two years, I will not say I told you so.

But I will not NaNo—not anymore.

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One month from today my latest short story, along with nine other shorts, will be available in Chinese Whisperings, an ambitious anthology of interwoven tales.
  1. December 1, 2009 2:47 pm

    And just for the record, I know exactly what you mean about using NaNo as a platform to write a “serious” (again, subjective term here) novel when compared to other so-called tried and true novel-writing methods, and how those can be, and usually are, two separate processes.

    I just didn’t want anyone to think they somehow “failed” with whatever outcome they produced by participating in the challenge. It’s really all about personal goals and expectations.

    I don’t mean to be all preachy, but NaNoWriMo is very dear to my heart. πŸ™‚

  2. December 1, 2009 3:23 pm


    I know NaNo is dear to you.

    But I’m going to stick to my guns that NNWM isn’t a good tool for novel writing.

    You and Iapetus999 both said that you did a LOT of preparing, starting over a month in advance of Nov 1. Which kind of makes my point. You didn’t start on Nov 1. Your Novel Writing was well underway by then. But on Nov 1 you started your draft.

    You and other who do this are adapting NNWM (not the goal but the process). Remember that one of the big marketing tools for NNWM is a book called “No Plot, No Problem.

    But then if you’re starting well before Nov 1, procrastination really isn’t your problem anyway.

    But even taking all that in, I’m not saying its a bad thing for you…nor am I even saying it’s a bad thing in general.

    But I’ve now participated 4 times, and twice I’ve watched from the sidelines. I’ve won 4 times and the drafts have all been garbage. And the 2 times I’ve watched I’ve taken stock of what many of my friends have done with NNWM, and I think there are a great many people who use NNWM for something that it shouldn’t be used for.

    Browsing the NNWM boards I found hundreds of writers who joined in just because everyone else was doing it. When I posted on this blog that I wouldn’t participate I received 14 emails from readers who were proud of me for not joining in.

    I’m used to being in the minority (I’m pretty sure just counting the writers on this blog I’m outnumbered 5 1o 1 πŸ˜‰ ). And there are thousands of blog posts talking about how wonderful and useful NNWM is. There are even blogs that suggest that it is a writer’s responsibility to do NNWM every year. NNWM is in no danger from me and my dissenting opinion.

    But I hope by putting my thoughts down on paper (or e-paper) that some of the people who are frustrated because they didn’t finish, may take stock and decide that they didn’t fail…NNWM just isn’t the tool to help them.


    P.S. Plus this is the most comments I’ve had on a post in over a year. πŸ˜‰

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