To NaNo, or Not To NaNo?

by | Oct 21, 2013 | Writing | 4 comments

Sharpen those pencils, it's nearly November!

Sharpen those pencils, it’s nearly November!

Every November, something wild and wonderful happens: hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world commit to writing at least 50,000 words on a draft of a novel. Any novel, any genre–anything you want! This phenomenon is called National Novel Writing Month, shortened rather snappily to NaNoWriMo. The idea of NaNo is this: many people talk or fantasize about writing a novel, but never actually get the ball rolling because they’re afraid their writing will be crap. The goal of NaNo, therefore, is to push people past that initial phase of fear and paralysis and challenge writers of all walks of life to just write–quality is largely immaterial. The goal is simply to spend one month cranking out a large quantity of words, through the end of a first draft.

I really love the spirit of NaNoWriMo. I think it’s a great motivational kick in the pants for anyone who has always thought about writing a novel but never gotten around to it. Or anyone who started a novel (“It was a dark and stormy night….”) and never gotten around to finishing it. More than just being an amorphous challenge, NaNoWriMo offers a whole slew of tools and support for WriMos–a website where you can post synopses, log word-counts, and chat with other participants. There are organized NaNoWriMo mixer events and write-ins, where you can discuss your progress with other participants or sit in the corner with your laptop and a gallon of coffee and type furiously until your fingernails come off. There are nearly as many ways to meaningfully participate in NaNo as there are days in November.

"What do you mean, 'it's finished'?"

“What do you mean, ‘it’s finished’?”

But there are also drawbacks to NaNoWriMo. First of all, 50k words may seem like a lot to the average person, but most novels are significantly longer than that. For most genres, that word-count isn’t much more than a good start. Secondly, while I understand that just getting words down is a really important first step for many neophyte writers, it can’t be the only focus. And more than a few of the participants I’ve met or spoken to don’t seem to fully understand that, assuming that churning out a chunk of words produces a perfectly acceptable novel. As someone who has spent more than a little time editing first drafts, I know this to be false. In fact, many literary agents hate the advent of December because they dread the inevitable slew of first-draft submissions produced by NaNoWriMo participants.

I’ve participated in NaNo for two years now, and each year I’ve had a slightly different experience. This year? Well, I’m not sure. I’m just about to start a new project, so on the one hand I think NaNo would be a good way to jump-start my word-count. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I need NaNo this year. These days, I write pretty much every day, so the whole goal of NaNo might be a little bit lost on me. But as November draws closer, and I start to see tweets and blog posts about NaNo from writer friends and acquaintances, the excitement is starting to get to me. Will I participate? Stay tuned to find out!

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Do you think this year you will? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!


  1. Shauna Granger

    I’m totally doing NaNo this year. I did it last year for the first time. It was actually a lot of fun. I obviously don’t do it to force myself to sit down and get a book out, but it is fun to use it for the camaraderie with other writers. This year I’m using it to help me keep a self-imposed deadline and have a first draft finished long before the December holidays.

    I will say, doing NaNo last year did teach me the benefits of writing sprints. Before I would just sit and trudge toward a daily goal, but with writing sprints I found I write WAY more words per day in less time. So yeah. Totally doing it 😀

    • Lyra Selene

      I agree that NaNo works best when you tweak the format to whatever works best for you and your individual goals and projects. And the camaraderie can also be a lot of fun!

      And yeah, writing sprints are awesome! Regardless of whether I do NaNo, I’m sure I’ll be up for some sprints…. 😛

  2. Jessie Green

    A (very) short story:

    When I first saw you, I didn’t first realize how badly you were injured. You sat alone on the platform, as if you were waiting for the train, your wings held tight against your luminescent white breast. I took your posturing as stoicism, but should have noticed the unnatural and unrelenting stillness. As the westbound service arrived, producing a rapid efflux of people, you startled — and tried to fly. Only as your body pulled to the left in a quick, jerky, and unsuccessful motion, did I notice the angle in your wing.

    I watched you, now, with new understanding. The fear that emanated from your eyes became palpable as they flitted about, evaluating the constant flux of new dangers and looking for an escape. In the cityscape to which your forefathers had adapted, you were now lost and alone.

    Eventually, your gaze caught mine. There were so many things I wanted to tell you – that I understood your predicament – that I wanted to help – that it wasn’t too late – that there was hope. But you were a bird and I was a girl. As much concern for you that I collected from the corners of my soul, held in my heart, and thrust at you with all my might through the tenuous connection between our eyes, you could not understand.

    In a final effort, I moved closer to you, inviting you to approach me with granola crumbs from my midafternoon snack. I wanted to care for you, nourish you, give you comfort and shelter. Alas, you retreated further from me. For, to you, I was another danger in your landscape, surely not a haven for your trust.

    So with a heavy heart, I left you. Looking back one final time, I observed that you continued to watch the multitudes of people rushing through the busy débarquement and stayed alone, hidden from their view. A bird with a broken wing, waiting for a train.

    • Lyra Selene

      Did you know that in the last years of his life Nicola Tesla fell deeply in love with a pigeon, and when she died he knew that his life’s work was over?