The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo

Written by Kathryn Olsen | October 21, 2013

T.S. Eliot claims in “The Wasteland” that “April is the cruelest month.”  As a Red Sox fan, I put October (namely, play-offs season) ahead of April.  As a writer, I think that November can top them all.

Welcome to my rundown of the pros and cons of the month affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.  It is National Novel Writing Month and every year, thousands of writers put pen to paper (or in many cases, fingers to keyboard) and attempt to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days.  This year, it hasn’t even started it and there are over 113,000 people registered to participate.

In search of the number of participants from last year, I Googled “How many people did NaNoWriMo in 2012” and came up with some very discouraging articles.  My least favorite title was “Better yet, DON’T write that novel.”  I will tell you right now that I do not share the sentiments of the person who authored “Why I hate National Novel Writing Month, and Why You Should Too.”  For one thing, I am entitled to my opinion, but I will rarely tell you to share it.  I will give you my honest list of pros and cons and let you make your own choice, as I suspect you will anyway.

My first year doing NaNoWriMo was 2005.  I lived in the basement apartment of a house three miles from the nearest place where I could catch the bus to work at 5 a.m.  My computer ran off of Windows 95 and didn’t have wireless.  If I wanted to get substantial work done, I would have to borrow my landlord’s computer or go a further half mile to a campus computer lab that closed at 9 p.m.  I essentially wrote 15,000 words over Thanksgiving weekend when I was housesitting for a friend who had honest-to-goodness internet connections on demand.  When it was over, I realized that my book was essentially rubbish.

My latest effort was Camp NaNoWriMo, a summer effort to write the same amount of words, but in July.  I signed up, got a writing buddy, gave myself time each day to write on my laptop or desktop or even work computer and gave myself rewards for my word count.  I wrote the 50,000 with days to spare and produced some of my best writing ever.

You can lay the credit or blame on circumstance.  You can say that I was 7 years older and wiser.  You can postulate that a good internet connection and Windows XP were responsible for my latter success.  The fact of the matter is that success in NaNoWriMo is sometimes a very arbitrary thing.

There are some very good things to be said for the project.  It forces you to focus your creativity on a single project for a specific time.  If you need a place to start, you can read “No Plot?  No Problem!”  If you’re stuck in the middle, you can almost always find a cheerleading squad because even if you can’t someone to share your pain on the forums, you have a local chapter.  Many local chapters have write-ins and events throughout the month.  The first year that I participated, “winners” (those who accomplish the 50,000-word goal in the 30 day window) got a printed copy of their book for free.  If you’ve been stagnating on an idea or have not managed to produce a manuscript, you will have gotten somewhere in your writing and that is a powerful self-esteem boost.

On the other hand, here are a few reasons why so many people have antagonistic feelings towards the project.  Many people give the tip to “turn off your internal editor” and while that allows you to mass-produce words, you might not want to let people read those mass-produced words at the end of the month.  You might think that roughly 1700 words per day is a reasonable goal, but when you’re on Day 13 and have only 500 words of inspiration to add to your document, you may feel guilty.  You may also have let others know of your intentions, whether friends or your local chapter, and they will want to know how it went.  That is an added pressure.  And don’t think the work ends there because December is—heaven help us—National Novel Revision Month, when you try to make sense of what you wrote during National Novel Writing Month.

I don’t mean to discourage you.  I’m really not here to talk you into or out of the project itself.  I have participated a few times and while I have not always won, I have enjoyed working towards my goal.  I have enjoyed the daily sense of accomplishment.  How much agony I put myself through wondering whether I was writing anything good was entirely my fault.

If you have read this article and are encouraged, you can sign up at www.NaNoWriMo.org.  Once you have set your location, you will be directed to your region, your chapter and even your local guru. If you have younger writers in your circle of friends, be sure to check out the Young Writers’ Program.

Kathryn Olsen is your average office drone. She works 40 hours a week to pay for rent, food and the occasional fantastic trip. She comes home and watches too much TV for her own good. In her spare time, she works on the 30+ book ideas that are running loose in her head and writes for WhatCulture.com if there isn’t a Red Sox game on. Born in Texas and raised in Massachusetts, Kathryn studied English at Brigham Young University. She has no husband or kids, but is a doting aunt to five awesome nephews. Visit her blog here.