Nanowrimo: The Good & The Bad


It’s mid-November. Those of us who are doing Nanowrimo (NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth;, and admit it, I’m not the only one, am I?) are nominally halfway through our 50,000 words. We are grinding our teeth and swearing or we are feeling it’s all going far better than anticipated, or more likely, we’re several thousand words behind and suspect it’s all a lost cause.

Nanowrimo–which has an express purpose of getting people to sit down and write 50,000 words in a month, no matter how bad those words are–is a devisive subject among writers. Some think it’s terrific. Some think it’s the worst idea in the history of writing. Me, as a professional writer who has participated in Nano about eight times (and succeeded once), I fall right in the middle. So lemme tell you what I think is good about Nano, and what I kinda hope you take away from it if you’re participating, and what I think is bad and what I therefore hope you leave behind.

The Good: the discipline. Whether you actually reach 50K or not is completely irrelevant, not just to me but in general. The really important thing is, have you sat down every day, or nearly every day, and written? Awesome. Keep that up. That’s one of the most important take-aways from Nano.

The Good: silencing the internal editor. To some degree this is a necessary aspect of writing. You can’t get published (assuming that’s your goal) if you never finish something, and Nano helps shunt off the polishing, nit-picking and procrastinating aspect of not finishing.

The Bad: silencing the internal editor. I don’t care how many times I see somebody say “Writing “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!” 50,000 times counts, right?”, I will never actually think that’s cute. Yeah, Nano says “50K words, no matter how bad they are,” but there’s a difference between writing a story and filling a page. I know (I hope) most people who say that are joking, but it sets my teeth on edge anyway. The internal editor knows better and should not always be silenced.

The Really Bad: there is only one right way to do it. This is the one that gets me about Nano. The program is so focused on no editing, no revising, nothing but forward motion and words on the page that Nothing Else Is Permitted, and that’s awful.

There is no right way to write a book. There is no wrong way to write a book. There is what works for you. If Nano’s headlong rush works, that’s terrific. But for lots of people it doesn’t, and a great number of them end up feeling like they’ve done something wrong by ‘failing’ Nano’s rules. Last year at a local Nano meeting I mentioned I was working on a book I’d started earlier, and I got taken to task by the local group leader: that was not the way to do Nano, she told me. As a pro with fifteen published novels under my belt, I barely refrained from telling her not to try teaching her grandmother to suck eggs.

So I’ll encourage anybody to do Nano–but I’ll also emphasize not getting so caught up in their rules that you stifle yourself. I’m polishing and editing a bit as I go along; that’s how I work. Will I reach 50K by the end of the month? I sure hope so, but if I don’t it’s not because I stopped to polish a bit. It may be a lack of butt-in-chair (though really with my schedule right now it’s a bit more too many projects, not enough time o.o), but it’s not because I dared walk my own path on this instead of following their exact rules.

Now, tell me: am I all alone, or are there fellow Nanoers in the reading audience? How’s it going? How are you handling the Rules yourselves?


29 comments to Nanowrimo: The Good & The Bad

  • Mikaela

    I am doing Nano, I am at roughly 22000 words, but for me the important part isn’t reaching 50 000 words. No, it is sitting down with a goal and reaching said goal. Sure, there have been a couple of days when I have been too busy ( or too tired), but not many. Will I have a finished draft at the end of November? Uh. Maybe. But I will finish it early in December.
    Then the type in starts. Yes you read it right, I am writing this long hand. Without an outline. So far it is working. I am having a blast 😀

  • […] Murphy talks about the good and bad of NaNoWriMo. (I’m still in the “it’s a NoNo” […]

  • I actually kind of love the IDEA of Nano and it suits my writing style (for a first draft, at least): a hurried splurge to get it all down followed by painstaking editing thereafter. But it just doesn’t fit my schedule. I have other things on the fron burner right now and haven’t written a creative word since mid October (and those were edits of Darwen II, not new material). I know it defeats the purpose (because I’m not part of a larger community) but I’ll probably be doing my Nano in February 🙂

  • Fireheart1974

    I’m using Nano to work on my novel. Since most of my previous stuff has been short stories, trying to write 50K words is HARD! Particularly since I lack the BIC gene. But I’m nearly 21K into the novel and that’s 16K words more than I managed in the last 6 months prior to Nov 1. (Please note that technically means I’m cheating because I did start w/ 4000 words or so…) Silencing the inner editor is good for me though since at the moment I can’t decide if a character dies or not in the novel so I’ve got it written both ways. Of course, at somepoint, I’ll have to make that call and edit. But right (write?) now, I’m concentrating on just getting out the story onto paper!

  • I don’t do NaNo (Argh! Mork keeps popping into my head whenever I see that…), but my current word goals do just fine for me. I wouldn’t mind being able to do more, but I’m a two finger typist and I think too much about what I’m putting onto the page. Still, I get 10k a week and though that could be a failure in the eyes of NaNo for one month if I didn’t get more than that (and I do tend to, frankly), it can get a draft written in 10 weeks and that’s a dangsight shorter than it used to take me. I was always curious about NaNo, but never really felt like it was for me, and now that I already sit and hammer out approximately 2k a day, I don’t feel like I need the extra motivation. 🙂

  • bonesweetbone

    I’m NaNoing for the first time this year. It came at a perfect time for me because it forced me to finish my other WIP in order to start this. Not only that, but working on something new for a month is going to give me some distance from the old WIP, so I’ll be able to edit with some objectivity. I’m currently at 38k, but I’ve been in a rush because my free time takes a serious hit next week. I can’t believe how far I’ve come, especially when it took me MONTHS to get the old WIP on the page. This is the most dedicated I’ve been to BIC and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I kept building it up to be. I foresee lots of editing in my future…

  • I admire those who NaNo. But — I don’t NaNo. Not now. Probably not ever.

    That said, I’ll join AJ in Feb for a mad headlong dash to the finishline on the next deadline! I hope to write 200 pages in Feb. At my word/page count that’s … 66,000 words. Hmmm. (walks away, scratching head, perplexed)

    I *do* sorta NaNo…

    Okay, maybe I do NaNo, but just not in November.

  • Karen

    I’m doing NaNo for the first time this year. It was necessary for me to retrain my Butt In Chair muscles and get myself writing again. Before November 1st it had been over a year since I last wrote a word of fiction and I definitely needed something to spur me on again. This is what I want to do with my life, after all.
    I’m at 37k and the novel is certainly not going to be finished at 50k but it looks like I’ll get there in time of NaNo finishing.

    I think it’s a great project and a good motivator. You have this huge network of people in the same position as you who cheer each other on and you have the satisfaction of seeing your word count on a graph. I’ve seen comments from people who self-publish chapter by chapter DURING NaNo and I don’t agree with that personally. It all depends on how you use the project, I think.

  • I tried NaNo once, and it didn’t work for me. November isn’t a good month to do this (June? June would be great!). I write fast. Really fast. But I don’t write every day because that just isn’t how I work. I’ve written 10,000 words in a day, and I’ve co-written a 100K novel in two weeks (caveat: we knew the plot and had it outlined). But I usually write one day a week, maybe two, because that’s when I’ve got a chunk of time to do it. I hear people who say they grabbed a half an hour at luch, 20 minutes before the kid got up in the morning, 2 hours after the kid went to bed. And that’s cool for those people, but I like about a 5-8 hour chunk where I can sit and write until it is pretty much all out of me. 🙂 Like AJ above I haven’t written a creative word since October (and that was editing) but editing will commence (and finish, I hope) this weekend.

    I’m a big fan of the idea of NaNo. Of writing a lot to get the muscles working, but I’m totally with Catie when she says “there’s no wrong way.” Frankly, if NaNo (or groups within) have gotten to the point that they make people think their writing style is “wrong,” well, that’s a problem.

  • Mikaela

    pea_faerie, There is Camp Nanowrimo, which takes place in July and August, I think.

  • I’ve never participated in NaNo officially – logging in to get the support of the community, etc… Two years ago, I did use part of November to draft my first category romance, but that wasn’t an official NaNo event.

    This year, I knew that I would not be able to get a lot of writing done the first two weeks of the month. I’m doing my own mini-NaNo the last two weeks of the month as I *finally* get around to starting my sequel to DARKBEAST. If all goes well, I’ll have about 25K words done by the end of this month. And if all doesn’t go well? Then I’ll be ranting and raving and pulling my hair out 🙂

  • I’m too much of a plotter for Nano to work for me – in the long run I’m more productive when I take the hours I need to check my direction, reread, etc. Plus, November is a really busy month for me with papers coming in, students panicking about their grades, and finals to write. That said, I really appreciate the BIC aspect of it. Preserving writing time as sacred and forcing myself not to waste it are the only things that make it possible for me to actually finish anything.

  • @Daniel – my hat is off to you, sir. How you manage to write 10k, let alone a full novel, with two finger pecking is beyond me.

  • I’ve been struggling with revisions on my main WIP forever, so I’m finding Nano a nice change of pace.
    Writing new words, in a new story, in a new style and genre. I’m hoping a months distance and
    lots of BIC practice do me well once I pick up my main work in a few weeks.

  • Cindy

    November doesn’t work for me either. I love the February idea. That works much better in my life. So I will do it then.

  • liornessa

    I’ve been doing NaNo ever since I heard of it back in 2007. I love the community aspect, the headlong rush to get 50k, and the pep talks (boy, do I love those pep talks). The first two years I tried it, I technically “failed.” But it didn’t feel that way to me (and fortunately no one in NaNo made me feel that way either) because NaNo isn’t just about reaching 50k in 30 days–it’s about daring to do something you’ve always wanted to do and not letting the usual excuses get in the way of what could be the adventure of a lifetime. Wow, that sounds cheesy. But it’s true.
    And I agree that NaNo’s rules should be more like “guidelines.” Especially the part about stopping just because November’s over. For someone who wants to write and be published, one month out of twelve isn’t enough. Writing only first drafts isn’t enough. Yet, at the end of the month, there’s a temptation–for me at least–to stop, regardless of whether the story is finished or not (and it usually isn’t even when I aim for 80k instead). That’s my biggest problem with NaNo, and one I’m trying to overcome this year.

  • I have never tried NaNo, and probably won’t. I write to deadlines all the time, and once wrote a 90,000 word novel in 5 weeks, because I HAD to. So it’s not that I don’t think I can do the 50,000. It’s that I have a routine and a pace that works for me. Now, I think that for those people who need that added push, and the support of working with a large community, it’s a great idea. But I think as well that Catie’s point is well taken. Do NaNo in a way that helps you, that fits your needs and goals. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is ONE right way to do this. Because we here at MW know that’s not the case….

  • I am the ML for the Columbia region and I fully admit that I LOVE NaNo. It was because of Nano that I completed my first manuscript. I think it is great for first timers. People who have never had the discipline to write a book but always had the desire (like me). It is also a great way to meet like-minded folks. People who are serious about writing. I met my very best friends through nanowrimo. People who wrote genre fiction (again like me). This year, I’m using Nano as a break from the revisions that I’ve been working on all year. A lot of what I write during nano is garbage, but I generally get the structure of the book that I want, characters that are pretty consistent, and some awesome dialogue during nano. I think it is because I’m doing it fast without over-thinking it. All of that being said, Nano doesn’t work for everyone and you should definitely do what works for you.

  • Razziecat

    I’m doing it for the first time and I have to say that it is working pretty well for me. I’m about 800 words behind at this moment but that’s because I have a very limited amount of time to write on weekdays, so I blitz on the weekends and catch up. I decided to try this because I just couldn’t seem to get motivated on this book; I liked the idea, I liked the characters & I had a very detailed outline & tons of notes–all of which seemd to take the excitement out of the story, so I procrastinated. Having the external deadline helps – I work with deadlines on my job – but having a personal one wasn’t working. First thing I learned: OUTLINES ARE GREAT! I don’t have to worry about where the story is going, I know what I have to tackle each day. No outline totally survives the actual writing, of course; I make changes as I go. And have I written some crap? Yes, but I know where it is; I will go back in December to revise. The story probably won’t be finished at 50K but that’s all right as I now have the momentum to finish. I confess that I threw in some previously written bits, but it wasn’t much. And have I written some good stuff? I was surprised to find the answer is YES. I’m learning a lot, and will set personal goals from here on. NaNo is the spur I needed to get moving. This will be the first book that I complete, & it may never see the light of day, but it will be DONE, and the second & third ones will be better.

  • I don’t NaNo, but that’s because the end of the year is always a crush at work and I’m, frankly, beat. I like the February or June idea (MWNoMo?) better, just because less is usually going on then.

  • I’m using it as “Finish My Damn Novel” month, or FiMyDaNo (credit belongs to Laura Anne Gilman.)

  • JDSchmidt

    I’m a NaNo participant for the first time ever. For me, the benefit of NaNo is the daily word requirement and the silencing of my inner critic. I’ve made a few attempts at writing novels in the past, but I failed to structure BIC time into my daily life and listened to my inner critic waaay too much. NaNo provides me with a structured goal, a cool little meter that measures my progress, and allows me to make a deal with my mouthy inner critic. If she manages to keep her mouth mostly shut while I complete my 1st draft, I’ll let her out so she can gleefully point out all the garbage during the 2nd draft. This way, we both win. (I promise I am not as dissociative as I sound.)

  • I write to deadlines all the time, and once wrote a 90,000 word novel in 5 weeks, because I HAD to.

    Yeah, I think this would be me. Course, I’d be working all day every day and half the night, but if I know there’s a concrete deadline I have to meet, I can push myself to do what I need to do to get it done. I might whine a bit, as I’ve done to a couple sort of friends when they told me they needed full script revisions by the next day because they were showing it to someone, but I’d still get it done. Still, I can’t wait to have deadlines. 😉

  • I’m working on multiple projects, and switching between them depending on where the creativity takes me each day. (And my brain jumps around a lot, so it really helps to have multiple projects on the go.) My “rule”-breaking opinion is that fifty thousand words is fifty thousand words. I’m at 33K so far. But because of the er, quality level, I can’t think of NaNo as a rough draft. It’s draft zero. Because I will also break the rules a bit by including my brainstorming in the word count. Because the brainstorming helps me figure out exactly what the story is about and how it should be told, even when I have an outline to work from.

    I wish they would acknowledge that some of us use NaNo in different ways, because I’m not the only person who does this.

    Meanwhile, every Friday I’ve been having members from the VancoWriMo community in my living room, word-warring and having Friday Night Write-In Fun.

  • Razziecat

    Adding one thought to my wordy post: NaNo has been a great motivator for me, but I must write alone. I cannot write-at least not anything of decent quality-in a room full of noisy people. I appreciate the morale-boosters on the NaNo site, but words are work, and I need to concentrate.

  • You have no idea how heartening I find all your replies. I’ve seen so many writers struggle through this conviction that there is Only One Way To Do It, but all of you are embracing the spirit and the enthusiasm without letting the letter of the law hold you back. That’s *wonderful*, and utterly delights me. Thank you for responding, and for totally making my day. <3!

  • Thanks for the frank assessment of NaNo, Catie. I thought about doing it this year, but I’m cruising so well through the third draft of my novel that I didn’t want to disrupt the flow. However, I’m beginning to think that NaNo may never be for me. I already write daily, and I rarely worry about how many words I get in. I don’t think I need or want the rules, deadlines, and stress imposed by NaNo.

    I figure that if you aren’t going to follow the rules of NaNo, you aren’t really doing NaNo. And if that’s the case, why not make up your own marathon writing plan (could be a day, a week, or a month) and ask a few other writers to join you for moral support? Like the K-a-Day Club (I’m making this up), where you all try to write at least 1000 words per day for a week. Setting any kind of writing goal is probably better than none, but as you say, NaNo may not be the best solution for everyone.

  • During the summer I did a NoWriMo in July, rolled the manuscript over into August and got the first draft of my first novel-length manuscript done mid-September. I am sure the July community, though not as rich in resources as the NaNoWriMo, was a factor but so was the daily spread sheet I used to map my progress. I work best with a daily word goal and a way to track my progress toward it. November is horrific for me with personal and professional deadlines galore, but I wanted to try the NaNo anyway to see if I could get at least 50k done despite the deadlines.

    Frankly, I am struggling. Part of the reason for this definitely has to do with the NaNo stricture of starting a new manuscript. My mind was with the summer story. I wanted to add an additional POV to it and get to my 2nd draft, instead I pulled out an old idea I’d outlined and went with that. Were I to do it all over again, I’d have stuck with the summer manuscript and kept mum about it.

    One NaNo guideline I did ignore, and one I am happy to hear Catie mention, was turning off the “internal editor.” I too am one who cannot help but polish and revise a bit along the way. Backspace is my friend—sorry. I cannot in all good conscience shut it off and crank out something that as a result will be XX% garbage and therefore XX% wasted time. I understand that I will revise a lot later, and I need to keep the flow going, etc., I get that, but I want to maximize the good use of my time as much as possible. I like the NaNo and when I’m done, I’m going to feel a sense of accomplishment, but next time—if there is a next time—I’m definitely doing it a bit different.

  • Rhonda

    I’ve done NaNo many times. The first time (2003) it was to break the cycle of rewriting the first 3 chapters every time I had a new idea that changed the story, and just get a first draft done so I could consider it as a whole.

    Now I treat it as a low-commitment way to try something new. New genre, new writing style, actually outlining before starting (this year’s challenge), something that’s outside of my experience as a writer. The rest of the year I write and edit stuff that I hope to get published. Sometimes this involves editing a NaNo that worked out well.

    (And the newbies stop and stare at me when I call NaNo low commitment.)

    The reason this works for me is because to me it really is low commitment. It’s one month, there’s lots of cheerleading, there are no penalties except seeing your wordcount lower than it “should” be and there are no rewards except having that first draft done, it’s exciting and fun, and the biggest reason it’s a low commitment way to try something new at novel length is because nobody expects a NaNo novel to be any good.

    Last year’s nano novel was terrible. The challenge was: space opera. I learned: I can enjoy reading, but don’t like writing, a mcguffin quest story. This story will never go further than it is now. I will, however, rescue one of the alien characters who I really liked, and find a better story for it.

    The year before, I got stuck partway through and had no idea what to do next and the plot was stalled… and I threw up my hands and had a random ninja attack on my main character. Once I figured out what the ninjas wanted, I had my plot for the rest of the story. (This one is fighting to be next in line for editing, it actually worked out better than I had expected. And the attackers are an important part of the story, even though they aren’t actual ninjas.) The challenge was: two parallel stories, one told in flashbacks, which interact and provide information to the reader that is relevant to the other story. I learned: this structure can work really well, even when the flashback story is running in reverse. I liked this story when I read it a few months later.

    And so on, back to 2005 when I started setting myself these challenges with an “alternate two points of view” story, the first time I’d written anything from more than one POV.