NaNoWriMo is a No Go

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a non-profit movement that began in San Francisco in 1999. Anyone can take part. You sign up online, buddy up with other writers for support, receive pep talks and track your progress for four weeks while you bash out 50,000 words towards a novel. Last year, 341,375 participants signed up. Books like Hugh Howey’s Wool, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus came out of NaNoWriMo. It’s a good idea, and obviously popular, but it isn’t for me.
I did try something similar a couple of years ago, when I signed up for Book In A Month (BIAM) with Romance Writers of Australia. If I remember rightly, you choose your own goal for that. I was part way through a manuscript and opted for 50K, to finish it.
I did it, but it turned out that 50k in four weeks is too ambitious for me, because a fair amount of what I wrote was rubbish. Also, I was so focused on reaching my weekly goals – published online so everyone could see them – that I overdid it and gave myself a crippling, week-long stress headache. Ego can be a terrible thing.
I write historical fiction, so I’m always stopping to look something up. Would they have used that word in the 1830s? How much was a domestic servant paid then? When was that church/courthouse/wharf built? How did they treat ringworm? What were false teeth made from? What were the legal ramifications of performing an abortion? The research is never ending and it invariably slows me down. But it’s always fun.
These days I stick to putting moderate pressure on myself in private. After 14 books, I know I can write 1,800 good words per day, including looking-stuff-up time. This only goes smoothly, however, if I have the whole day in my office, and don’t get interrupted by things like life.
But I am always interrupted – usually by edits for the book I’ve just finished, which can take four to five weeks to go through, by the time I’ve looked at both the content edit and the line edit.
At the moment, my books are around 135k words long. I set up a spread sheet with my weekly targets and my deadline. Every day I enter my word count and watch the line on my little graph go up. By the time I’ve finished I’ve spent about five months writing, plus a month at the end on revisions and fiddling, plus a month or more dealing with interruptions. In total, it takes me roughly seven calendar months to produce a manuscript.
And then I pat myself on the back.


4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo is a No Go

  1. The best thing Nano did for me was to teach me to just write the bloody thing and not edit as I go. (Actually it was the RWA June one because November is probably the worst possible time of year for me to try to achieve something!)

    Prior to that I don’t think I’d gotten past about 30K of anything – I kept going back over the same stuff. The forced pace of Nano taught me to silence my inner critic while I’m writing the 1st draft – then it can come out to play for the editing (and boy, it makes up for lost time then!)

  2. That’s a good point, Kerrie. It’s easy to waste weeks/months/years fiddling around getting the first three chapters perfect, when it might be better to complete a draft, and then go back and edit it, as you say. It’s like building a house – you can’t lay the carpet until you’ve got the walls up and the roof on. The trick is, especially if you’ve got a deadline, to leave yourself enough time to do the editing bit properly.

  3. I find November is just too busy a time of year for me to join up with NaNo plus I’d get carried away with the ‘competitiveness’ of achieving the desired word count and my words would end up pretty crap. I know you can go back and re-write it later but somehow it seems (for me anyway) a waste of my time. Deb, I would find sustaining the conflict over a 130k book quite a challenge. If I had to do that I’d be plotting for about a year before I wrote anything!

  4. Everyone has a different writing pace and a different way of writing their best work. I think it’s great that you realise this isn’t good for you or your style. And I can totally understand how you’d have to stop regularly to research.

    Personally, I really like Nano. I find that I draft at this pace anyway, November or any other time of the year, so it’s not the pressure of word counts or the pace that I get out of nano, but rather the camaraderie. 🙂

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