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.
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!