Cheering from the bleachers: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Several years ago, I heard about NaNoWriMo and signed up with enthusiasm; the idea of writing a novel within a months’ time was too tempting to disregard. It had been my dream (and still is) to write a novel.

I learned that NaNoWriMo isn’t for me. It was such an oppressive process (write 50,000 words in a month, nearly 2,000 words a day, without regard to quality) that I was driven into a six months long writers’ block afterwards, throughout the long winter of 2003-2004. I was miserable trying to keep up the pace, and I dropped out after a couple of weeks with a collection of words I can only describe as gobbledigook. (Over at Writerland, Meghan’s description of her NaNoWriMo book jibes with what I produced in those two weeks).

NaNoWriMo isn’t my process. I’ve been plugging away at this draft of the novel in earnest for nearly a year now, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through. I’m not editing as I go, but this is the speed at which I write, and my process doesn’t involve writing fifty thousand words in one month (p.s. my novel’s first draft is going to end up at around 100,000 words, double the NaNoWriMo goal).

I estimate that I will probably revise the draft at least five times, if not ten times, before I consider sending it out to an agent. And then after that, I estimate, I will have to revise the draft again (maybe another five times). This entire process will take years.

NaNoWriMo is a great exercise–but that’s exactly what it is: an exercise. For those of you who did sign up for NaNoWriMo, I cheer you on (wearing some of my many NaNoWriMo tshirts). And hope you get what you need out of it, whether you are a new mother re-engaging with her writing and using NaNoWriMo to kickstart that re-engagement, or someone who wants to get all the words down on the page.

And for the record: my friend Tayari Jones, the author of Leaving Atlanta and The Untelling, has a post up on why she doesn’t participate in NaNoWriMo. It’s well worth a read, whether or not you agree with her.



Filed under Writing

7 responses to “Cheering from the bleachers: NaNoWriMo

  1. I did NaNo in 2007, and managed to write the first rough draft of part of a novel that has been sticking like a burr on pantlegs for twenty years. I did write 60,000 plus words and did not bring this first draft to completion. And I did not seek the seal of NaNo for formal approval.
    What I learned from this exercise was that daily practice was essential to writing a complex tale. I also learned that the first draft, in my case, should allow for all the meanderings that occur in writing in this compressed manner, and that bloat would have to be excised eventually. I also learned how fluid the imagination is when unleashed without constraint. it was essentially a month long brainstorming for me.
    Since then I have had much thought over the relative flatness of some characters which impede a rich story. Also I have learned to cringe at the cliches that manifest themselves during such a peculiar writing process. At last, I have a rich vein to mine for many years. What this will take is discipline of daily writing, some clear and harsh critique of what I have drafted and learning to take a long view of the process of writing.
    I may not have any writing published in my lifetime; however, I have learned to keep writing, one word at a time, and to keep at doing so.
    Finally, I have learned what a Protean effort it is to see a major writing project to its conclusion, and have gained immense respect for the writers whose writings have enriched my life. G

  2. Violeta

    So nice to hear why you’re not doing NaNoWriMo- it’s wise of you to know your process. And I’m a slow writer, too!

  3. I completely understand where you’re coming from. I think quality is way more important than speed or quantity. I also have to write at my own pace in my own time.


  4. i wonder what would be harder…writing a novel in a month or writing a new short story every day for a month (the stories can’t be related. nice try lol). good lord, the thought of it makes me want to curl into a ball.

    but suburbanlife’s comments seem to fall in line with how i interpret the endeavor (i’ve never attemped NaNoWriMo…probably never will). i can see it being a grueling exercise to forge discipline and habit, but it can’t possibly create a quality novel. maybe…MAYBE…a half-decent first draft.

  5. k8

    I signed up for the first time this year and after about four days, I realized that I could not keep up the pace and be at all satisfied with my writing. I’d rather have something I’m proud of and ready to manipulate into something real than a bunch of junk I wrote just to write. But I say, “Go for it!” if that’s what it takes for smoeone else to write. It certainly was the impetus for me to even pick up that pencil and begin where I’ve been shying away from it for so long.

  6. I signed up as a NaNo Rebel. It was a good move. I didn’t have to abide by the NaNo rules and could pretty much make up my own! 🙂

    yes, it defeats the 50,000 word count of NaNo, but I still found satisfaction in acheiving at least part of the goals I set for myself. Did I accomplish them all? Nope. But I’m okay with that. 🙂

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