Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on NANOWRIMO

For three years now I have sworn to myself that I would participate in NANOWRIMO and changed my mind by the time November came around. This may be a good thing. I don't think NANOWRIMO is always unhelpful but I'm not sure it would be a good thing for me in my current stage of writing and perhaps my circumstances know this better than I do. The past three Novembers, even though I didn't participate in the 60,000 words scramble to write a novel beginning to end, have been crucial to my development as a writer.

November 2008 was the first year I decided I was going to participate but the first week of November was midterms. I had a full course load and was already working on several novels. Starting one from scratch without finishing at least one of them first felt unfaithful. Still, I didn't want to let the month pass without challenging myself in some way. I remembered a friend had participated in a writing challenge to write 400 words every day for twenty eight days the year before at some point in the fall so I e-mailed her about it. It turned out I e-mailed her on the day it started and she was organizing it herself that year and could therefore e-mail me the prompts even though I did not attend her school. Fate? 400 hundred words a day is not as impressive as a whole novel in a month but it got me into the habit of writing out something every day and because I was so busy with classes I had to let go of my inner editor and stop pushing the backspace button every other sentence in order to meet my quota. I was surprised by some of the ideas that came tumbling out when I wasn't censoring them.

Last November I decided that rather than start a new novel I would just make it a priority to finish the one I was already working on. I carried my journal with me everywhere and wrote like mad on the bus and during class and jury duty. I didn't make it by November 30th. I extended my deadline to December 31st and I still didn't make it. I actually didn't finish it until this last August but forcing words out for those two months did force me to look at the plot as a whole instead of spending all my time harping individual scenes to death when they might end up being cut anyways. And I learned I don't write fast and shouldn't try.

That important revelation should make you wonder why I decided I would participate in the mad word chase this year but I have been experimenting with actual outlining instead of just jumping in and watching where the story goes. I thought it might be a good idea to start the Robin Hood novel I've been researching and outlining and re-outlining for the last year and a half to see how this method works for me but by the time November came along I still hadn't got around to editing the novel I'd finished in August. I decided that would be my November writing task. It only took me the first day to realize that editing actually took longer than drafting (for me) and that rushing it was not going to do me any good. I also still had the unfinished story for the Notes From The Underground contest dangling in front of me. So this year's November task was much simpler. Finish, edit and polish a ten page story. It's maybe 0.5% the size of a novel but I think (at least for now) I gain more satisfaction in doing one small thing well than a large thing sloppily and I was still able to draw inspiration from the idea that this last month writers everywhere were pushing themselves to find out where their limits are.

So what have your experiences with NANOWRIMO been?


  1. I inevitably wind up not doing it in November, but doing it to myself anyway some other time of year. For example, last year I wrote V in October. This year, I have Shiny New Idea #5 that I'm working on, but I didn't start it til halfway through the month. I'm writing up to 5K a day on that one though, so it should draft out pretty quickly. If I can keep that up.

    NaNo is awesome if you need it or can write that way. But I feel like it kind of sucks the fun out of it if I HAVE to write like that. I much prefer writing like that when I just want to :)

  2. Excellent review. The point is not that you're writing as much as you can in one month. It's that you have goals; which you clearly do. Congrats!