Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Good and the Bad of NANOWRIMO

I am sure there are many of you out there participating in the NANOWRIMO this year.
For those of you not familiar with this program, each November, writers all around the world participate in a furious frenzy of typing attempting to write a single novel in a single month. When I hear of this, I always applaud those writers taking up the challenge to put aside all of those excuses and get something written. At the same time, I am cringing at the thought of those writers and what they are producing.

While I think there are certainly benefits to such a program in terms of motivating a writer to meet deadlines and accomplish something so few people can do, I honestly have to say that the program really does miss the point of the whole concept of the writing process.

GOOD writing takes time and thought. It isn't simply a matter of putting words on the page but really crafting a story with characters that are real, situations that are believable and plots that make sense. In my humble opinion, programs such as NANOWRIMO can only lead many new writers into a sense of complete hopelessness when they hit December 1st.

Since the whole focus is on word count, the final product the writers may likely end up with (and I am betting it will be more often than not) will require far too much editing in terms of content and consistency. In other words, had the writer really taken the time to follow the writing process, to plan and think out where he or she wants to go and constantly go back and get feedback throughout the process, the time will actually end up being shorter than what they will face taking the other approach.

Now don't get me wrong. I do believe writers need motivation and this program certainly does that. But, for professional writers, you simply don't have the luxury to double the amount of your writing time because of simply "cranking out" words.

Should writers not participate in this? I'm not saying no to this. If such a program is necessary to (as one of the followers on this blog says) "to kick a writer in the butt" then by all means do it. Just know what you will be facing come December.



  1. I learned my lesson with this when I did the 30,000 words in 30 day marathon. Now when I write... word count is the last thing on my mind. Instead I focus on being consistent (writing every day.) Sometimes this produces a lot of words, sometimes it doesn't. But in the end I feel better about it.

  2. I can write a lot of words in a day when I've finished all the research and am deep into the story. But right out of the gate? No--I don't know my characters well enough yet. Over-extending myself for an artificial deadline would NOT improve my writing.

  3. I did NaNo last year for the first time and made the word count. Then, afterwards, I went back and spent time editing and adding more detail and got the story polished and sold it to an e-publisher- BUT it took a lot of additional work after November 2009 to get it there. I know this going in and I DO try to write well the first time through with the knowledge that it will not be a saleable story on November 30 and that the work has really just begun with the first draft. I say, use it as a tool, not a goal.

  4. I'm participating in NaNo this year for the first time. I'm finding it very motivational. I do make minor edits as I go along and return to add details. But as far as trying to get it right the first time around, as I normally do, I've put that on hold. NaNo really has encouraged me to move forward rather than getting hung up on the nuisances of single words (should I use hard? rough? coarse?). I wrote more yesterday that I have in a single day probably since April of this year.

    On the other hand, I also prepared for NaNo. The plot I printed came to seven pages and includes every scene I plan to write. I have 3-4 pages of character notes for my hero, heroine, and villain. That's not total, that's for each. I researched important information before hand, because I know how the web can suck me in for hours, if not days, when I'm trying to get the details.

    As far as critiques and feedback, I'm the type who likes to send out my work after major edits and as close to polished as possible. To me, sending a first draft is a waste of time for everyone. There's too much of a chance I'll change, delete, or add something major in the storyline to send stuff out early. And I think readers appreciate when a writer doesn't ditch an entire chapter they just finished line editing.

    :) We'll see how things work out. For now, I think NaNo can be a very valuable experience for writers, if it's done with the intent of producing a quality book and not just a bunch of random words on computer.

  5. I think it depends on the writer. For instance, I know several people who spent the last few weeks in October plotting/designing their ideas and characters, so come 11/1, they were ready to go. Others may just go for word count and either have (a) heavy editing to do, or (b) need to just rework the whole thing.

    Still, as long as people accept their process and the editing needed, I think NaNoWriMo is a great idea. Many writers have the process of, as Nora Roberts calls it, "vomiting up a draft" which is getting all those things down on paper. Then going back and editing...this is a process that works for many writers, provided they allow the time for it (particularly those on deadline and legally obligated to do so).

    I think of NaNoWriMo not as a way to "finish" a novel, but as a way to "get that first draft down" so editing/polishing/etc. can be done afterward. For those prolific writers, this might be the best way to get it all written out. I know you like plotters more than pantsers, Scott :) But I think as long as the writer makes realistic expectations with their time and editing changes needed, it may be the only way some writers can get the stuff out of their heads.


  6. As someone who spent months whittling down my word count- I won't tell you what it is, but Dickens would have been proud of me- the last thing I need is something that demands 1000 or more words per day.

    My eleven year old daughter really loves it though ;-)

  7. I've always been amazed by the people who say "Well, I got 3000 words done today, and I think I'm starting to get a handle on what my plot will be!" If you do the "cut off the first scene - can you do without it? - if so, cut off the second scene - can it go too? - etc." thing, I think you can delete the first three or four days of many, many NaNoWriMo novels.

  8. I agree. I wrote my first novel and it took me two years to plan, invent, and rework. I submitted, and continue to rework it, then decided I will try Nanowrimo to keep me moving. One day, that is all I survived, and I am back to planning, inventing, editing first book again, and reworking a new storyline. Amazing how free it is to see someone say - this might not be for you!

  9. I'm coming to this discussion late (sorry about that -- I just found the blog).

    I think the success or failure of a Nano work depends heavily on the writer.

    I knew where the story was going to go, who the characters were, dealt with the setting, motivations, voice, etc. and when I started writing November 1, I hit the ground running with something that had been percolating with me since long before that date.

    The other thing that bothers me is the automatic assumption that writing quickly or on a word count basis makes someone a bad writer. I love some of the comments Stephen King has made on that subject, challenging the assumption that taking forever to write a book, cranking one out every, oh, six years or so, somehow means one is a more serious writer while being able to work more quickly (King, Ray Bradbury and probably anyone who wrote back in the 40s or 50s) makes you inferior.

    What I got the most out of when it came to Nano was discipline -- a commitment to writing every day and producing a certain amount.

    Whether my Nano WIP ever sees the light of day or not, it was a good experience for me.