In Defense of NaNoWriMo

Around this time of year, there’s always an influx of articles–quite a few of which are years old by now–criticizing National Novel Writing Month and those who participate in it.

I don’t generally pay much attention to those articles, but I still see them posted here and there. Strangely, a lot of them end up posted in places like the NaNoWriMo Facebook group. Of course, there’s an outraged comment along with it (and then a thread full of outraged comments), but it’s odd. And it’s struck me more than once that it seems like the only people reading these anti-NaNoWriMo articles are people who participate in NaNoWriMo.

Why do we read them? Seriously–why? And most of the comments from NaNo’ers are usually along the lines of “screw that person, NaNo is great!”

Well, on this lovely (surprisingly-sunny) November 1st, I’d like to respond to all of those anti-NaNoWriMo articles in what I think is a much more productive way: I want to talk about why NaNoWriMo is so great. You won’t see a single sentence in this post about how stupid or bitter or uninformed authors of those other articles may be–I’m not playing that game. The rest of this post is going to have precisely nothing to do with those people or their articles.

So here’s why NaNo, to me, is so great:

  • NaNoWriMo is fun. Seriously, I think that’s the most important thing here. National Novel Writing Month is a fun challenge.  It’s a crazy thirty days and it’s fun. You can spend a lot of time chatting with other writers, bouncing ideas off of other people as out of their minds as you are, and then you toss yourself back into the pile of words you’re trying to form into a  story.
  • It’s also frustrating as hell. Seriously, last year, I was in the middle of my senior year of undergrad. I was working on a full research thesis for my psychology major, a capstone seminar for my Spanish major, tutoring in a different foreign language, cramming in a full schedule of classes around all of that, volunteering part-time to train my replacement in my old job…I was busy. How did I end up participating in NaNoWriMo? I stayed up until 5am most weekdays (and I had an 8am class) so that I could spend time writing after I did homework. Or vice versa–I stayed up late trying to finish the homework after writing for hours. I wrote in between classes. I wrote during some classes. I would get to my Spanish class and when my professor called on me to answer a question, I would accidentally answer in Italian. I would get pissed off because I had to work with my thesis partner on that instead of write. For 30 days, I was basically a confused, exhausted, nervous wreck. And I loved it. I had more drive to get things done than ever. No one could really have a coherent conversation with me unless they caught me when I was freshly-caffeinated* and relatively focused. But I wouldn’t trade that hectic, awful mess that was my life for a month for anything.
  • It’s a challenge. No one does NaNoWriMo because it’s easy. In fact, people tend to up the challenge if they find they’ve won NaNo a few times. There are people who, at this very moment, are endeavoring to write 50,000 words not in one month, but in one day. And people have done it. Crazy, right? Maybe. But they wanted to make things more challenging. We do NaNoWriMo to push ourselves. Many of us write all year round, but there’s something about taking part in a challenge like this that can really boost productivity. You know that other people are right there with you, working on their own challenges. There are other people, I’m sure, who don’t usually write, or can’t find the time, and they use NaNoWriMo to make significant progress on whatever project they want to try to write. Most everyone who participates at least makes progress on their project. Some people make lots and lots of progress, and some people finish an entire first draft.
  • The goal isn’t perfection. Most of the time when I’m writing, I’m also editing as I go. If I can’t find the right phrase, I sometimes get hung up. NaNoWriMo largely takes the pressure off. I’m still not one of those participants who’re able to completely avoid editing their work for the course of the month, but I worry a lot less about getting things just right. Hell–I even leave blanks in the story sometimes, with a simple note to go back to that section later and add in the scene(s) that weren’t coming easily to me. I go back to those sections when I get an idea. Last year, I was closing “gaps” like those until New Year’s Eve, when I finally declared my first draft of Songstruck complete.

Not everyone has the time, patience, creativity, stamina, or loose grip on sanity to take on NaNoWriMo, and that’s okay! It’s not for everyone. But for those who do? Enjoy it! It’s going to be a crazy month, and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Not everyone is going to “get” why we’re doing it. Not everyone is going to like it. But you know what? You do enjoy it, and that’s really all that matters.

*which caused its own batch of issues. Like I mentioned last time, caffeine and I don’t play well. But damn, did I need it that November.


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