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Why I will Never do NaNoWriMo Again (Probably)

I never like to say never. It’s such a final word, and none of us really know what might happen down the road. That’s why I am leaving myself an out and saying that I will probably never do NaNoWriMo again.

Don’t get me wrong- I love NaNo! My first two books originated as NaNo projects, and since I’ve only published two books, that seems like a pretty strong endorsement of the ‘write a novel in a month’ frenzy, doesn’t it?

Yes, but it no longer suits me.

My first NaNo experience was great, and without it, I may not have ever written a novel. I was very much in that someday category. Someday, I will write a novel. Somehow, I got sucked into attempting NaNo by a group of online writing friends.

I didn’t do any advance planning, as that’s never been my style. I just had a vague idea of what I would write about, and I jumped into NaNo with gusto.

I wrote every day. I used my lunch break at work to writ and I came home in the evenings and wrote more. Most of the time, I succeeded in meeting that daily goal of 1667 words. After a few days of fighting my inner editor, I was able to lock her up in the basement. If I had an alternative idea of how a scene should go the next day, instead of making changes, I wrote the new version and marked it in italics in my manuscript. I’d decide in December which version was better. All that mattered was the words.

My writing friends were the best support group ever. We cheered each other on, gave each other dares and engaged in word count wars. We kept each other honest and accountable. If I posted in our thread on the NaNo site that I wouldn’t be online again until I’d written 700 words, I was accountable and motivated because I wanted to log back on and say “753!”

If I started to experience writers block, it didn’t matter. I’d leave that scene and write something else. I was fortunate that my novel project that year didn’t follow a traditional linear structure, so writing scenes out of order was usually never a problem.

Looking back, I think I just found lightning in a bottle with my first NaNo experience. It was gold.

I finished the month with about 57k words and a completed rough draft. I was a winner! I’d written a novel. Although it underwent substantial revision, and gained about 10k words, it was a pretty solid draft. The majority of what I wrote that NaNo November made it into the published book, including an obscure reference to Manitoba that was part of a dare.

‘Hey, that went so great, so why not do NaNo again?’ I said the next November. Besides, I had my book in mind, thanks to a scene-stealing supporting character from the previous year’s effort demanding her own book.

I wrote every day. Or I tried to, but it didn’t always work. I’d experienced quite a few changes in my life since the previous NaNo and it was harder to concentrate.

Most of my great NaNo group from the year before wasn’t participating again, so I didn’t have that external motivation and accountability.

My new story followed a linear structure, so writing out of order never seemed to work as well. I tried to plow through, I tried to skip around, but I just didn’t seem to be in the groove.

I wrote 54k words that November, so I was technically a NaNo winner, but what I had was nowhere close to a completed draft.

The project sat around for a bit gathering dust, and last November NaNo dawned again.

I thought ‘Hey, I’ll participate as a rebel this year and finish that WIP.’

I’ve heard people say that their NaNo experience is made by getting together in person with fellow participants in their region for write-ins. That sounds like a blast if you live in, say, Los Angeles. When you live in a mid-sized town in Iowa (and that’s mid-sized by Iowa standards), not so much.

I posted in the local region thread on the NaNo site to see if there were other participants in my city who might want to meet in person for a writing session at B&N or Starbucks. I got two responses, and both said they would have to ask their mother first and make sure she could drive them there.

They were ages twelve and thirteen.

Good for them for attempting NaNo! I wish them all sorts of success in their writing careers. But I didn’t see how us meeting for a writing session would be of benefit.

Being a NaNo rebel didn’t work for me, either. I finished that book, finally, but it April not November.

I recently published it, and I am very happy with the final product. It probably includes about 20k of those original NaNo written words. Twenty-five percent.

This year, I am about two thirds of the way through a new project. I didn’t bother to sign up for NaNo as a rebel to try to finish. I do try to write every day, but there are some days when I just need a break.

I don’t feel guilty about that because I know the book will get done. And when it’s done, I’m confident it will be a draft I can use. Will it need revisions? Absolutely. But I know I won’t be discarding seventy-five percent of it.

NaNoWriMo simply doesn’t work for me anymore. I don’t need it to force me to write and finish something. I’ve proven I can. I don’t have an active local region of people to meet with, so that part doesn’t benefit me. And writing as fast as I can, without regard to quality, now seems like wasted words and therefore wasted time.

Good luck to everyone who is participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I hope you win and produce great books. I credit my first NaNo experience for getting me started, but I doubt I will be participating again.

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7 comments on “Why I will Never do NaNoWriMo Again (Probably)

  1. Good post, Michele! I can’t write with the kind of abandon NaNo requires. If I do that many words a night great, but they are going to be words I’m confident enough to post to my critique group. I don’t like the idea of writing for writing’s sake and throwing away a lot of it because I rushed through it. Then again, I’m very driven to write and so don’t need the NaNo motivation. Good luck to all those doing it, though!

  2. Thanks for posting this! I did NaNo a few years ago and ‘won’ (although that novel will probably never see the light of day — the plot took some weird twists in the name of word count and I don’t feel like unpicking them just for the sake of publishing). I have not done it since with the same abandon — I write every day, but on other projects I care more about than another novel — my poetry, my blog, etc. To find the time for NaNo would require giving up my writing time for my other projects — that’s not worth it, to me. I have other novels in the works, I will finish them, but not right now.

  3. I did my first Camp NaNo this past August, I hit 52k but not the end of the story (that came in mid-October at 75k), wrote my first novel, a mystery. Now I’m doing my first NaNo and doing my first romance. I don’t think I’ll be doing this every year but the deadlines of the NaNo experience are getting me to devote more time to productive writing than I would otherwise. Great article!

    PS> Both books will be self-pubbed if I can make it through the edit process.

  4. Hi, Michele,
    In the past NaNo worked for me and I still love the madness, but since I’ve got so much stuff to edit, it wouldn’t make sense to start something new. I quit a third of the way last year and the year before that. I guess it served its purpose for me.

  5. Great post! The wild abandon and word count by a certain deadline have never worked for me. I have so many things going on in my life right now, that 50,000 in one month isn’t a possibility. I can’t write something that I know I will likely have to cut over 50% of later. I want something more usable when I come to the end of a first draft. I may one day try NaNo, just for the fun of it, but right now it just doesn’t suit my life or writing style.

  6. I find that every year I do Nano is different. Some years (like my incredible first year which was very similar to yours) I blast through the novel with an amazing draft. Other years I struggled to get a single word, I even restarted a week into it last year from scratch with a brand new (and better flowing) idea. But I’ve found that no matter how good or bad Nano goes, I do figure out the meat of my novel, what it means to me, its basic flow, how the characters change, and so I keep using the frantic energy and community support (I live in a more popular area for novel writing) to make myself dig in deeper to one project every year. This will be my ninth Nanowrimo. I fear though, I’m going to have another difficult year, as I’m attempting the book that wouldn’t flow last year.

  7. Michele, thank you for clearing that up for me. I was almost, but not quite, sucked in to the hype of NaNo. I am a meticulous plotter and, as a fantasy writer, like to give a lot of thought to the direction an idea should go in order to get the most milage out of it. Even the choice between a donkey or a Llama as a pack animal could mean the difference between something boring or something hilarious somewhere down the line. The fast pace of NaNo seemed to smack of random choices just to fulfill a word quota. I am a really disciplined writer anyway, so I think I’ll stick to my own pace.

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