As many of you know, National Novel Writing Month (known affectionately as NaNoWriMo) is more than halfway over. If you aren’t already familiar with the movement, participants of NaNoWriMo attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel during November. The goal is to write 1667 words every single day for 30 days.
Here’s the thing though – in 2011, 256,618 writers participated and 36,843 reached their goal of writing 50,000 words. That’s 14%. Said another way, 86% failed.
Why would anyone set a goal that is so unattainable that failure is all but guaranteed?
Disclaimer: If NaNoWriMo works for you, if you love it above all other things, and if you’re already thinking of ugly things to blast me with for using the word “failed,” then I am delighted for you. Read no farther, or if you do, consider it an insight into the rest of us. (And please don’t blast me.)
If you’re one of the 86%, consider the following reasons why NaNoWriMo might not be the best tool in your writing shed.
Reason 1: Time Limitations
Writing takes time. Heck, typing takes time. The average person types at 40 words per minute, which means it takes 41 minutes just to type 1667 words. And we all know typing isn’t writing. Creative writing requires intense concentration, effort, and mental acuity. In other words, it requires us to be at our best, and let’s face it, all hours in the day are not created equal. If you spend the day working a full time job, stopping at the grocery store on the way home, making dinner, and then sitting down in front of your computer to write, you just might not hit that 1667-word goal before you suddenly wake to find keyboard impressions in your cheek and a stream of drool short-circuiting your laptop.
Reason 2: Family Commitments
NaNoWriMo is in November. November means Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving means family. Family means traveling or hosting relatives who are traveling. It is a lovely time of year, but is it reasonable to expect that you’ll be able to excuse yourself while the turkey is still cooling on the table to find a quiet place to write? If not, subtract four days (at least) from your available time to write. BTW, your NaNoWriMo daily goal has now shot up to 1923 words.
Reason 3: Personal Writing Style
I know, I know – the point of writing so much so quickly is to squash the evil inner-critic and just “let the creativity flow.” Here’s a news flash – some of us not only don’t work that way, we don’t want to work that way. And there’s NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Half the pleasure I take from writing comes from choosing just the right word, from repeating sentences over in my head or out loud to get exactly the meaning that I want. I love giving my characters the chance to come to life, to make their own decisions or have their own conversations, many of which are as unexpected and delightful to me as I hope they’ll be to the reader. For me, writing requires a gentle pace and a lack of pressure to perform, and that 1667 word daily deadline is a creativity killer that sucks the joy from writing faster than I could suck the filling from a Twinkie (sob – gonna miss them Twinkies).
The Bottom Line
So am I anti-NaNoWriMo? Not at all. It’s a tool. If it works for you, wonderful! If it doesn’t, don’t blame yourself, just find a different tool…or use the parts of NaNoWriMo that do work. So what works in NaNoWriMo?
Word count goals
Do set yourself a word-count goal that will help you keep writing without putting too much pressure on yourself. You know your own writing style and commitments, so choose a number that works for you. I chose 300 words per day, five days a week because that gives me flexibility. I can write 300 words even when I’m exhausted, and I never have to feel as though I’ve failed if I miss a day of writing. The best part of having such a low goal? I always hit it, and usually I blow past it. When I was writing DEATH ON TOUR, that goal meant I completed an 80,000 word novel, rewrites and all, in 9 months. Based on that pace, I briefly considered increasing my goal for DEATH MAKES THE CUT and DEATH RIDES AGAIN, but I decided against it. I completed DMTC in 8 months and DRA in 10 months, and I never felt bad about myself.
Support and accountability
The NaNoWriMo site is a lot of fun – it provides a way to track your progress, get cool badges, and read pep talks. Read those talks, find a friend or a small group who understands or supports your goals, write down your progress. I keep a Word calendar (you can find the templates at Microsoft.com) where I log my ongoing word count. It’s very satisfying to set my weekly goal and then be able to write down an even larger word count.
The most important thing is to love what you do. Set goals that work for you, find your community, have fun, and keep writing.