Yes, you should do NaNoWriMo!

The most wonderful time of the year! I haven’t participated in National Novel Writing Month in many years, but November 1 always brings the flood of good tidings across Twitter that catapults me back to the nervousness and excitement of the years I did participate.

I wanted to send off a little note of encouragement to anyone who’s unsure if they’re cut out for NaNoWriMo, a little bit late to catch those of you who might be starting to waver. Don’t think I don’t remember how that first weekend feels when you fail to catch up to the word count you promised yourself. But even if you do fail, what you’ll get out of NaNoWriMo is still valuable, and it’s more valuable the more you do. Here’s why:

The point of NaNo isn’t actually to write 50,000 words. You know this. The hundreds of thousands of words I wrote over most of my years of NaNo were, I say with the greatest possible tenderness toward my preteen self, dreck. But, like all dreck, and like my current dreck, and like your dreck, they were on the page, which is numerically better than Pulitzer-worthy prose that’s not on the page because one is better than zero by an infinite margin. Your dreck is better than an unfinished David Mitchell novel. How’s that for an ego boost?

Last year, I rolled my eyes to see creators I otherwise admired poo-poo NaNoWriMo for this reason. Sniggering about how it encouraged writers, especially new writers, to write for quantity instead of quality. When you think about it, this viewpoint is really weird. I guess the idea is that nothing good could possibly come out of the absurd licentiousness of . . . sitting down to write a certain amount every day. I mean, 1667 words isn’t even that much for some people, and it’s certainly not so much that it’s obviously unachievable without sabotaging all your prose beyond salvageability–which is I assume what these folks were concerned about and why they are far superior to me and you and our pitiable ilk, etc. Quantity of writing and quality of writing aren’t skill trees you have to specialize in. You can do both, or one and then another.

Certainly, I enjoy writing much more when I’m focusing on finding new, dense, tasty ways to express ideas. But what I’ve found is that a daily word quota, any daily word quota, forces me to find that kind of beauty in areas I might not have otherwise. My quota wavers between 750 and 1500 words when I institute it (I guess I’m a bit frail of constitution for NaNo these days). And when I enforce it on myself, it makes me look at the next chunk of a story and think, “I have to write this today–so how can I enjoy writing it? What can I focus on in this scene that’s vibrant and telling and interesting and surprising, so that I don’t just keep having people look at each other meaningfully all the time?”

So you should do NaNoWriMo to finish a book, sure. But the real rewards of the month are the methods you learn to motivate yourself and write the next 1000 words rather than closing your document and going to watch Stranger Things, which, really, they absolutely sabotaged somebody’s NaNo dreams this year, didn’t they. Is there some kind of blood feud between Netflix and NaNo that we should know about?

If I could offer one tip to brand new and newly returning NaNo writers, especially those of you who aren’t sure you’re going to be able to get through the month, it’s just to reflect on your thought processes when you stretch yourself to the limits of your creative energy. Think about how you can work with your brain to get that extra 500 words. Take a mindful moment to feel what you’re feeling when you really, really want to stop writing, and learn how you can get just a little bit more worthwhile writing out of yourself every day. Keep a writing journal–where you can vent your sorrows, but also where you can consider why some scenes are harder than others, why you’re bored with some plotline, why that easy 3000 spilled out of you so cleanly.

I think that’s why you should do NaNoWriMo, even if you don’t win, and even if you write dreck. It’s always valuable to step out of your comfort zone and see what you find there.


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