Confession time: I quietly dropped out of NaNoWriMo a week ago.
I did it because I hated my novel and I wasn't having any fun. Now, I recognize that this is a phase many NaNo participants go through (often during Week 2, which last week was) and one I've gone through myself. In fact, this problem is a reality for most anyone writing a novel at any speed. Read Neil Gaiman's 2007 NaNo pep talk for evidence that it happens to even successful writers.
Faced with someone who had never succeeded at NaNoWriMo before and wanted to quit, I would urge them to keep going. I'd say that first drafts often become less loathsome around 15,000 words in and that writing gets easier and more pleasant as the story builds momentum and the writer gets to know the characters. I've found this to be true many times, and it probably would have been the case for me again if I'd kept going (I stopped at 12k).
But I just couldn't get excited about reaching the point where I started enjoying this particular novel. And I decided that was okay.
The value in National Novel Writing Month, and the core purpose of the event, is that it demonstrates to people who have dreamed of writing a novel but never come close that they actually do have the ability to write an entire book. That's what it did for me. I'd been writing my whole life, but I didn't have the confidence to try a novel, so I stuck to short stories, and honestly, I'm not very good at short stories. Attempting and winning NaNoWriMo showed me what I really wanted to be writing. It proved to me that I could do it, and it taught me about the discipline required to keep writing, even when it's hard.
I was a NaNoWriMo winner for 7 years in row. Long ago, I moved out of the category of participants who are proving something amazing and wonderful to themselves. These non-writers, or not-yet-writers, are the ones who NaNoWriMo is really for. They're the reason the event is focused not on what we're writing or how we write it, but on the act of getting words written, and more broadly, on setting a goal and meeting it. These are very important skills for anyone who wants to be a writer, and good general life skills, too.
Some NaNoWriMo participants, like me, turn into year-round writers. That's cool when it happens, though it's not the only way to gain something valuable from the event. So now I'm one of the people who writes all the time but uses NaNoWriMo as a way to churn out a first draft that would have been written anyway, if not as quickly. It's nice to have a month of being more social than usual about writing, but NaNoWriMo is a lot less of a thrill on this side of the fence. Ho hum, another novel.
I don't need another novel right now. I have a third draft to plan, and getting back to work on that made a lot more sense to me than forcing out another 38,000 words just to keep up appearances. So I quit, and I'm not sorry at all.
But if you're in the middle of a NaNoWriMo novel right now and you've never had the incredible experience of writing 50,000 words for the first time, keep going! You won't be sorry, either.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ Book Lady Rebecca Joines Schinsky talks about the "serendipitous intersection" that can occur when Reading Across Genres.