November 17, 2010

Why I Quit NaNoWriMo But You Shouldn't

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.


Unknown said...

Courage, sister. Thanks for posting this.

Karen said...

Yep! That's about where I am too. I have enough books to write right now, thanks, and I don't need to prove anything to myself. It had turned into "I have to win NaNo so I don't ruin my winning streak." But I lost last year so that's out. So now my writing goal for November is to answer your last email! :)

Anna Scott Graham said...

I was wondering, but didn't wish to pry. Eloquently said, as usual.

Maddy said...

Aha! I am not lurking I just had an interruption.

I think that is all so true. I've now cranked mine out - but it's the revisions and the rewrites which really count. This one was fairly solid for me and I proved something to myself. I knew November was going to be virtually impossible because I can't write at weekends, the children were on half day school for ten days for parent teacher conferences, 3 days off for Thanksgiving and another two days off for Veterans Day. i.e. not 30 days to write a novel but 14. Done and Dusted - now the real work starts.

So glad I found you here. [actually you found me now I come to think about it]

Henri Picciotto said...

Wow. This seems (to me) like a significant step forward!

Christopher Gronlung said...

You've obviously proven to yourself you can do it repeatedly. It's a great thing to show people what they can do if they work hard. You know that at least 7 times over, which is mighty impressive!

It definitely sounds like you have plenty to keep you busy. When success knocks at your door, you'll not have to worry one bit about having other things to pitch--and you'll know you're capable to being a writing machine if the need ever arises :)

Good luck with the revision!

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