If it’s October that means that it’s time for the annual NaNoWriMo post. In a nutshell, here is my approach to the event that consumes the writing community for the wacky month of November:

Don’t do it.

To recap: in 2009, I wrote a post entitled, Writing a Novel? Don’t Do NaNoWriMo.

Writing requires steady, consistent effort. Blasting through a novel at over 1000 words a day means that you will get a lot of crap and at the end of the experiment you will have 50,000 words, far too short for any market today.

You can read the rest at the link. Definitely read the comments. They’re the best part of the post.

I waded into the controversy again in 2010 (still more thoughtful commentary), and later the first post was picked up by TIME in 2012.

My stance has softened over the years. I still think that NaNoWriMo devalues the writing experience. It certainly devalues editing, if the number of raw manuscripts that cross agent and editor desks in December are any indication. However, plenty of writers use NaNoWriMo as a big celebratory jumping off point for a writing burst, and they know about editing and polishing.

So if you are facing NaNoWriMo for the first time, I still think you shouldn’t do it. But if you do, here’s the way to “win” at NaNoWriMo:

  • Turn off the internal (or infernal) editor.
  • Get the words down.
  • Don’t worry about making daily word count; but do work steadily each day.
  • When you reach November 30, and you have around 20,000-50,000 words, take a deep breath and realize that what you have isn’t a novel.

It’s a good start.

Even if you reach 50,000 words, that’s far too short for a standard novel in today’s world of publishing. This has changed with self-publishing and e-books of course, but in general, 50,000 words is less than novel length. So you will have to write more, and then you have to edit and polish and rework, draft after draft. You might have to cut some of those 50,000 words and add others that are the right words.

And when you reach The End on the first draft, remember: The End is just the beginning.

So Don’t Do NaNoWriMo.

But if you do, use it to jumpstart your writing, not as a sprint but as a a marathon.

Good luck!


Nicky Drayden · November 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

Awww…I am so glad to hear that NaNoWriMo has softened your heart. In ten more years you will embrace it. Baby steps.

Off I go! Only 49,200 words left to write in 29 and a half days!

Patrice Sarath · November 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm

You are such a wise guy.

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