Jane Austen didn't need no stinkin' NaNo.

Jane Austen didn't need no stinkin' NaNo.

Remember my stance against NaNoWriMo? Oh come on, sure you do. To refresh your memories, here’s the link:

Writing a Novel? Don’t do NaNoWriMo.

For the full effect, read the comments. Good stuff there. So my question to you who took part in NaNo last year, how did it go? Especially if you were first-timers, did you think you learned something, produced good work, realized something about this novel writing gig, or all (or none) of the above? Please share your experiences.

I am still strongly against NaNo. I think it reduces an artform to gimmickry. While turning off the internal (or infernal) editor is a must, and speed can be exhilarating, speed for its own sake, and word count for its own sake is counterproductive. I’ve also had the experience of reading NaNo mss, when people bring them to workshops. I’m assuming that people don’t bring unedited first drafts to workshops,  and invariably, NaNo work is just more of a mess.

If you are a newbie and you want to start writing a novel, ditch NaNo. Instead, concentrate on the ABCs — Apply Butt to Chair and write.

Now for a counterpoint (I am all about the counterpoints:): Nicky Drayden, a writer I admire and am fortunate enough to be in a writer’s group with, is a staunch NaNo participant. She says it got her writing. Visit her blog to see what she has to say. And pssst: Nicky! Write something about NaNo so people can see it.

Diary of a Short Woman

(Don’t you love that title?)


Marshall Ryan Maresca · October 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I’ve said it before: I think NaNo is a good way of learning the discipline needed to write a novel… but not a good way to actually write a novel.

Besides, at this point, I’m working on SOMETHING all the time. I don’t need a special month.

Patrice Sarath · October 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm

I think that’s a very good distinction to make.

Audrey Lockwood · October 26, 2010 at 7:31 am

This is my NaNoWriMo story:

In 2004 I was a senior in college. The major that I had designed for myself (Natural Language Processing) was falling apart, and I wasn’t convinced any more that it was what I wanted to do anyway. I ended up falling back on my math major, but that wasn’t really what I wanted to do either.

I’d been writing a little over the years–nothing very serious–but as all of my other plans were coming down around me I realized that the one thing I kept looking forward to was writing. But I wasn’t sure I could *really* be a writer. I’d never tried before, and besides, I was a science person, right?

That’s when I heard about NaNoWriMo. It sounded like fun, and at that point I was really up for a challenge. So I participated and by the end of the month I had written 50,000 words. But more than that, I realized that I had enjoyed writing more than anything else I had done over the previous four years. Right away I signed up for a creative writing class for my final semester.

I graduated in the spring and got married in the fall. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again in 2005, but for whatever reason (lack of focus, being a newlywed with the responsibility of writing out hundreds of thank-you notes, who knows) I didn’t write more than a few thousand words.

Fast-forward to November, 2006. I’d been part of a critique group for a few months (and it was doing wonders for my growth in writing), but I’d also recently gotten a new job and didn’t have as much time to write any more. I was starting to doubt whether I’d really be able to make this writing thing work after all. When November came around I realized I needed to prove to myself that my writing aspirations were still possible. So I did NaNo and for the second time I won NaNo.

Since then I’ve been writing steadily.

In 2007 I thought about trying NaNoWriMo again, and I may even have started working on a novel, but I had other projects that were more long-term and more important. I didn’t need NaNo.

In 2008 and 2009 I visited the NaNo site to participate in the forums–those were always one of my favorite parts of NaNo–but I didn’t attempt the 50k word challenge.

And now this year I’ve finally put away NaNoWriMo for good. Without it I wouldn’t be writing, but it’s a crutch that doesn’t help me any more.

But because of what NaNoWriMo has done for me I am 100% in favor of it. For some (like me) it’s the first step. For others it’s proof that (to quote Back to the Future) “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” Some people need to discover that. And for a lot of people NaNoWriMo is a fun way to get in touch with their creative side… and *everybody* needs that sometimes.

NicoleMD · October 26, 2010 at 10:13 am

I don’t think NaNoWriMo is so much word count for word count’s sake as much as creativity for creativity’s sake. I’m a firm believer that writing saves lives, and I think it’s important to encourage everyone to get the story inside of them out. It won’t always be art, but it will be something precious.

Patrice Sarath · October 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Audrey, your experience mirrors that of another friend — NaNo got him going, but after a while he didn’t need it anymore.

My biggest criticism of NaNoWriMo is that it devalues the novel writing process and turns it into a lark. What I’m reading here is that for serious novelists it becomes much more than that. People use NaNo to jumpstart the process, and then move on.

I wonder if the whole community thing is so antithetical to what I want or need is because I prefer the solitude of writing in my little space? I could never write in public. I’d be too distracted. Yet here and elsewhere I’m reading over and again that it’s the community that is one of the best things about NaNo.

My God, I’d chew off my own foot if I had to write in a coffeeshop.

Dave Gullen · November 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

I think it’s all been said, and from what I’ve seen of people’s results and what they did with them I’d agree it’s a useful lesson in the discipline of writing, and if it works and excellent proof to yourself you can sit there and write. But it is not a good way to get good copy.
All this from someone who’s never done it of course! My reasons being those above, and also the near certainty I’d not make the 50K.

Patrice Sarath · November 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Ah, I am not alone. Other writers are also pointing out their NaNo concerns.

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