So, someone asked me about National Novel Writing Month. I figured I might as well share that answer here.
I have mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo:
Pros: 1) I’m for anything that gets people who want to write writing. It’s a great exercise for getting an initial draft done for one fairly large category of writers. 2) It’s a great way for someone to learn that they really can crank out a lot of words on a deadline. 3) There is a large group of writers for whom the exercise of being forced to shut down the internal critic is a fantastic thing.
Cons: 1) Unless you’re talking YA, 50,000 words does not a novel make and expanding something from 50,000 to a more reasonable number is a lot of work, more in my opinion than simply writing 90,000 to start with would have been–if the goal were 50,000 words of a novel in a month instead of a 50,000 word novel, I’d be more enthusiastic. 2) A lot of writers, even a lot of pros simply can’t come close to hitting that pace—I write two novels a year on deadline and it’s very rare for me to have a 50k month. Fostering the idea that you need to be able to write that fast to get somewhere can be actively harmful to slower writers. 3) There is a small but real number of writers out there who need to be encouraged to listen to the inner editor more rather than less and NaNo may encourage them to foster bad habits.
Overall, I would recommend to most writers that they try NaNo at least once or twice, but not to get too upset if it doesn’t suit them. I’d also recommend that they move on from NaNo to Novel in 90 or some other challenge that has both a more realistic end goal and pace. Even among the pros, 50,000 words a month is very fast. I can name maybe a dozen writers who beat it regularly and no more then twenty or thirty (me included) who can hit it occasionally during parts of a book. One book a year, ~500 words a day every single weekday is both much closer to the average and much easier for most to manage.
I should note here that anyone who finds that NaNo works well for them should absolutely keep doing it as long as that’s the case. Never give up on something that genuinely works for you.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog October 13 2008, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)