Ah, the age-old questions: why’s the sky blue, what is the point of push and pull doors coexisting, and is NanoWriMo worth it. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual online event in which writers set off to write 50,000 words (usually this takes the form of a novel) during the month of November. I’m not sure why they chose November, but objectively it is one of the worst months, and misery does love company.
I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo 2019 last month, but I’ve entered twice before. Once, I “won,” meaning I hit the 50K word target. The other time I stopped writing. Honestly, I came out of both situations feeling mostly the same.
I used to interview authors often, wondering at their writing process and thinking that if I emulated some core aspect of their craft, I could become just as successful. I quickly found—and this is my least favorite response of all time, so you know I mean it—there is no absolute right answer to anything writing. However, I did perceive that what the most productive authors have in common is their implementation of the inspiration-motivation-action loop, or the “Do Something” Principle.)
I used to only write when I felt inspired, and a generous estimate of that would be once in a blue moon. We typically believe that inspiration must be followed by motivation, which must be followed by action. However, psychologists have found that inspiration-motivation-action is actually a closed loop. What that means is you can start anywhere. Inspiration can follow action, hence the “do something.” That’s the “magic” of NaNoWriMo. If you commit to a small action regularly, it can kickstart some inspiration. But make sure it’s “small” to you.
Productive authors have a schedule they stick to, and the idea of allotting myself a place in my schedule for writing did help me immensely. As I write my thesis (not for NaNoWriMo,) I’ve found that what works for me is a scheduled block of time of two hours in the morning, rather than word count goal, which I can adjust to my convenience. The more you track your habits, the more reliable you will get, and NaNoWriMo could be an opportunity to find when and how you work best.
The time I “won” NaNoWriMo, I had never written a novel to completion before. I used to abandon stories after around the third chapter at best and jump to the next shiny new idea. I came into that November armed with an outline and optimism.
The first few chapters were fine, but I started wanting to alter plots I’d already written (probably, they had been underdeveloped to begin with.) I noticed inconsistencies in the progression of time. But I was already struggling to reach my daily word count as I’d actually started the challenge a couple days late, so I forged ahead. Sometimes I’d type sections that I knew were completely pointless. I even found myself adding more filler words.
Obviously, I was very stupid and counterproductive, but I was so fixated on my need to beat NaNoWriMo that I forgot that I entered it to help my writing. I didn’t need an arbitrary word count to officiate my status as a writer, and my first NaNoWriMo is what helped me understand.
Getting to 50,000 words is crossing a finish line of sorts, but it’s not the finish line. Rae Poynter of Northern Words says it well—“NaNo is just the beginning to the even longer road of revisions and edits.” NaNoWriMo intelligently markets itself as a challenge from which you emerge with a finished novel and showcases the successes that have come out of the writing spree.
The first time I got suckered into NaNoWriMo, I’d seen a post on this beautifully written book on alligators and how it’d come out of NaNoWriMo. It had seemed to me then that the author had written the whole work during November and sent it straight to publishers, which is so absurd now that I think about it. The joy may be fleeting, and if having to continually return to your work after it’s “done” and isn’t outweighed by your passion for getting your story out there, NaNoWriMo may not be for you.
Whether you participated in NaNoWriMo 2019 and/or plan to participate in NaNoWriMo 2020, there are plenty of NaNoWriMo alternatives (off-season alternatives, if I may) to keep yourself in good writing shape.
- Try Camp NaNoWriMo. Basically NaNo-Lite (your own goal) in April and July.
- Join a writing forum or book review site. If you want to work on your writing without actually writing… That’s what reading is for.
- And of course, post novel excerpts or short fiction on Prolitfic for free feedback!
Did you participate in NaNoWriMo 2019? What’d you think?
This is installment 2 of Prolitfic’s Web Serial Fiction Writing Workshop! In these installments, we’ll be addressing hot topics, FAQs regarding fiction writing, web serial fiction, and more. Let us know if you want a topic covered, and we’ll get right to it.