To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo, that is the question. (And the answer is probably, yes.)

So it’s October 31st. To muggles this means Hallowe’en, but to writers it means something more important: NaNoWriMo Eve.

Writers I know are divided on whether to take part or not. (It’s the same as writing groups and retreats, in that sense.) In fact, most of them say it doesn’t work for them so they don’t bother.

I think the vote against is based on the fact that you consciously prioritise quantity over quality: a lot of the guidance on the site is about writing through the badness, ignoring the inner editor, and so on.

There’s also something subtly competitive about the month. You try to ‘win’ at writing. You’re kind of competing against other writers too, which is not normal.

So, yes, I can see why some writers don’t like NaNoWriMo. It has a specific ethos which doesn’t fit with writers who like to work autonomously and independently.

So obviously it does work best for writers who like pressure and deadlines and a kick up the arse.

I find myself somewhere in the middle camp, as I need enough pressure to make me write every day, but not so much that my creativity seizes up. (Precious, I know.)

I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time last year, and wrote about 60,000 words that November. It was for a literary epic that ended up at 250,000 words – so I couldn’t exactly celebrate at the end of the month when I was still less than halfway through my novel.

Looking back on my manuscript, I’ve also found that my NaNoWriMo chapters are less focused and less convincing than those I wrote more slowly over the following 9 months. It’s as if I didn’t have time to do the mental prep-work I usually need, and ended up rambling as a result.

However, this year my writing project is much more suitable to NaNoWriMo. It feels like it will be 50,000 words; it’ll have short chapters, so I could write about one per day; I have 25-30 chapters left, which could take me 6 months unless I just get my act together; and it’s autobiographical and an ‘easy write’ so I feel like the voice and quality will be there.

So, if you’re still trying to decide whether to NaNoWriMo or not, ask yourself:

  • How do I write best: under pressure or with space?
  • Does my project fit into the timeframe?
  • What’s the ratio of mental time vs writing time?

Ultimately regardless of all that, I think it’s good for writers to get out of our comfort zone and try a new way of composing. So unless you’ve got a writing routine that works perfectly for you, just do it.

For me, the answer for Year 2 is yes. How about you?


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