Nanowrimo: Should You Do It?

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Nanowrimo Writing Group

Nanowrimo time is upon us once again. It’s the time of year when writers and wannabe writers take on the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month. While it can be uplifting and fun, it can also be stressful and depressing. For some people, it’s a great jump start and motivational tool. For others, it can be demoralizing and actually derail their writing efforts.

Before you give into the peer pressure and sign up, consider your goals and whether or not this enterprise will help or hinder your writing aspirations.

You Should Do Nanowrimo If:

You have an idea that you want to test.

If you have a crazy idea and you just want to see if it has legs, Nanowrimo can give you the chance to explore it without committing too much time. You can wing your way through the basics and see if you can come up with enough material for a novel. If you end up hating the idea, or you can’t make it fly, you haven’t wasted too much time.

You want to know if this writing thing is for you.

If you need an excuse to get off your duff and see if this writing thing you’ve thought about for years is for you, Nano can give you that. You’ll have a chance to sling words in a fun, supportive environment and see if you enjoy it. Chances are that if you hate Nano, you’re not going to like writing after Nano is over, so it’s a good barometer of whether or not you should pursue things further.

You’re open to the lessons it will teach you, even if you don’t finish.

Nano can teach you a lot of lessons. It can teach you how to tell family and friends, “Sorry, I can’t do this thing you want me to do right now because I have to write.” You can learn how to put your butt in the chair and show up at the page day after day, whether you feel like it or not. It can teach you about the value of deadlines and finishing what you start, how to problem solve on the fly, how to kill your inner editor, and how to persevere even when the writing isn’t going well. You’ll learn some mechanical things like outlining, world building, character development, plotting, etc., even if these are a bit truncated by the “sport” of the thing.

Viewed as an exercise in learning not only how to write but how to be a writer, it can be valuable even if you never finish those 50,000 words.

You enjoy silly fun and want to partake of the social aspect.

Face it: Sooner or later Nano turns silly. No matter how seriously you begin, by the end things have devolved into silliness. Your plot has holes the size of galaxies in it. Cliches are flying fast and furiously. Your characters have done some stupid things, and you’ve let them! If you enjoy this sort of Mad Libs approach to writing, it can be a lot of fun.

Especially if you’re participating with other writers. If you get involved in the forums and meetups, you can meet a lot of really cool people and laugh with you over the whole thing. If you’re in a place in your schedule where you want some levity and socialization, Nano may be for you. But if you’re ultra serious in your writing, or you’re on deadline with another project without a ton of free time, you’ll miss out on some of the best parts of the experience and just end up resentful that no one else seems to take it seriously.

You Shouldn’t Do Nanowrimo If:

You have an idea that needs care.

If you have an idea that you really love and think may lead somewhere, don’t make it your Nanowrimo project. The stress and craziness of the event will kill your love for this idea. Instead, just work at your normal pace on this idea. Nurture it the way it deserves to be nurtured. Take your time with the outline and world-building. Really figure out who your characters are. Don’t just make crap up for a month and expect to fix it later. You’ll hate the whole thing by the end of the month and your great idea will be dead.

You’re in the middle of a project and Nanowrimo will derail your progress.

One of two things happens if you choose to do Nano and you’ve already got a project going. Either you will abandon that project in favor of a clean slate and you lose all momentum, or you will continue that project, leading to a Frankenstein mashup of drafts. The first part will have been worked on with care and deliberate thought, while the second will be a pile of rushed crap.

Either way, Nano puts an existing project in jeopardy. If you’re working on something and you’re happy with it, just keep going at your normal pace and forget Nano.

Crap discourages you.

If you’re going to be discouraged by the garbage that is your Nano manuscript, then don’t do Nano. Your project will be garbage, guaranteed. There are maybe two people in the world who can work that fast and turn out publishable prose. I’m willing to bet you aren’t one of them. If this is going to discourage you, then don’t bother. If you can view the subsequent editing as a fun challenge, then maybe Nano is for you.

Not finishing will feel like failure.

Yes, this is a made up contest without real stakes or rewards, other than saying, “I did it.” Still some people feel like failures if they don’t finish. They get discouraged and give up on writing. If not finishing (and a lot of people don’t, so the odds are good you won’t finish) is going to send you into depression, don’t do it. And if you do it anyway, remember that this is a crazy goal and you’re not bad if you don’t finish. Most professional writers don’t write at this pace, so not finishing doesn’t diminish you in any way, or mean that you can never be a writer.

You will equate finishing with publishing success.

Very few Nanowrimo manuscripts ever see publication in any form, even after substantial edits. Most aren’t even self-published because most people come to realize just how bad they are when they go back to edit them. That’s just the nature of the beast. If you’re going to put all of your stock in finishing Nano and getting published, you’re in for a hard fall. Finishing Nano simply means you wrote a lot of words. It does not mean that they should or will ever see the light of day again.

Nano can bring a lot of pleasure, but it can also bring a lot of pain. Only you know whether the benefits you’ll gain will be worth the stress and time. Also, you’re the only one who can evaluate the potential negative effects on your WIP(s). Before you sign up, do some soul searching and be honest about what you can gain or lose by doing it. Armed with that information, you’re either in for a fun time, or a November full of sanity in an insane writing world.

(Photo courtesy of StartupStockPhotos)

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