Here we go. It’s coming up again. Writer Hell and Writer Heaven condensed into one month. A lot of writers to NaNoWriMo every year. An equal number of writers don’t. It all depends on whether it gets your creative juices flowing or not.
If you are going for NaNo this year (as I am, though I won’t be putting too much pressure on), I think it’s important to remember a couple of things.
Yes, NaNo is great for getting a first draft down on the page. If that’s what you need – the community, the motivation – great. It’s doing its job. But I feel there’s an aspect of NaNo that’s overlooked a lot.
NaNo is the enemy of the writerly comfort zone. It’s specifically designed to eliminate your ability to say “This isn’t sitting right with me – I’ll stop writing and go fix it”. It also discourages “Well, I can’t write at my sweet spot of 7:00pm today, so I guess I can’t write at all”. If you’re really going for the goal, you’ll find yourself slotting writing in whenever you have a few minutes to string together.
So, it’s the perfect time to switch up your routine and see what works. If you’re a pantser, to ahead an try plotting. See if it changes anything. And vice versa – despite what I said above, if you are a plotter, taking a month out to see where your brain takes you without an outline could be valuable. Switch up what time of day you write, writing with or without caffeine, try Scrivener for its trial period. Do something different.
NaNoWriMo is really great for this. For one, it’s got a built-in metric for success (you wrote 50,000 words or you didn’t), but it doesn’t stop there. Afterwards, how much time did you need to spend editing? Did you need to start over, or rip the whole thing apart? Or did you just need to tweak scenes, rearrange a few things? And, of course, the more nebulous metrics, like ‘am I happy with the book?’ ‘Did this process help me get motivated to write, or did it feel like dragging my feet?’.
For another, and more importantly, there’s a time limit. Write for 30 days, decide you don’t like that process? Great, fine. You never have to pick it up again. It’s much easier to commit to a change when you realise that you have a built-in ejector seat, or an instant takesies-backsies button. Plus, 30 days is a pretty good amount of time to get used to any given change, past that ‘it’s different and I don’t like it’ phase, and enough time to really get an idea of the effect it’s having.
Finally, a standard reminder to all: NaNoWriMo is what you make of it. If you play by the rules and go for the goal because it helps you, that’s awesome, and more power to you. But if you don’t follow the rules, nobody’s going to know. Nobody is going to care. Write a series of short stories instead of a novel? Go for it. Finish a novel you’ve already started? Go for it. Change the wordcount goal? Perfect – I did that last year, when I had more time. Want more competition? Start mini-challenges with friends. Want less? Set an entirely different goal so you’re not watching other people’s wordcounts tick up and comparing yourself to them.
There is no one winner of NaNo, so if you decide to move your personal goalposts, nobody else will be affected. Maybe you won’t go on the website as a winner, but take yourself out for a treat of your choice. You worked for a thing and you got it. That’s a good effort, too.