5 Reasons Writers Should Participate in NaNoWriMo (Or Try to Write a Novel in 30 Days)

The first day of November is circled on my calendar in red ink every year, and it has nothing to do with the giant Halloween candy clearance sales. Not entirely, anyway. November 1 marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, a frenzied, caffeine-addled event with an insane goal – to write a fifty thousand word novel in only thirty days.

I first learned about the event in 2011 on October 30. I thought it over for all of about two seconds, and then I signed right up. Three years and three wins later, I recommend NaNoWriMo to all of my writer-type friends. There are so many reasons why.

Heather-DebordThis guest post is by Heather Debord. Heather is a writer and full-time keeper in Knoxville Zoo’s Department of Herpetology. She loves lizards, tortoises, and the Oxford comma. You can find her at www.becomingcliche.wordpress.com and on Twitter at @becomingcliche.

1. It’s all about you.

The official goal is fifty thousand words, sure, but the sky’s the limit. NaNo is an incredible opportunity to pursue some personal goals. My first year, I just wanted to hit that magic 50K. I squeaked over the finish line on the final day with thirty words to spare. The second year, my goals extended beyond the writing itself and included attending some local NaNo writing events to try to develop some real-life connections to other writers. My third year, I aimed big and challenged myself to double the goal. This year, I hope to actually type the elusive words The End, the one thing I have yet to do during NaNo.

2. The discipline.

The tight deadline is a writer’s best friend. We don’t cross that finish line or finish a novel by playing Candy Crush and searching out Grumpy Cat memes on the internet. I know. I’ve tried. To win at NaNo, writers’ gotta write. Spending a month hammering out 1,667 words per day, every single day, builds good habits that can carry over to the rest of the year. Time invested is never time wasted.

3. It’s liberating.

Because NaNoWriMo is so time-limited, anything goes. It’s all too easy to grow roots in a genre. November is the perfect time to step out of our comfort zone write something just for the fun of it, without necessarily thinking of its future commercial success. Always wanted to try your hand at romance? Go for it! Space opera whispering in your ear? There’s no time like the present! And it’s only a month-long commitment. Many of us have spent considerably longer on projects that didn’t quite pan out.

4. The sense of community.

Writing is by its nature a solitary pursuit. I know I tend to live in my head a lot of the time. And many writers don’t have a lot of support in real life. Tell someone on the street that you’re a writer, and they’re likely to look at you as if you’d just revealed your secret ambition is to become a crime-fighting goldfish. NaNo is an oasis in that lonely desert. Imagine working toward a common goal with almost half a million of your closest pals. NaNo is a global event, as well, unfettered by such petty things as time zones. Your personal writing group might not be available for a panicked 2am plot-hole repair, but a visit to the NaNo forums or Twitter feed will likely hook you up with someone who can offer some suggestions, or at least a sympathetic ear.

NaNoWriMo-CharacterWorkSheet-MEMEClick here for FREE character worksheets

5. You have nothing to lose.

Besides sleep, I mean. What is the worst that could happen? At the end of the month, you have a whole new manuscript to show for your efforts, or at least fifty thousand words of it. And there is so much to be gained, so many possibilities. Two years ago, I ended the month with a partial manuscript and an idea I dearly loved. I spent another couple of months completing the novel, which more than doubled in length and in turn led to a sequel that poured out in twelve glorious days. A third novel in that same world is rattling around in my head as we speak, with a whisper of a fourth, and all because I took the plunge on November 1. What are you waiting for?

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brian-klems-2013Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest, the editor of this blog and the author of the popular gift book:
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7 thoughts on “5 Reasons Writers Should Participate in NaNoWriMo (Or Try to Write a Novel in 30 Days)

  1. Laura

    Hey Heather!

    I jumped into NaNoWriMo with both feet! Like you, I am a mom and have a ton of stuff on my plate, but I just finished a WDU novel writing class and figured it was a great opportunity to keep going full speed ahead. Your post here directed me to your website which I love, so thanks for that. The “pants on fire thing” is hilarious! Happy writing!

  2. JanelleFila

    I love the community that NaNoWriMo encourages. There is something so liberating about getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning and knowing you aren’t the only one!!!! (In fact, a whole slew of writers are already on Twitter, talking about their word counts). This year I attended my first write in and it was so much fun! I found a local writers group that meets once a week and offers readings and critiques for free. Love, love, love the month of November. Thank you NaNoWriMo!!! Janelle http://www.janellefila.com

  3. ShamelessHack

    A possible reason to do this would be to become like certain authors who depend on the momentum of fast and sometimes questionable quantity over somewhat slower but perhaps more likely quality.
    If you are planning on making a career based on marketing an undending emission of more and more work, this race to complete within a tight time frame will help you. A certain author I know sets his laptop up on a treadmill desk in the morning and bangs out five thousand words a day come hell or high water.
    And guess what? He is a success at the sales and marketing of his pantheon of e-books.
    But this gentleman is also a retired successful entrepreneur who understands promotion, marketing and most importantly has the money to invest in himself.
    I would consider the Nanowrimo from the perspective of it being a challenging game at best, but many serious authors understand that forcing a work into a tight schedule may result in a subpar outcome.

  4. Clinton A. Seeber

    Thanks, but no thanks. I have been writing on the first draft of my first novel for almost right at two years now. It is a pretty long fantasy novel, and I still have a little more than a chapter to go. But I like the way I am doing it, taking my time and writing only when I know the time is right, making sure that I write the best fantasy novel that I possibly can. Something that could, someday, be legendary. I am not going to get a good novel trying to write it in 30 days. I doubt that many others will either. You can’t hurry a great story, or else you are not going to get one.
    Besides, I want to write fantasy novels ONLY(and horror short stories); I have no interest whatsoever in exploring other genres. My goal for my new career that I have been trying to start is to write a modest number of six novels over my career, two trilogies. I am still young enough that I don’t care if it takes 20 to 25 years time in total to complete all six of them. I chose quality over speed and quantity. Such is what true legends are made of. Remember Tolkien? Well, he completed just four novels in is lifetime.
    I guess the advice here is just not for people with serious aspirations like me. I will take advice from my favorite successful authors in my chosen genre. I just can’t go on the word of someone who is not a serious writer and hasn’t really had any professional success as far as I know.

    1. zeragon7

      Then take it from hundreds of other great writers whom all published more than ten novels in their lifetime; take it from working professionals today, some of whom write one to two books every single year. This is a hard lesson for a young writer to learn, but slowness doesn’t make greatness. Think about it this way: if you write only six books in your life, that’s only about 600k to 1.8 mil words, which in all honesty, is actually not that much for an entire lifetime of writing.

      You are absolutely right that Tolkien was a great writer and that he only published four books in his lifetime; but I challenge you to consider what might have been if he had written ten or fifteen. You don’t think a legendary fantasy writer like Tolkien could have written other great books?

      I only say all this because I think you need your narrow view of writing challenged. It may sound like I’m trying to insult you or belittle you, but I’m honestly only doing this because I care. It sounds like you take your writing very seriously, and that’s great! But if you don’t use your gifts to your fullest potential, choosing instead to work painfully slow and limit your turnout rate, then what’s the point? The world wants and needs serious-minded writers like you. Don’t skimp on the workload just because of a little fear.

  5. jotokai

    Great article, all good reasons. I’d say the deepest one wasn’t covered directly: if you pull that fast, you’ll have to pull directly from the deep parts of your mind. You might write things you wouldn’t have had access to, if you’d had time to carefully consider.

    You might learn different ways to develop scenes. Might develop a feel for the difference between a good, tense scene and an ‘obligatory’ point a-to-point-b report that could have been summarized. (I had that experience. Great characters, good ideas, but only a few real ‘story’ scenes.)


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