Is NaNoWriMo really worth it?

Short answer: Yes and no.

Long answer: Last year, I made it to the NaNoWriMo finish line by the skin of my teeth. I sat panting at my screen from the effort. I felt exhilarated as I printed out my lovely WINNER certificate. And then I realized that what I had was completely unusable. I didn’t even bother to have the draft printed up as a book, which was one of last year’s prizes for winning. It was that bad.

I had high hopes for that book (and I still love the concept), but the effort to push through to 50,000 words in 30 days virtually killed any good writing  instincts I had. Those who can do it well in 30 days most likely have had lots of writing practice, so their muscle memory or plot memory for constructing a story is far more fine-tuned than the rest of us. I’m also willing to bet they had a good concept of what they wanted to write going in, and they worked on it long after Nano was finished.

Some people call writing an art. Some call it a craft. Either way, good writing takes care. And care takes time. There are a lot of “write a book in 30 days” instruction manuals out there. All of them are gimmicks. Trust me. I’ve tried it. You want to believe that this is a good way to write a book, and maybe it’s a good way to train yourself to sit in your chair and get words on the screen, but rushing will get you nowhere fast.

Agent Jane Friedman among others, has raised her concerns about Nano novels, and has offered some advice.

Despite my objections, I am doing NaNoWriMo again this year, mainly because it’s fun  to commune with other writers. Also this year my expectations are more realistic and I have a plan:

1) I’m doing an extensive outline so I don’t end up with an unusable draft.

2) I won’t abandon my writing instincts just to win.

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7 thoughts on “Is NaNoWriMo really worth it?

  1. Mike Lipsey says:

    I could have written your comment on Writer Unboxed. That’s exactly how I often feel, wondering if I am spinning my wheels as wasting time online that could be better spend just writing. I’m sure a lot of us feel that way lately, but few will say it, despite all the hoopla about the importance of a constant online presence.

  2. Tracey says:

    I often wish there was an edit button in comments sections myself.

    I’m glad I said it, then. Building a platform is definitely slow, frustrating work at times. But the bright side is getting to chat with like-minded people and make a few online friends.

    Thanks for letting me know that I’ve said the thing few will say! Makes me feel brave (which I’m not.)

    But I think we should definitely stick in there. I think the payoff will come eventually.

  3. Rose Audrey says:

    I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo for the past couple of years, but the times that I did I found invaluable. Through my first experience I created my first memoir – cover and all. I had fought against the thought of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I frankly didn’t want to waste valuable time. That is how I ended up writing a memoir in the first place. I decided to write something that I knew. I drew up an outline and a game plan and then I registered for the NaNoWriMo and stayed the distance. Lulu.com offered a free book for contest ‘winners’. The only catch was that I had no idea how to format an actual book. My only option was to learn the ropes, or pay to be published. I dug my feet in and I educated myself. Now I am several years past that entry point and have come to enjoy the process of producing a book on my own. I have since that time produced two memoirs, two books of poetry, and a couple of other projects, not to mention the three novels that I have in my hands! At this point in time I am actually sponsoring a writing contest and the first place prize? I will publish the winners’ book! (Sorry, submission deadline was Aug.15, 2010). All of this because of my adventure with NaNoWriMo! I believe that a lot can be said for a person who diligently perseveres! So for all of you NaNoWriMo participants… I wish you every success!!!

  4. Tracey says:

    Thanks Rose!
    I just found a great quote for NaNoWriMo participants: “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” Thomas Edison.

    Basically, even if you end up with a manuscript that’s not as good as you had hoped, doesn’t mean the effort wasn’t worth it.

  5. John Paterna says:

    Tracey,

    I did NaNoWriMo two years ago and am doing it again. For me, it was a great experience, because I was able to keep my internal editor “at bay” and just write. It didn’t evolve into a real novel because I chose not to work on it; but I have used sections in other writing.

    I remember an interview with John Updike, in which he said that he wrote 5 hours everyday and many times it wasn’t very good; but it sharpened the the process of writing for him, and ultimately its quality. I think NaNoWriMo does the same thing for a writer.

  6. Tracey says:

    Thanks John.
    I definitely believe in “writing practice.” Everyone’s work gets better over time, and the more time you spend writing, the better it will get.

    My approach to Nano this year is to outline and not race to the finish. I hope that changing my approach will change what I end up with. Maybe this year I won’t feel my manuscript is a total failure.

    Good luck with yours, and thanks for stopping by the blog!

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