NaNoWriMo is a great way to challenge yourself to start writing. It creates a deadline, which for many aspiring writers is a necessary motivator, and is a good writing exercise with a clear and definable goal.
However, I believe NaNoWriMo can be detrimental to more experienced writers, particularly those who have previously written a first draft of a novel or short story but have yet to complete. Here is why:
1) It disregards the importance of editing
The most important and time consuming aspect of writing is the editing. It is also the part of the process that requires the most skill and in my view is what writing all boils down to. The better the editor, the better the writer, the better the novel. The majority of first drafts are absolutely abysmal; it’s the editing that differentiates between a good and bad story. NaNoWriMo is great for those who want to push themselves to start the writing process but it should be emphasised that this is probably twenty-five percent of the overall work. If you’ve not finished a novel before but have started writing in the past, this might not be the best motivator for you to complete and publish your first novel.
2) Writing is more than the word count
Too many people get hung up about the word count, as if that is the most impressive aspect of writing a novel. You can find many discussions online about chapter length and the best word count for a first time novelist but ultimately length can’t make a crap story interesting, or vice versa. If someone boasts that they’ve written six novels in six months, each with over sixty thousand words, my first thought is about the quality. If you want to write a novel just to be able to tell people you have written a novel then the word count means everything, but if you want to create a piece of fiction for people to enjoy then this detail is largely irrelevant.
3) It’s terrible for your self-esteem
Writing is a very competitive industry and NaNoWriMo can act as false hope for some. Being successful in this challenge does not mean you’ll become a successful novelist overnight; you still need to finish and edit the novel, get a name for yourself, get published, have good feedback from the published work…and luck. You’ll need lots of luck. There is no real reward or incentive for NaNoWriMo other than the self-satisfaction of having completed the challenge, which is what writing is all about in the first place. If you need a contrived project to motivate yourself to get fulfilment from writing then you’ll definitely struggle to write professionally.
4) Creativity and work ethic are two separate things
Some novel ideas take weeks, months and even years to fully form. These ideas will change drastically during the writing process as you learn more along the way. Although I believe it’s important to be continuously creating and putting yourself out there, I don’t think NaNoWriMo inspires the right skills or mindset for a piece of art. Working on a project solidly for a month can leave the writer feeling burnt out and frustrated, to the point where they may dread their novel or see it as a chore. Writing is difficult and often painful, but you can’t always push through that simply by working quickly.
Have you tried NaNoWriMo? Have you completed and published the draft you began during November? And do you believe it’s made you a better or worse writer? Feel free to let me know in the comments.