Why NaNoWriMo Is Bad For Writers

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 redrafting and 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.

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, are they all likely to be Pullitzer Prize winners?

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?

2 responses to “Why NaNoWriMo Is Bad For Writers”

  1. TrashBinForNano Avatar

    The new website is awful! It used to be they had temporary and only viewable to the members “cabins” during April and July “Camp” Nanowrimo sessions. We bonded! God I miss those cabins!

    Now it is some big crap site that doesn’t work right.

    I won my first November Nano by a land slide pantser style. However over the next couple of years (I did camps as well) I got more and more burned out. Nanowrimo demands that pressure cooker style writing. I wish I had slowed down a few years back.

    I don’t recommend Nanowrimo to aspiring writers. Find some other support group instead.

    Nano gives you what I -and I am sure I am not the first- call “Permission Slip Syndrome”. You must not put a single character on paper until after midnight on the first of November, April or July. Screw that! Write when you want!

    I actually wrote a couple of novella stories before I discovered Nanowrimo on my own time. So much better that way!

    Also I like to loop back and edit every so often. Especially during writers block. I read DWS “Writing Into the Dark” where this author on how to pants talks about “looping”. No I am not trying to sell his book for him. I am just saying where I learned that type of technique.

    Plus who says chapter books have to be 50 K? The biggest pride on Nanowrimo -and yes I admitt that I proudly did it- was how much crap to put in the “novel” to balloon it to 50K. They actually had a thread dedicated to that practice called “dirty tricks….”. I have edited my first November “novel” and lost like 15 K easy.

    Time to throw Nanowrimo out into the trash bin where it belongs and start a new chapter! Pun intended!

  2. Irrevenant Avatar

    NaNoWriMo doesn’t disregard the importance of editing. It talks about editing quite a bit and (correctly IMO) treats it as something you don’t want to focus on during the first draft process. NaNoWriMo is about producing a first draft. Editing comes after, and there’s a National Novel Editing month for that, if you’re that way inclined.

    Similarly, NaNoWriMo has indicated that you need a certain number of words to produce a novel but never indicated that was an indication of quality or the end of the process. It’s specifically about producing the first draft of a novel.

    NaNoWriMo also isn’t meant to be a replacement for a professional writing ethic. For many participants it’s a jump-start that lets them prove to themselves that they are capable of producing a full novel draft. For others it’s just fun (I know some published authors find it an enjoyable way to stretch themselves.

    The bulk of this criticism seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what NaNoWriMo is. It’s not a nose-to-tail process to produce a finished novel, and it never pretends to be.

    It’s true that starting a new draft can distract a writer from finishing an existing one. I don’t think that’s NaNoWriMo’s fault though. NaNoWriMo is a once-per-year event. If you wrote a NaNoNovel last year, and you write another NaNoNovel this year, that means you’ve had 11 months to work on the previous novel and chose not to.

    I wouldn’t even say that’s necessarily a bad thing, depending. Maybe having laid out the ideas in that first draft you could see that it’s not worth pursuing. Maybe you just wanted to shelve it for a while so you can come back to it later with fresh eyes. And maybe that first draft’s purpose was to help you unearth what you really want to write about.

    Obviously if you want to be a professional writer you need to finish things, but that doesn’t mean that finishing is always going to be the best destiny for everything you write.

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