Every year about this time, there starts circulating a few mean-spirited blog posts about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and why it’s stupid or ineffective or objectionable. Setting aside that an attitude that looks down on new writers for “not being very good” and discouraging them from writing is mean-spirited, arrogant and even more counterproductive, what are some actual reasons to try 30 days and nights of literary abandon? Can you actually get anything good or worthwhile from working so quickly?
As a participant since 2004, here’s ten reasons I think Nanowrimo is worth a try. It’s not for everyone, but can be quite rewarding. And whether you “win” or not, the experience is enlightening.
1) Motivation – if you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but never had something to force you to sit down and just do it, Nanowrimo is the perfect motivation to get a move on it. It’s a tight deadline that gets you working and working fast.
2) Out-writing the inner editor – in a lot of my early writing, I’d give up early, because I’d realize the story/writing sucked. The thing is, the only way to get better at writing is to write, revise, and then write some more. If you don’t keep writing in the first place, that never happens. True, without some revision, you don’t improve, but without getting stuff drafted in the first place, you don’t have anything to revise. Sometimes after writing crap and outrunning the editor, you get brilliant bits of writing later in the book that are quite useful when revising.
3) Imaginative Experience – I believe writing a novel expands our brains and that’s useful even if you’re not intending to become a professional author. We experience characters coming to life, who then chat in our head, argue about the plot, and start feeling a bit like real and independent people. It’s a magical and exciting creative experience I think it’s good for people to experience. The power of creation, and watching your own fictional world come to life is something that builds us up as creative people.
4) Collective energy – there’s a wonderful support in Nanworimo. All that collective energy of so many people working together at once is inspiring. It gets me moving in a way writing on my own often doesn’t. With so many people to cheer you on, you’re never alone.
5) Experimentation – I’ve found Nanowrimo is a perfect time to learn something new, try something that isn’t part of the normal flow of my writing. Try a new genre, or a tricky plot, a strange point of view, something challenging. The rushed speed forces me to try wresting with it and making it work and either it does or it doesn’t. Usually by the end of the month I know if the idea was worth it or if I’m trashing it.
6) Connections – I’ve met a lot of fantastic people during Nanowrimo, both online and in my community. The real-life based “write-in” groups make it possible to connect with a ton of local and inspiring people. Online, you can meet even more people on the forums. I’ve joined 2 critique groups I found during nanowrimo, and made lots of new friends and connections. It’s a fantastic networking experience.
7) Keeps a sense of humor – when you’re working this fast, you can’t take your work entirely seriously, and you shouldn’t. Keeping a sense of humor means you’ll weather the challenges of writing better. When you get writer’s block, being able to suddenly switch genres, use a challenge from the challenge thread, or start giving your characters all 2 or 3 word long names to up the word count helps keep writing fun and playful. So does breaking the fourth wall and ranting at your characters and letting them rant at you. Who cares if none of this stuff makes it into the final draft, if you do revise the book, it was fun, and writing ought to be fun.
8 ) Community Education – by participating in Nanowrimo, you help drive educational and literacy programs for children, as well as give your community an opportunity to think about authors, books, and writing. I’ve written in public places as part of the event, talking to and educating people on writing. I’ve even been interviewed for local papers. I’d love to also work with schools who do Nanowrimo in class someday.
9) Being an inspiration – creative energy has a way of encouraging other people to be creative too. By telling all your friends and relatives what you’re doing, you’re challenging them to consider their own creative projects, and watching you succeed will inspire them to try as well. At least that’s what I’ve found, my family’s creativity feeds off itself. My father’s composing inspires me to write, my writing inspires my brother to draw, and his drawing inspires my mother to get moving on her educational craft projects, and so on. Inspire people to do something creative by doing it yourself.
10) You can’t lose – no matter how many words you write, you’ve written more than you had before the month started. Even if they’re terrible, they’ve gotten you writing, given you ideas, expanded your mind, and inspired you to perhaps start a brand new project in December. Seriously, no matter how little you get done, you’re a winner and the supportive community surrounding Nanowrimo helps remind you of that.
Some of these were the reasons I chose to try Nanowrimo; some of them I learned along the way. My own personal journey and how Nanwrimo changed my life, was published here on the Nanowrimo blog in 2008.