If you’re a writer with any sort of contact at all with the writing world, you’ll know that November is coming. Not only will you be aware that November is coming, you will be aware of what that means:
For those who aren’t familiar with it (which is not a problem), NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and for some unknown reason, it takes place in November. People from all over the world participate (officially and unofficially) and it’s a big thing in some writing circles.
Classic NaNo’s goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel (or nonfiction book) from scratch over the thirty days. There are those, known as NaNo rebels, who aim for the next 50k of whatever they’re working on, or 50k words worth of short stories, or who will use the month to edit and already completed draft but your goal will depend on your experience level and what it is that you wish to achieve. The prize is pretty much a chunk of a first draft and bragging rights but I’m sure it feels good.
For myself, I have never done NaNo. It sounded like a good idea when I first heard of it back when I was about fifteen or sixteen but I’ve never actually done it yet. There are a number of reasons for this.
At fifteen, I was studying for my Highers a few months later and was too eager to finally get out of school to be dedicating inordinate amounts of time to a book. I needed to do well in my prelims and finals or I would be stuck in school for another year.
As I got older, university took priority. There was so much reading to be done, essays to be written, and I had begun blogging more seriously. Once more, there was no time. With other family things going on, it was not a priority either.
After I graduated, a couple of years ago, the time was taken up with finding work and then working. I had a stressful job working night shifts during that first year and though I loved the people I worked with, I had little energy left for anything else.
Although many writers fiercely advocate for NaNoWriMo, the truth is that it doesn’t work for everyone. Those who have full-time work or family responsibilities simply may not have the time. It is fine to admit that it would be too much pressure for you to try. Some writers will argue that you can write more at weekends but sometimes it’s not possible to set aside a few hours to knock out several thousand words.
There are some very forceful proponents for NaNo who I don’t think realise how stressful their attempted persuasion can be. Don’t be worried to say no, I’m not doing it, I don’t have the time. If they reply ‘you can make the time if you really want to’, don’t dignify it with an answer, slap them with a wet fish.
NaNo isn’t for everyone. Some writers work best by stealing words in spare moments and slowly but steadily building their work. Others work best in intensive, pressurised bursts like November brings. Do what is right for you, writing is not a race.
Part of my reluctance has also been to my sheer pig-headedness. There were a few years where I’m sure I could have given NaNoWriMo a run for its money but I didn’t. I had been harassed by so many people about how great it was and how I should do it that I didn’t, just to prove to myself that I am as much a writer and as capable of finishing a book if I do it in my own time and way.
To be honest, this wasn’t the best attitude to take. I’ve been called easily persuaded and it has been implied that I’m weak-minded before but those people evidently didn’t know me well. As it is, I proved the point and finished a novel. It took much longer but it was far more enjoyable and less stressful.
Don’t feel that you have to do NaNo because lots of your writer friends are and are trying to persuade you to join. But neither should you opt out to make a point if you think it would, in fact, be a good exercise for you.
These points are growing more honest each time. Although it’s true that I haven’t had the time nor the inclination to do NaNoWriMo (and still somewhat lack the inclination), another reason that holds me back is fear.
What if I fail?
I think every writer must have that voice in their head that asks them this. Maybe every human being.
Sometimes you’ve got to ignore it because what if you don’t fail? The truth about NaNo is that loads of people drop out or don’t meet their word count goal. It doesn’t matter and there are no terrifying consequences. All that happens is that you have a shorter draft than you aimed for but at least you have something. If you try it again in the future, you can learn better methods too so it’s no massive loss.
Fear is not a good reason not to give NaNoWriMo a shot. But it is a reason I’ve used and refused to admit.
IN THE END, IT’S UP TO YOU
I’ve always been one for steadfast perseverance over bursts of passion but there’s a place for each. It’s important to know yourself and know what works for you.
NaNoWriMo is a great idea which I’d encourage you to investigate, but I’d also encourage you not to be stressed out if it isn’t for you. Think carefully about whether you have the time and energy to put into this. There’s nothing more depressing than running out of steam halfway through. Also consider your motivations. Doing something because everyone else is doing it is not a good reason but there’s nothing wrong in trying something that a lot of people recommend.
The truth is, I’ve never done NaNoWriMo because I’ve never had the time and I don’t see why I should. It’s not compulsory. Maybe one day I’ll try it, I don’t know. But what you need to remember is that so long as you keep writing, no matter the pace, you’re doing fine.