Kristan Hoffman - Writing Dreams Into Reality
Thu Nov 3 2011

NaNo? Nah, no(t for me)

Ah, November. A great month, for many reasons. The 21st day in particular is a favorite of mine. ;)

For many writers, November is synonymous with HOLY CRAP I HAVE TO WRITE A TON — aka National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, or NaNo. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days, never mind that major holiday where all your family comes and stays with you and you have to cook a big meal for them and socialize and stuff.

(Unless you’re not in America, in which case, never mind that holiday for real.)

Me, I don’t do NaNoWriMo. Not because I’m “better” than it — quite the opposite, in fact. I suck at it. Every time I sit down to NaNo, all I can think about is those 1,667 words I’m supposed to write each day. Then when I don’t write that many, all I can think about is how much I suck and how hard it’s going to be to catch up. Then when I don’t catch up, all I can think about is how I’m the worst writer ever and I’ll never finish a book or get an agent or do anything worthwhile with my life and hey where is that bag of dark chocolate?!

Yeah, not a good place to be.

So I prefer to sit NaNo out. Instead I watch from the sidelines and cheer for my friends who are participating. It’s still a blast.

Not NaNo-ing doesn’t make me — or anyone — less of a writer. For the record, not “winning” NaNo also does NOT make me — or anyone — less of a writer. (I kind of wish they wouldn’t use that term.) I just find that I’m happier and more productive when I’m not focused on word counts.

If that’s the case for you too, rock on! If you’re a NaNo diehard and do it every year, rock on! If you’re just trying it out for the first time, rock on! (And good luck!)

The most important thing is: Are you pursuing your passion to the best of your ability? Because that’s what NaNo is really about.

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17 Comments
  1. Shari says:
    Fri Nov 4 2011 at 7:14 AM

    I am in total agreement.

    I’ve never done NaNo – the timing always works out that I’m in the editing stage come November – but if I did, the strictness of the WC guideline would probably mess with my mind. Truthfully, when I’m writing a first draft, I generally do somewhere between 1500-2000 words a day, so the pace would be doable, but having the pressure of it looming over your head … I completely see how it’d become all you think about during writing time.

    Like you said, it’s about pursuing passion to the best of your ability and about falling in love with writing all over again. We’re so lucky that we get to do that all year, not just in November :)

  2. Anthony Lee Collins says:
    Fri Nov 4 2011 at 7:14 AM

    I’m in the same situation. I root for those who want to do it (and I wrote a blog post defending the whole idea: http://u-town.com/collins/?p=1357), but it’s not for me. (And, yes, I don’t like the “winning” thing either.)

    Not doing NaNo doesn’t make anybody less of a writer. After all, think of your favorite writers. Have they every done NaNo? In most cases, probably not. :-)

    (Now I’m wondering if Thomas Pynchon does NaNo? I tend to think not, but of course who would ever know…)

  3. Sonje says:
    Fri Nov 4 2011 at 9:13 AM

    I’ve never tried NaNoWriMo. It’s something I might do in the future, but it would definitely be the type of thing that I planned in advance, worked on a story idea, built up an outline, and got myself psyched up to begin on Nov 1. It’s not something I would use to jump start or finish a work that was already in progress.

    But to be really honest, the lack of a prize is a hindrance to my desire to do it. I highly doubt I would have participated in the 3 Day Novel Contest–and I know for certain that I would not have finished it–if there was not an actual prize to be won as well as the fact that I paid to participate.

  4. Natalia Sylvester says:
    Fri Nov 4 2011 at 11:31 AM

    I’ve never done NaNo because I know it would make me miserable. It’s just not for me, for a lot of the same reasons you point out. It’s also why I really admire the people who DO do NaNo. It requires a certain amount of fearlessness, but knowing me I’d just get burned out.

    The other thing is that I have this rough draft I’m working on, so I’m using the inspiration and motivation oozing from other NaNoers to help me finish it this month. I only have about 25k to go, which is much more manageable. Someone asked me the other day on Twitter if I was doing NaNo and I told her I’m doing National Natalia Needs to Finish This New WIP month.

  5. Mari Passananti says:
    Fri Nov 4 2011 at 11:44 AM

    Brava, Kristan! I agree. Not that the word count itself is daunting. I guess i fail to see the allure of a fifty thousand word “novel.” to me that’s an odd word count target, neither fish nor fowl. My time is so limited that I can’t justify taking a month to write a new, short book when my wip is mid-revision. I don’t want to lose momentum on it.

  6. Stephanie Mooney says:
    Fri Nov 4 2011 at 7:18 PM

    I was planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year, but when November 1st came around, I just wasn’t ready for it. I’m honestly not sure if I’d be good at it or not. The community part of it seems fun though. Maybe next year. :)

  7. Juliann Wetz says:
    Sat Nov 5 2011 at 7:29 PM

    As the only Nano’er commenting here, I feel I should somehow defend it. I think some people may have the wrong idea about NaNoWriMo. It’s not a measure of whether a person is a real writer or not, and winning it certainly doesn’t mean that other people have lost. NaNoWriMo is about putting your butt in a chair and writing 50,000 words so that you know what it feels like to sit down and write a novel-length work.

    I’m doing Nano for the 3rd time. Not because I think I’ll come away with a wonderful novel, but because I like the community that comes with taking part in this writing challenge. My husband and my mother are both doing it, too. Honestly, this is the only time of the year when they do write, and they sit and have fun with it and we all have something to talk about.

    It’s fun to post your word count online and track your work with other people. It’s great to get pep talk emails from established writers who talk about exactly what you’re going through at this part of the process. For example, the first author talks about the high at the beginning of writing a novel and another author later on talks about the deep, dark insecurities that come around 25,000 words, and what you can do about those feelings.

    What’s nice about Nano is that we’re all in it together. Writing can be lonely, even among other writers because we’re not always in the same place in our writing process. In Nano, we are. We’re all trying to reach the 10,000-word mark by the end of this weekend. We’re all starting to wonder whether the crap that we’re writing is any good and we’re wondering if we should go on. We’re going to get a pep talk soon to address that, I’ll bet. It will help.

    So, is NaNoWriMo the end-all and be-all of novel writing in November? Certainly not. And if I were in the midst of another WIP, I wouldn’t take part in this either. Because it is time-consuming and it is rushing through what should probably take a lot more time. But it’s fun and I’m not in the middle of anything else. So in essence, if I weren’t doing this, I might not be writing right now.

    And just in case you’re all wondering whether any “real” authors have done Nano – does the name Sara Gruen ring a bell? :)

  8. Kristan says:
    Sat Nov 5 2011 at 7:36 PM

    Juliann-
    I hope I haven’t given the impression that I’m knocking NaNo! I was trying really hard not to do that… I think a lot of writers, myself included, worry that if they’re not doing NaNo, they’re doing something wrong. I wanted this post to be reassurance that it’s okay to sit NaNo out. That’s all.

    It’s AWESOME that your husband and mom are doing it with you — I think that would make it so much fun! (Unless you’re like me and would get competitive with your family… Lol.) But yeah, the community is definitely the best part. And I read all the pep talk emails anyway, hahaha. They are fabulous!

    And oh yeah, absolutely, nowadays a ton of great novels get their start as NaNo projects. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and many, many more.

  9. kaye (paper reader) says:
    Sat Nov 5 2011 at 9:24 PM

    When I found out that The Night Cirucs and Anna/Lola/Isla were all NaNo projects I just about lost it with a sense “I can do this. This can be real for me.”

    I’ve always wrote things, but never had an idea that I wanted to share with people until last year and when my friend mentioned NaNo again to me I just sort of *knew* that it would be the gateway for me to finally sit down and empty my head. I’m unsure and nervous, but excited and hopeful.

    A girl can have a dream, right?

  10. Kristan says:
    Sun Nov 6 2011 at 8:18 PM

    A girl can definitely have a dream. ;) Especially an intelligent, talented girl such as yourself.

  11. Juliann Wetz says:
    Tue Nov 8 2011 at 1:06 PM

    I knew you weren’t knocking it, Kristan. I was just offering my two cents’ worth. It actually surprised me that any writers would feel that this was some sort of measuring stick. I think it’s really only meant to be a writing challenge, not a test of writing merit. And, like you said, it’s about pursuing your passions.

  12. T. S. Bazelli says:
    Tue Nov 8 2011 at 5:33 PM

    I’ve never participated in Nano but I’ve heard good things from the people who have done it before. I’m pretty good with my writing habits, so I don’t really feel a need to join.

  13. Anna Elliott says:
    Fri Nov 18 2011 at 11:05 AM

    Is the 21st your b-day, Kristan? That’s my 4 (soon to be 5 year old’s) birthday. Anyway, in many ways I totally agree with you and I was REALLY tentative to do NaNo for exactly those reasons. Honestly I’m still not sure I could ‘for real’ do NaNo, as in start a novel from scratch and write 50K words in a month, because my first drafts are SO sucktastic and my process is to edit and re-edit the early chapters until I finally have a good handle on the story before I can move on. Anyway, great post, and a great reminder that every writer’s goal should be to write a good book. Period. No matter how much or how little time it takes.

  14. Kristan says:
    Fri Nov 18 2011 at 11:09 AM

    Anna-
    Yep, that’s my bday. I’m glad to share it with your child. :)

    “Sucktastic,” lol. I’m that way too: I edit the front end more heavily, because it’s the foundation I need to proceed with the rest.

  15. melissa says:
    Fri Nov 18 2011 at 1:36 PM

    I did it once…and “won” so I know that I CAN do it…but the 50,000 word novel (and I’m using that term loosely) is so crappy that I haven’t ever even opened that file again on my computer-ha!

    So, NaNo is Not for me either…because the pressure to produce that many words that quickly got me doing too much writing and not enough noodling about characters/plot etc…so I ended up with something chock-a-block with easy cliche’ characters and dialog and actions. It takes me time away from the keyboard to come up with interesting people and stories.

  16. Tracy says:
    Sat Nov 19 2011 at 6:36 PM

    I tried NaNo one year but had to abandon it once Thanksgiving hit. I’d love to know who came up with that month.

    Yeah, I know I could pick a different month and do it on my own but the fun is the camaraderie.

    But I like the general approach of sitting your ass down and writing with abandon.

    I just wish, wish, wish it was a different month. January and February would be perfect since many of us are holed up with winter.

  17. Kristan says:
    Sun Nov 20 2011 at 8:36 PM

    melissa-
    Yeah I think everyone works differently, but I tried a “just push through, don’t worry about quality” style draft once, and I just couldn’t care enough about it to even finish. I need to have *some* degree of pride in the story/writing, or else I have a hard time motivating myself to sit down and work on it at all.

    Tracy-
    I KNOW, RIGHT? (It’s also me and my dad’s bday month, which eats up another couple of days.) I actually DO like the idea of picking a different month — maybe the key is to find a few friends to join in?

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