4 reasons not to participate in NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for the “hip” and “friendless,” is an event spanning the month of November during which would-be writers with ADD prove that they can write 50,000 words before being distracted by their next hobby, usually liberal politics or mustache finger tattoos. I think that’s the official description.

There’s no doubt why this appeals to so many. Writing is a lonely sport, the most dangerous game, oh the humanity, etc. It’s nice to know you’ve got a bunch of people doing the exact same thing; even if writing is still not a social activity, there’s a modicum of comfort in knowing you’re part of greater effort.

But let’s get real here: this is to actual writing what playing in a sandbox is to being stranded on a desert island. For most people, it’s a novelty more than a long-term activity, a quick, watered-down trip for people with “write a novel” on their bucket lists. And if you’re a “writing tourist,” by all means go for it. Hope you have fun. But if writing’s what you want to do in life, NaNoWriMo will do little for you unless you’re just starting out and need a jump-off point, and here’s a quick list of reasons why.

1. National Novel Writing Month is every month. Here’s the thing novice writers don’t understand about writing: if you hope to improve or even get anything done, you have to write every day. Of the year. Every year. This includes holidays, days off, funerals, comas, days you’re tied to a rock in the jungle while cannibals are cutting open your skull, possibly even Columbus Day. This scares a lot of people for some reason. If you find the idea of hammering out some paragraphs on Chinese New Year (No! Make it stop!) frightening, perhaps writing isn’t your deal. But if you like to write, you like to write, and you’ll gladly do it even when a makeshift scalpel is being used to excise your prefrontal lobe as a gift to the village elder.

2. The novel doesn’t end at “The End.” If anyone has ever told you about their experiences with NaNoWriMo, it probably began with them blurting out the first chance they got that they “wrote a novel.” “I wrote a novel!” they’ll cry, blasting their superiority at you like an ion beam cannon. “You don’t respect my novel? Fuck you!”

Here’s the thing, Bragg Braggerson: your novel sucks. With NaNoWriMo, you’re carrying only the burden of a word count (50,000 words, which, by the way, isn’t as an outrageous amount for one month as you may think), without following through with the process of editing. Writing the thing is the fun, easy part, but editing is the beast that refuses to be tamed. You’ll still be cutting words and paragraphs and even whole characters months after your first rough draft, and you’ll think I thought I was done with this shit a minimum of 900,000 times. And the more you read your novel, the more terrible you’ll think it is, and the more amateurish your writing will seem, and god help you if you find that a whole chunk of your story turns out to have been subconsciously lifted from something Mark Twain wrote in the 1870s. That’s another dozen hours you’ll spend developing claustrophobia at your increasingly cramped desk taking out that bit about a kid named Tom Sawyer tricking all the kids in town to paint a fence for him (but in all honesty you should have known better).

Yes, 50,000 words, although short for a novel, is pretty impressive. But what’s more impressive is conquering the editing process without hanging yourself. And since NaNoWriMo has no standard of quality to follow, I’m guessing 85% of participants put their horrible rough drafts away as soon as December 1st rolls around and immediately set out on the Great Bragging Pilgrimage. Hey, by the way…

3. If you’re the type of person who is going to brag about doing this, stop right now. As previously mentioned, NaNoWriMoers (what the real hip kids call it) love talking about the novel they finished. They also love talking about how they “do it every year” and lament their “lack of time come November,” but reiterate that “it’s so worth it.”

Hey: you’re suddenly talking to somebody who wants to slip an organ-liquidating virus into your four-dollar mocha. If the victim of your mental masturbation isn’t in fact also participating in NaNoWriMo (which would be pointless, since the whole reason for bragging in the first place is to display superiority, an impossibility if the person sitting next to you is accomplishing the exact same thing you are), that person probably doesn’t want to hear it. My guess is that if every NaNoWriMoer grasped at once that no one cared about their “feat” as much as they do, the participation rate would plummet like an expired ham off an overpass. 

4. If you pronounce the abbreviation, NaNoWriMo sounds like a deaf person saying “Geronimo.” 

This all being said, I acknowledge that NaNoWriMo can be a big help for certain people. For those just starting out writing seriously, for instance, this would be excellent preparation for the daily solitary confinement it takes to do so. And yes, there is a lot of justified pride to be felt after writing 50,000 words. But if you’re a novelist with any experience and you participate in this thing for bragging rights, or, more likely, because you feel you have to be a part of any big writing event, you may be wasting your time. If you’re going to write, just write, regardless if it’s November, July, Stanuary (the quickly discontinued 13th month), and even, if you can live with yourself, Flag Day.

But feel free to disregard everything I just wrote. After all, my last post was about pimp canes.

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About Christopher Haygood

Christopher Haygood is an incorrigible punk from the darkest sector of Nowheresville. He is a writer of novels, short stories, articles, screenplays, threats, and fake prescriptions for the unsuspecting elderly. He is not yet infamous.
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3 Responses to 4 reasons not to participate in NaNoWriMo

  1. You are so right. To throw together 50k worth or words and call it a completed novel when it is only a rough of a rough of an outline is silly.
    However, I believe there is an underlying purpose for this contest – it is to show those drunk party goers who claim to be writing a novel that…. they aren’t.

  2. Bill Chance says:

    I’ve found a “novel” written during NanoWriMo is pretty much useless – but I have been able to use chunks of text I generated in short stories. You’re right about every month being NanoWriMo and that 50k isn’t that much – but I try to write 50K in addition to what I would have otherwise worked out.

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