It’s November and that means different things to different people. For non-writers it means that it’s nearing Christmas. For writers it means mayhem, panic, dehydration, and the slow descent of madness. Many aspiring authors see this as the perfect opportunity to force a first draft from their bleeding fingers within one month. Every writer is different and has their own process, though it is wise to write a first draft as quickly as possible, before the characters taste freedom and make a run for it. It is a good incentive to use something like NaNoWriMo to finish it. And sure, pressure makes diamonds, but not everybody makes it and what does that do to your self-esteem as a writer? There are some definite pros and cons when it comes to joining this race to The End. Is NaNoWriMo really worth it?
You Are Not Alone
One of the benefits of joining NaNoWriMo is that you are not alone in this struggle to pen down the first draft. Sure, that is probably always the case when you surround yourself with writers, on Twitter for instance. And as a writer there are plenty of voices in your head. However, in this case you start writing your novel at the same time and you share the deadline. This feeling of being in the same paper boat can be very motivational. On the other hand, this can also be a con. Watching everyone around you finish, proudly exclaiming their victory, while you’re left in the dirt if you don’t make the deadline. You are not less of a writer if you don’t finish NaNoWriMo, just like finishing doesn’t make you any more of a writer. You’re a writer because you write novels, and there are no rules attached to how often and when you write.
You can’t edit what you haven’t written. A blank page is not something that can be reshaped into a story. You need words, you need chapters, you need a first draft. In order to have that first draft, you must first finish writing it. NaNo forces you to do just that. It makes your daily goals visible, as well as the overall goal. That can be enough to kick you into action. There is a sole focus on getting your draft on paper, no matter if it’s crap. Again, this can also be a con. Every writer is different. I’ve been typing away at a mystery with a steampunk vibe to it. Things were going swimmingly as some psycho ripped into my protagonist’s prostitutes and literally took their hearts with them. My protag doesn’t let anyone mess with her and works with a coroner to catch the killer. They did as I told them. But then I hit a snag. And I wasn’t even sure what kind of a snag. Where was the problem? Why couldn’t I write more? And I realised I wasn’t happy with what ONE DIALOGUE had done with the shift in relationship between the coroner and my protag. That’s it. Easily fixed, right? But that’s because I allowed myself the time to think about it. If this had happened during NaNo then I would have been lost and incredibly demotivated. Mainly, because I wouldn’t have allowed myself to look back. Even in this case it took me a while to look back, because my standard first draft mode is also all about writing it down and going forward. Depending on what kind of writer you are, NaNo could therefore be pointless. Sure, you want to finish your first draft, but in what way?
Word Count Focus
Focussing on how many words you’ve written can make you blind to the bigger picture. I’ve been using Scrivener for a new project and I like how focussed it keeps me on my novel. I write in scenes now, and beforehand I know what I’m going to write about in this scene. I plan in such a way that it still allows for freedom in case my characters decide to go about it a different way. However, it makes me a lot more relaxed and more productive. I easily finish a scene because my goal is not to write as much as possible, but to finish the scene. Usually I manage to finish a chapter in one day, which consists of three scenes. The downside of NaNo is that you focus on word count and I’m not sure that that’s the way to write your novel. However, it could be that it’s just personal so this may not be a downside for you.
Writing means you are your own boss. You decide how you write your novel and when. Writing the first draft should be written down as soon as possible, but do it right or you’ll end up giving yourself more work. Your characters won’t like that and neither will you. November is just one month and I usually manage to write a novel in six weeks to two months, which I think is a decent time for a first draft. I don’t need NaNoWriMo for that and neither do you. It does offer camaraderie and the chance to get in touch with other writers. When you do make it, it does feel like a huge accomplishment, but when you don’t it’s a huge bummer. When writing a novel it’s important that you do you. So if it works for you, do it, if it doesn’t, don’t. It helped me a lot in the beginning stages of my writing career, but now I’m at a point where I feel like I don’t need it, so what’s the point of joining? Just remember that whatever you decide, you are a writer.