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Why I’m not doing NaNoWriMo

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) several times and “won” once. Since I’ve had kids I’ve usually tried to do it, and failed every time.

Chris Brecheen’s post NaNoWriMo: The Good, The Bad, and The Really, Really Ugly inspired me to write this post, but I agree with many of his reasons not to do it, and I’ll use my own experiences to highlight why. Chris’s points are in black.

It’s a terrible month to do it. As a mom I’m already overwhelmed by life in general. However in November I have one child’s birthday (and birthday party), Thanksgiving with all the attendant cooking and the added bonus of my children at home for three days, the usual family commitments–rock climbing/gymnastics/Mandarin/karate, along with the day to day stuff. Now I’m sure I could find things to complain about every month, and the pace of my own writing reflects that I have never really found the balance between writing and family, but November seems like a rough month in general.

Some people stop writing because of it/It instills a sense of failure.

However, even though I know Nano is a popular event among aspiring writers, I implore people who have never had any real experience writing a high word count every day not to participate or at least to lower the word count or in some other way practice self-care. I wish I could tell you they always listened. But we don’t live in the magical sugar cane land of rainbow unicorn farts and candy corn mountains. Instead, Charlie gets his kidney cut out, and what I have is a collection of friends and acquaintances in various levels of existential crises about whether they’re even really writers and how impossible writing can be. They burned out like shooting stars and slammed into the unforgiving wall of Nanowrimo.

Because of Nano, there are some people out there who AREN’T writers anymore.

The one year I won, I felt like a million dollars and I felt inspired to start a blog that I dutifully wrote in for two years until I had a kid. However, it should also be said that the one year I won I’d just had back surgery and wasn’t allowed to do very much. I basically stayed in my house alone, watched tv, and wrote. NaNo was the thing that brought me back to writing after not having done much of it in six years. However, the first time I attempted and failed NaNo, I didn’t shrug it off. I did feel like a failure. I didn’t exactly stop writing, but I stopped believing I could write a full book. I stopped and started and failed to write several books, which reinforced that belief. I couldn’t even get them to fifty thousand words, much less more, which reinforced that belief. Completing NaNo isn’t a measuring stick by which you can define your ability to write.

People think they’ve written a novel. Fifty thousand words is a lot but as Chris points out, it’s also a totally abitrary number. For most anthologies I’ve been involved in, it’s the bare minimum for a print run. It’s nearly two hundred double spaced pages. But by most publishing house’s standards, it’s a long-ish novella. A full on novel is usually nearly double NaNo’s goal of fifty thousand words. Further, like Chris points out, there’s a whole cottage industry around NaNo that preys on the winners, offering to publish their books for a fee. Or authors shoot themselves in the foot and self publish without an edit. I certainly felt “done” and was super proud of my “book.” I even printed it out and had it bound. That doesn’t make it a book and more importantly it doesn’t make it a good book.

It emphasizes word count over everything. Let’s build on that–it’s all about vomiting up a first draft. About halfway through Not What His Mother Expected (I know, terrible title) I realized that the main couple wasn’t the interesting part of the book. His sister and her girlfriend would’ve made a far better star. But I didn’t start over and rewrite it as Not What HER Mother Expected. I kept going because you’re not supposed to edit–you’re just supposed to vomit out your ~1700 words a day–and part of the reason NWHME sucks is that it really shouldn’t be about the main couple. Further, there’s no real emphasis on the all the work that comes after. There’s no EDitDEcember (and Jan and Feb and and and). There’s no real value of craft.

Personally, I learned my craft first when I wrote, obviously. You can’t edit or improve that which you never wrote. I started on Literotica.com, which I highly recommend for erotica authors. I found a supportive community, which in turn encouraged me to write more. I got better by writing more stories. But I didn’t really get better until I started editing. Finding good beta readers who didn’t stroke my ego, but rather told me what sucked was bruising. I still brace myself when I get comments from betas or editors. Writing fifty thousand words one time did prime the pump, so to speak, but it isn’t what made me a good writer.

I stopped writing this entry to go and find my NaNo story. The prologue was so bad I could barely get through it. Honestly, it’s so bad I can’t even bring myself to share anything beyond the title with you.

Word count matters eventually. Short story submissions usually have a minimum and maximum word count. As I said above, short story anthologies usually have a minimum word count to get a print run, and publishing houses each have their own rules about what constitutes a short story/novella/novel. But you will not be published (outside of self publishing) if you don’t edit.

Also, word count outside your novel doesn’t count for NaNo. This blog post is over a thousand words and I wrote another blog post for my other blog about moving my cat to Singapore. Probably about the daily NaNo word count between them, but neither “count.” Technically, neither does any of the editing/extending that I’m doing on Plunder because it’s not a new, shiny story that I started on November 1, 2017. And I find that irritating because all of it is writing. Maybe in thirteen years, when my youngest is in college I could do NaNo as a personal challenge over and above whatever novel I’m editing and blogging (or whatever we’ll be doing in thirteen years) but certainly not this year.

So no, I’m not doing NaNo, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If you want to do it, go for it. But be aware of the high “failure” rate and don’t beat yourself up for not finishing. Don’t beat your chest and think you’re done when you do finish (well, beat your chest because it is an accomplishment). I’ll cheer you on, but I’ll do so from the bleachers.