No to NaNoWriMo

In January, everyone should try and choreograph a ballet. In March we should all write an opera, and in June everyone should paint a fresco. Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? And yet the idea that everyone could write a novel in November gets a good deal more acceptance. Why do we assume that, while these other forms would require skills, knowledge and practice beyond most people’s experience, anyone can write a book? It drives me round the bend.

Getting people to explore their creativity is something I’ve always considered important, but I think that should begin with a respect for whatever form you are working in. To start by assuming the form is easy, requires no study, research or insight, is to set yourself up to fail. I don’t think that benefits anyone. So, here are a few counterarguments.

Fifty thousand words is not really a book; that’s rather short. Seventy five thousand plus is a better bet, and that’s half as much again. Fifty thousand words written in a month are also not a finished book. At best what you have is a first draft. Most authors working professionally expect to go through a few drafts. The only one I know of who doesn’t is Mark Lawrence.

The most prolific professional authors who are also able to get into book shops – the Terry Pratchetts of this world (and there aren’t many) typically do not put out more than a book a year. There are reasons for this. Before a book goes out, it will go through extensive edits. Before the editing stage, the author will most likely have been through a number of drafts and re-writes. Before that, and perhaps during it, there will be research, planning and consideration. Even authors who do not start with a plot plan have to do research. I see online that many NaNoWriMo folk actually do start this process ahead of time, because you can’t do it all in a month.

National Write a first draft for a very short novel Month would not be so catchy a title, but it would be a good deal more honest. That in turn would give participants more realistic expectations. Because of course if you don’t manage it, you haven’t failed. Fifty thousand words in a month may be possible, but that doesn’t make it necessary or desirable. I probably write that in blog posts alone, between this one, Patheos, Sage Woman, Ruscombe Green and Moon Books. A novel is more than a big pile of words. It is character and story, themes and style, it has structure and continuity. If you care at all about the beauty of your language and want just the right turn of phrase, of course you can’t reliably bang out fifty thousand words in a month. Then there are the rest of life issues. If you have a job or a family, and especially if you have both, the time involved isn’t viable.

If you need NaNoWriMo to give you permission to try and write a book, please ask why that is so. If this is something you want to do, then do it because you want to do it. If you need the driving force of a big national campaign to get you writing, maybe you aren’t as driven by the desire to write a book as you think you are. Perhaps the buzz of putting your word count onto facebook each day is a motivator? As though number of word written actually means something.  As with all creative forms, a lot of people are more drawn by the scope for fame, fortune and attention than by love of the craft. Write a book because you have a lot of ideas. Write a book because there is something you want to share with the world. Do it to give voice to something never before spoken, for the originality of your story, the brilliance of your word craft, the need to share something. Not because someone decided to make November into novel writing month.

If this sounds like sour grapes, well, yes, maybe it is. Not an envy of the people who can write fifty thousand words in a month, though, because I can and do. Some years ago I was commissioned to write a novel in six weeks. The money was good. Seventy five thousand words, including redrafts. Mercifully I’d already done some research and gathered a few ideas when the job came in. I pulled it off, but it made me very ill, and it took a long time to recover my creativity afterwards. I don’t want to see authors treated as just another commodity to exploit, expected to churn out work at this rate no matter the personal cost, or the impact on quality. Stuff that! So no, I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo and I won’t be encouraging anyone else to, either. If you want to write a book, do it, but do it as best you are able and for the right reasons, please.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

292 responses to “No to NaNoWriMo

  • Just a Little Background Noise

    That’s funny, I liked where you started this; liked the rest too. A valid counterp position. I just like to see people excited about writing, though I’d never do something like that. I’ve written a thousand or so words every day for 20 years or so – it’s just habit. There’s nothing wrong with a few sour grapes – it is very much in your face quite a bit this time of year!

    • Nimue Brown

      People excited about writing is something I can get cheerful about… more grass roots movement around sharing the spoken and written word perhaps…

      • Raj

        What “Druid life” is putting through is a well deserved point. But What is that: Yes, NaNoWriMo does make writers to attempt for lukewarm effort at writing a novel, making a go at a novel they like to write or even simply taking the first step to something. You can or you wont. That’s simple as it is. An opinion though.

      • Nimue Brown

        Thank you! And yes, absolutely an opinion that will not be right in all cases and that people are welcome to disagree with, or demonstrate does not apply to them.

  • Jeff Lilly (@druidjournal)

    My answer, for what it’s worth, is that it lowers the social cost of
    writing. I have many priorities that outweigh writing, and most of
    them are social (work, family time, friend time). This is why I
    usually have to write on the bus. And this is fine — as much as I
    love writing, there are lots of things in my life that are just more
    important and urgent… NaNoWriMo allows me a socially acceptable way
    to punch up the writing priority for a while, to exchange social time
    for writing time. Rather like medieval times at carnival, when the
    fools ruled over the kings… No one wanted the fools to rule all the
    time, but it was good to do it once in a while. 🙂

  • Thorsvin

    Are you really shaming people who are trying to embark on a creative endeavour? Just because they maybe aren’t motivated or courageous enough to do it without support?

    • Nimue Brown

      I hope not. What I am doing is questioning the culture around this, and whether the project actually achieves what it claims to be for. I think that is open to question. And yes, I question the utility of the support, because if you start out down this path imagining it should all be like NaNoWriMo, the realities of the industry will tear you to shreds, and I think that’s worth mentioning. It would be nice if the world were universally safe and lovely, but it isn’t, and I’m not sure that it can be if you are putting heart and soul on the line in the form of your work.

  • Aine

    I really, really don’t like this piece. You tell us you support creativity…but you don’t show it at all in this piece.

    Yay, you’re a professional writer. That’s really good, and really cool. That’s no reason to effectively shame or deride people for enjoying an also really cool project. (One that usually has local communities that get together and discuss writing and create lasting friendships, which people who have participated in NaNo know.)

    But I don’t think it is ever at all appropriate to tell people what reasons they should write. We stifle voices by doing that. And the reasoning your using here is also used to keep out a lot of writers who aren’t skilled or polished.

    The point of NaNo isn’t to put out a fully crafted perfect novel. A little bit of reading on NaNo would have taught you that. It is meant to get people writing, and I don’t think you have to step into the world fully educated on a subject to try it.

    This line, though: “To start by assuming the form is easy, requires no study, research or insight, is to set yourself up to fail.”

    You know what? Yeah, I’m gonna tell everyone I know they should write. I’ll encourage them to do NaNo if they think they can handle it. (Have you done any reading of NaNo or interacted with people who participated in it? It’s not considered easy at all.)

    But the reason I’ll tell people that they should write, that they shouldn’t be scared of writing – is because I’m sick of seeing people excluded from literature, from participating in and with literature, and from making works of words because of the exact rhetoric you’re using.

    Finally – just because you write that many words every month doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of people don’t. NaNo can be and is life changing for a lot of people, giving new writers or unsure writers a safe place to explore and learn and play.

    Before you write a rant about something, maybe read about it.

    • Nimue Brown

      I am fascinated by the number of people assuming that I must have no basis or personal experience for feeling the way I do. I am also fascinated by the assumption that this is about my ‘professional’ status and that what I’m doing is putting down ‘amateur’ authors. I’ve spent far more of my life as the second than the first, and have only ever made money writing because I was also willing to do other things, custom, ghosting, editing, non-fic… I do not think we encourage creativity in any way if we do not properly value the forms in which creativity is expressed, if we do not champion the good stuff, if we do not value that which has value. I keep saying, I will encourage people to have a go, but I also question motives because I think that’s healthy. If NaNo is a great expression of joy, love and opportunity for you, that’s fine. If you are doing it for the ego-buzz of posting the daily word count, actually, that could stand looking at, and if that makes you uncomfortable, really look at it. If my words make you uncomfortable, so be it.

      • Aine

        I’ve never participated and am not participating in NaNo, but go ahead and make that assumption.

        I actually pointed out /what you wrote/. Maybe you should have written better (especially with all your talk of how much you value the ‘form’ of writing). And if a bunch of people are interpreting your work a certain way, that reflects more on you as a writer.

        I think you’re contributing to rhetoric that pushes people out of writing (which I said), and I’m not going to stop saying that. I brought up points that I hoped you would address, but I see you won’t, and dialog with you is pointless. (You’ll just brush it off as me making assumptions rather than actually dialoging with me.)

        You can’t write the ‘good stuff’ until you write the really, really shitty stuff.

      • greenfairy429

        Here’s my question for you… Who are you to say only ‘good stuff’ should be championed? I have a writing partner and we easily churn out about 3,000 words a day each. But you don’t have the right to say what we right about has no value. Now I’m not saying you wouldn’t either. But hypothetically, if you didn’t feel our writing was considered “good stuff” does that mean you’re going to discourage us from writing?

        The purpose of NaNo is not to churn out a finished novel in 30 days. I have a published friend who spends the month of November focused on other novels she hasn’t focused on while she finishing one for a recent release.

      • Nimue Brown

        Who am I to judge? A published author with a reputation to maintain. If we are talking about judging specific pieces of work, I am not going to give active support to a book I do not think is up to scratch because to do is would be to compromise my reputation. I do support work I think is good, or that I think has potential. If someone likes my work, they may enjoy the same writers I do, and if I can help another writer that way, I will. That is not any kind of ultimate judgement of worth. Other people may feel differently about a book – and rightly so. I haven’t read your book and therefore cannot comment on it specifically. If it was good, I would try and help you in some way, if it was flawed I would tell you as best I am able and it would be down to you to decide what, if anything, to do with that feedback. I don’t offer that often and I need to see something that attracts me before I will reach out to another author in that way. My time is finite.

        At no point have I made any broad statements to the effect you suggest. I have asked some questions and if the result of that is that you are now questioning the value of your work, that is between you and your work and I cannot comment either way to either encourage you or otherwise. It is your choice to take my words personally, or not.

      • greenfairy429

        For someone who is supposed to be a supporter of creativity you are very close-minded. I have taken absolutely nothing you have said personally. And I have no issues with the quality of my work. As I have published, award winning authors in full support of what my writing partner and I do, I don’t require anyone’s justification to my quality. But the way your post comes across: If you don’t think a person’s work has value then they shouldn’t bother even trying. And that goes against anyone’s belief who truly supports creativity. Me personally, I will read anyone’s work and offer whatever assistance I can. I don’t have to be interested in their particular topic to do that…because I am a beta reader, reviewer, editor, and a writer.

      • Nimue Brown

        Yep, guilty as charged. I have opinions, preferences and tastes, there are things that I do not enjoy and things that I do not value. Other people are welcome to have other opinions, I have no argument with that, but I do not waste my time on things that bore me or that offend me by being written in a way I do not like. I make no apology for it. My point is not that someone whose work has no value shouldn’t try but instead that everyone who takes their writing seriously should be trying for the highest standards they can think of to aspire to. I see that as encouraging people to flourish, and anyone who finds that threatening maybe needs to think about why that is the case. Be the best you can. If that offends you – I can’t begin to imagine how that works.

        If you have the time to read everyone who asks you, that’s splendid. Lovely. I don’t have that time, I have to juggle carefully and I therefore choose, in my own way and for my own reasons. I am more use as a reader to people whose work I know about and understand. Many issues are genre specific, and I consider myself more valuable as a beta-reader where I have some idea what I’m talking about. You are welcome to think differently. I prefer editors who understand my topics and genres because they have more insight to offer.

        You will find if you put your work into the public domain, that the issue of ‘justification to your quality’ (did you mean judgement of your quality?) becomes highly pertinent. People will judge you. Feel free to read the comments here for a sense of what that might be like to experience. People will judge you a lot, and not always fairly. They will judge your word-craft and your phrasing, your spelling, your grammar, your ideas and every other aspect of your work.

  • Bruin Silverbear

    I find that in all things, what you put into something is what you get out of it. If you want to write 50,000 words and the only kick in the ass you can get is this “contest” or “challenge” then you are not really challenging yourself. Good post Lady Brown. I am with you on this one.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you. I appear to have kicked a hornets’ nest.

      • Jennifer Tavernier

        Yes! LOL! But what a grand one! Sometimes, people need to get into it and air their heads out, too – And look at all the writing! LOL! Hat’s off for throwing bacon into the tiger’s mouth…. Reading anything, (like careful comments crafted for FB) -even semi-crafted, is a lovely thing – but often, reading spontaneous author /writer’s thoughts and where they are in relation to their writing/view of a specific thing is wonderfully chewy. Thank you!

  • angharadlois

    I think you make an important point here: writing seems to be analogous to teaching, in that most people think they could probably do it professionally – and therefore we seem to have less respect for it, as a particular skill, in this culture.

    In Welsh lessons I remember we had to learn all the different forms for expressing ourselves through prose and poetry; I found it stiflingly restrictive, but I appreciate the skills I learned, and I also appreciate the clearly defined status it gives to writers in that culture – none of us are under any illusions about how difficult it is to master that craft.

    It is fun to get people writing, just as it is fun to get them painting, sculpting, dancing, singing… I think you are right to call for more focus on inspiration and the craft of good writing. Really, it should be an encouragement to aspiring writers to learn, firstly, that they shouldn’t expect to be able to produce a great work of art from a standing start with little or no experience, and, secondly, that it is possible to learn these skills, with patience and dedication, and a healthy attitude of respect for the craft of the writer.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes, that thing, which you have just said a good deal more effectively than I managed to. That was what I was moving towards. Thank you. For anyone who cares about their creativity, the invitation to do more, and better is as much a joy as it is a constant challenge. There is no place of ‘good enough’ and there is always more to learn.

  • Nimue Brown

    Aine, there are other ways of experiencing a thing, and my perceptions have been shaped over many years by exposure to people who were very loudly doing NaNo and very vocal about their opinions of themselves and their work, who then went on to put that work into the public domain. It may not be an experience representative of everything everyone does, but it has coloured my perceptions, and I find you are upholding them for me to a considerable degree.

    Yes, I am openly, shamelessly and very clearly contributing to a rhetoric that pushes people out of writing. I make no apology and have not pretended otherwise. Anyone can sing who has a voice. Not everyone can be or should be in front of an audience. Anyone can draw who can pick up a pencil. Not everyone should have their work on a wall. Writing is no different. Do it for pleasure, by all means. Do it for the joy of it, but recognise that actually, those degrees of quality and value matter, and that empty things, poorly written do not deserve the same attention as beautiful works with the power to move and inspire.

    If you want to be in that second category, do the work. Put in the time. Study, practice, experiment, yes, write the crappy stuff. They are part of the learning process. Much of it is about the time given to work and craft. If NaNo starts you on a journey, and you are willing to make the dedication, fine. If you want to play, fine. Know the difference. Do not dishonour what is truly good in the world by trying to democratise everything.

    • lunix1583

      Yes, well said. I wanted to reply to your comment further up about “good writing” but found I couldn’t. I find that had a great book I was reading (sci-fi) was edited by someone who had no passion for that genre, and indeed found it boring, this would have actually offended the author and the novel for me personally.

      I think it is possible to edit work no matter your interest in the content, however I only think this can be done from a technical point of view and not subjective. How can an editor of a crime-novel edit the work if he finds crime novels dull? The editor would surely not pick up errors, and would probably dismiss great crime writing simply because they would not find it interesting.

      Great article anyway, creativity should flourish, but it also needs to be harnessed to produce great writing. Experience of writing should tell anyone that. I myself am a writer of a specific niche, in that I know not every editor would like my specific style of writing, but it just means I need to work harder to find an editor that does!

      If the writing is good, readers will read. I suppose if books like Twilight exist, anything can, right?

      • Nimue Brown

        An editor who doesn’t know your genre might not even get what is necessary style for the form, and what would strike habitual readers as rubbish, so might not even be good for the technical proofing. All genres have their trends and fashions, dancing around the familiar while avoiding the cliché is a job all by itself. There are plenty of inexperienced ‘editors’ who do not grasp that there’s more to the job than proof reading, I’ve dealt with a fair few in ebook land. Many have written a couple of books that didn’t sell and moved into editing as the more lucrative option. I’ve had subplots destroyed by editing mistakes, and texts sent back with ‘corrections’ that actually added more mistakes than they fixed. Scary stuff.

      • lunix1583

        Definitely, I have no ‘real’ experience myself in editing, however when the opportunity has arised I’ve always had to take “does this style interest me” into account. If I’m thinking the only real critique I have on the work is it bores me it’s time to pass it on to someone else!

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  • Heather

    nano was my training tool to start writing every day. what I found the most helpful though, were the people I met through my local nano group. We’ve become each others fans and cheerleaders as we honestly pursue this thing called writing. But I’m not doing it this year. I’m just writing.

  • allthoughtswork

    “Why do we assume that, while these other forms would require skills, knowledge and practice beyond most people’s experience, anyone can write a book?”

    Have you seen the crap on the shelves these days? THAT’S why.

  • andreablythe

    I’ve never needed Nanowrimo as permission to write a book. I’ve been writing before I ever heard about it and will continued to write and edit after. But what Nano does provide for me is a sense of community and fun that can get me to put more words on a page than when I’m caught up and lost in my day-to-day life. It’s making a game of getting that first draft done, and for that I’m grateful.

    But you’re not alone in Nano not working for you. I’ve heard plenty of others who find it doesn’t work for them and find no value in it. Though I also know of a ton of professional writers, as well as amateurs who find Nano great — and a lot of them know that this will be neither a full book or a finished draft.

    I think like any form of creativity , you should go with what inspires you, what keeps you working, and what brings back the fun.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think a chunk of that has to depend on how your writing methods relate to the processes. Some people thrive on deadlines, and may well rally benefit as a consequence. Some of us need pondering time and get all stress if the clock is ticking, and that authoring set are not going to have a good time. I worry that innately sower people exposed to this will end up feeling inadequate, when there is absolutely nothing wrong with them as creative people.

      • andreablythe

        True. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t as a writer is all an experimental process, though. So, there’s nothing wrong with trying out Nano and deciding it doesn’t work.

        I can see what you mean about how some might take it hard, and start to feel guilty about not being able to complete. The idea is to build confidence not hurt it, so in those cases that’s not a good thing.

  • Damian Trasler

    My understanding of NaNo was never to get EVERYONE to write the 50K in a month – it was providing a forum for some inspiration. Writers can be lazy – clearly, you’re not one of them, as a considerable contributor to many blogs. For a lot of people with the ideas but no the drive, a lower target in terms of word count and a specific time limit gives them a chance to achieve. Once you’ve written a complete 50k word draft, writing the next draft doesn’t seem that hard.
    I’ve never done NaNo because I am that lazy. I know I would fail. I am, however, a successful playwright, and I’ve written my own 50k story too. It’s going to be published either late this year or early next. I think NaNo is a valuable tool for helping people find motivation, not a “Catch all” for getting everyone to try novel-writing.

    • Nimue Brown

      You have a self-knowledge that it might not be fair to ascribe to all NaNo folk 🙂 Lazy slow, or creative slow in a good way… slow isn’t a bad thing. You re a professional playwright so clearly slow isn’t a problem for you at all because what you do is effective. How many people see the speed requirement, know they are ‘lazy’ and then assume they shouldn’t even try?

      • Damian Trasler

        I’m sure many do. But you’re never going to fit everybody with one size, and like your post says, we shouldn’t be aiming to. I don’t want everyone in the world writing novels, but I am in favour of some high-profile ideas to give a friendly kick up the backside to people who want to, but never have. For one thing, it may show them that it’s not easy, and not for everyone….

  • A.J. Goode

    You make some valid points. I agree with you on some of those points, but I also participate in NaNo every year.

    I am a writer who struggles to finish anything. I go back and revise and then start over and never actually get it done. Doing NaNo has taught me to keep going, push through and get to the end. It won’t be perfect, but it will be my first draft, ready for revisions. It’s a weight off my shoulders as well as a point of pride to be able to say that I finished the first draft.

    Of course it’s an artificial deadline! I could set my own writing goals that have nothing to do with NaNo, but the accountability of NaNo forces me to focus.

    A whole lot of crap gets written in November. Hey, a whole lot of really bad music gets played every fall when new band students up an instrument the first time. A lot of pint-sized ballerinas trip onstage at their first dance recital. Does that mean they should all give up without ever trying, just because they will probably never be The Best?

    • Nimue Brown

      I am very much in favour of the trying to be your best, but I’ve had a few comments on this post now about how it is ok to write things that lack quality, and that troubles me, and rather conforms my impression that NaNo skews priorities for some people. Aspiring to do well is a good thing, but feeling it is fine to be mediocre, that’s actually a problem, as I see it.

      • Lenora Rose

        I think it’s because for most, NaNo is a starting place, and everyone starting fresh on a new creative endeavour knows, or should, that they *WILL* do badly. Nobody hopes to STOP at writing badly, but they know they’ll begin that way. It’s a crash course for people who’ve never tried creative fiction. It’s like being a beginner music student making squawks come out of that recorder, not like being at a publishable level. It’s doing 2 things: 1: Training one into the habit of producing any work and practicing the craft in the first place, and 2: getting a lot of people who’ve said “I’d like to write a novel some day” to actually try. Many/most complete newbies fail; but with a new appreciation what’s involved. Some keep on through the year, produce and practice more words. Some then go on to practice NaNoEdMo (Yes, there is a National Novel Editing Month: I think it’s March, because they wanted it far enough from producing the draft to be objective about its (lack of) quality.) Some wait for the next NaNo. Some never do it again, and just feel content knowing they learned something, even if that something is that it really is hard to write fiction, and their favourite authors really are brave to keep toiling away at it.

        One of the most popular how to- syle writing books out there (Bird by Bird) gives explicit permission to writers to produce Shitty First Drafts (The expletive is hers, not mine). On the basis that, if you have a first draft, you have something to revise and improve. if you have some pretty words in your head, they can never actually get better. it’s the same reasoning.

      • Nimue Brown

        I think permission to make mistakes is vital, we have to be allowed to get things wrong in order to learn. I wonder about the psychological impact of giving permission for the shitty first draft. I know this may be mostly about the semantics, but the nuances of words have impact on how we think and feel. Rather than talk about the shitty first draft, what happens if we say “Your first draft will not be perfect. It will have flaws, but once you have something down, you can see those flaws and work on them, and improve what you’ve got’. Why aim for anything less than the best draft you can get down? Yes, it’s got to get out of your head to count, but you might get a pretty decent first draft. Some people do, and undermining confidence in the first draft with a default assumption of ‘shitty first draft’ may not be helpful, either. I’m wary of anything, in any context that smacks of ‘one true way’.

      • Lenora Rose

        The “permission to suck” thing is a meme throughout writing. The instructors at the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop – in particular Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Managing Editor at Tor Books, give out a certificate saying so (With the caveat “As long as you suck a little less each time”). And unlike NaNO, this is a workshop aimed at writers who are already at the least *close* to publishable, and intended to help tip them over the final hurdle, so the idea of improvement of craft is not only present but the central point.

        I also think you’d like this one of this year’s pep talks, by Catherynne M. Valente, which also argues for quality. . It was the first and only pep talk from this year I *cheered* at.

        I don’t know if anything can be done about the wider world’s perception of what NaNo is and what people involved do, because people will misunderstand regardless. Nor, in case I’m making a bad impression, do I actually think it is *the* way, or even the *best* way. it’s neither. But the aspect of forcing the writer’s word count tap on to full for a while and the editor tap off for as long as possible, that was never my issue with it.

      • Nimue Brown

        Thanks for throwing that in the mix!

  • JackieP

    I do NaNo, this is my second year doing it. I do it because I love to write, I love a challenge and it’s both. Do I expect a novel out of it? No. Not without a whole lot of editing and more writing and more editing. I don’t think it devalues literature or the business of writing. It helps with discipline and dedication. I love good books. I love good writing. But what I enjoy reading and what I think is good writing, others might not. That’s what makes reading so enjoyable. There are so many choices out there for all of us.

    The more people that find a burning desire to write and therefore to read is great. That’s the way it should be. NaNo isn’t for everyone. Obviously it isn’t for you, but you shouldn’t put the benefits of it down just because you don’t like it or feel it’s not valuable. And of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. Just so long as everyone understands that’s all it is.

    You don’t like NaNo, you don’t feel it contributes much to the writing process. I, and others think you are wrong. Because we’ve done NaNo. We feel proud that we accomplished something. And it is an accomplishment. You might be able to whip out a few thousand words each time, but not all of us are so lucky.

    So we do what we think will help us. NaNo is not just for writing, its an attitude, especially for young people. An attitude of accomplishment. They form a love for reading and writing which is awesome to see. Many do become published. Not just self published either. Another awesome thing.

    Some people just need that extra push once a year to really sit down and write. They have many other things going in their lives and feel selfish to be writing, so once a year they carve out the month of November to just write without so much of the guilt.

    Anything to get people to read more, to challenge themselves more, to yes, write if that is what they want is a good thing. I don’t see how finding their passion negates the writing profession.

    • Nimue Brown

      You don’t see how it negates the writing profession because you don’t see the pressures writers are under to up speed and output – especially in smaller publishing houses. The abuse famous authors get for not churning out fast enough (George RR Martin springs to mind). There are wider cultural issues here, and wider industry issues, for which NaNo should not be held wholly responsible, but it is part of a trend that I know is problematic. A 50k book in a month may be fine if you do it once a year, but I know people who are finding they have to do that four and more times a year, plus edits, just to survive in the writing business, and I do not believe that’s a good thing.

  • Barb Drummond

    I agree with almost everything you say, but the exercise has produced a few books of merit, and this is a good place to get spotted. A journalist writing about this subject claimed that she needs someone to poke her with a stick to get her writing, which I think is a fair comment. Lots of people claim everyone has a book in them – maybe, but not a good one, or one that anyone but devoted family and friends would want to read.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve seen a claim in another comment that some 20,000 people will finish, so, good place to get spotted? Not sure. A wily self-promoter or someone who already has a fan-base will no doubt be able to use it to raise their profile, but that is a different thing entirely.

  • Lidia Prawdomowni

    I am also No to NaNoWriMo. Some people do need the group support though that it provides, I understand. NaNoWriMo is also good project to get some people out of a procrastination mode.

  • Deva Jasheway

    Reblogged this on Between Worlds and commented:
    As I mentioned, I’m taking NaNoWriMo and semi-participating, altering the rules to fit my own schedule and needs and ability. The point that 50,000 words is usually NOT a full novel is exactly why I don’t think it matters that my own goal for the month doesn’t match that–because you won’t have a finished product no matter what you do. I have yet to go through the heavy editing, multi-draft process on anything I’ve ever written. Maybe that’s why I haven’t managed to get anywhere with any of my writing yet, who knows. But I know, like anyone knows who has tried to write beyond school papers, that the “writing part,” as difficult as it may be at times, is the easy part of writing.

    Although I don’t think that NaNoWriMo’s claim is that anyone can write a book–at least, not one that’s worth publishing. I think it’s more of a catalyst and, now, a way for writers to make connections. Anyone who reads this and has experience with it, please tell me if the NaNoWriMo community has been beneficial to you. Maybe next year I’ll try to participate for real.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you. I’m a huge fan of opening debate, thinking about things always strikes me as being a good idea. Hopefully people will pick your comment up and head over for further discussion.

  • duplikate

    Yeah, wow. That really does just sound like sour grapes. I don’t know if you’ve ever actually looked at the page, but I’m pretty sure they don’t think you’re actually going to write a novel in a month. I’m pretty sure that the idea is to help people get into the mode of writing consistently. For people that have had trouble knowing where to start, just writing down any ol’ thing is a really good way to do that. It doesn’t have to be good. You never have to use that in any of your real novels later on, it’s just to get you in the habit of writing a little bit every day, because every day you do that it gets a little easier. I can’t actually believe that you believe a thing you just wrote, so I’m pretty sure it was just to stir up controversy about something that all other bloggers know about at a very apt time in order to get pressed ever-so-freshly. So, congratulations.

    • Nimue Brown

      Wow. Yes, I was stunned about being freshly pressed, I had no expectation that this blog, of the 700 odd already on here would get picked up, but I’m such an attention-whore that I’ve been blogging every day for several years now 🙂 I do shamelessly pick up on topic issues that might be of interest to people, I admit it.

      I don’t like ‘it doesn’t have to be good’ as an attitude. It’s an excuse for mediocrity, which the world has plenty enough of already. People doing anything should know that they can aspire to do it well, beautifully, brilliantly, with style and grace. Everything. the more we tell each other that its ok to be useless, the less good there is. I happen to care about that, and to care about the people who try to do well. Everyone falls short, everyone makes mistakes and that’s a part of the learning process, but the aspiration is vital. Why settle for being less than you could be? Why not try to be the best that you can?

      • duplikate

        I mean: it doesn’t have to be good to be helpful (in your quest to write something that IS good). Maybe you write something that is not good, but can be made good after some hearty editing. Maybe it can never be good, but you tried something and it didn’t work and you figure out why and, the next time you write something, you can avoid failing in the same way (even if only to fail in a new and exciting way!). Maybe when you write it, it’s not good, but it’s better than sitting terrified of writing something bad and so writing nothing at all. As you say, nobody is a brilliant, best-selling, world-renowned author right off the bat. So step one in this process is to write something, anything – do your best, but don’t worry if it’s not awesome. We could all use some good ol’ fashioned practice. 😉 (Especially people like me who cower and never show anyone anything they’ve ever written or start a thousand things and never finish them, because the start isn’t good enough so why bother – dumbdumbdumb.) And some of us need a good ol’ fashioned kick in the pants.

      • Nimue Brown

        The whole point, from my perspective was to talk about the need to recognise that there are things to learn. It does actually hurt less and take less time if you start the learning before the doing, and that could stand more mention. There are many aspects of authoring that cannot only be learned by doing, but which can be approached through thought and study. Ideas about voice and characterisation, plot, narrative shapes, tones, styles, structure, themes… if you’ve even thought about that a little bit before you pick up the pen the first time, you’re in a much stronger place. If NaNo works for you, do it, no issue there, but my concern is that it doesn’t work reliably, and that other things may be needed in the mix for more people to benefit.

      • brett79

        By that logic, should someone ever get on a bike? I mean, they might wobble at first, and doesn’t the world already have enough wobbly cyclists? You act as though writers are proficient or they are not. Your opening paragraph speaks to the opposite of that. NaNoWriMo is not about creating a publishable work in November. It’s about writing and joining a community of writers. It is a fun, challenging exercise. Mediocrity isn’t the goal. Writing for writing’s sake is the goal.

      • Nimue Brown

        Um, my whole point is the need to learn. Yes, you can take a bike riding approach and wobble off in the hopes of not crashing. Some of us, to grab your metaphor, cannot cycle, and on wobbling and falling over might assume they could never get out there on wheels. I quite literally have a trike for this reason. There are many ways of doing things, different ways work better for some people than for others. I think NaNo offers an oversimplification, a bike if you will, which while it clearly works for some, may do more harm than good to others. I can’t ride a bike. I don’t have the balance or the nerve. That doesn’t make me a failure as a cyclist.

      • brett79

        Your point about needing to learn is lost when reading your comment replies. NaNoWriMo isn’t about producing a great novel, so if it’s mediocre, what is the harm? Let the revisions begin. It’s an exercise. It’s a simple premise, not an oversimplification. Do you know how much effort the team puts into hosting this event? There are numerous blogs, tweets, emails that not only encourage people to write (and keep writing beyond November, mind you), but strategies to write, because yes, there are many ways of doing things. The organization is about creating writers, not best selling authors. Your point that participants “falling off the bike” will do more harm than good is negated by the fact that you seem to think that those people shouldn’t be writing anyway.

      • Nimue Brown

        You might want to try reading the comments written by people who are not getting on with NaNo and who need different approaches. Nothing is perfect, and NaNoWriMo cannot possibly hope to work for everyone, no matter how much effort is put in. I believe in offering alternative perspectives. I am actively supportive of people who want to write, in all manner of ways. No one is obliged to listen to me, or take me seriously, but anyone who finds me useful is very welcome to stay and chat. NaNo is not a religious icon to be worshipped uncritically, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want it to be that. If a thing is truly good, it has some means to stand critique. This is a pretty basic thing you either learn as an author, or are defeated by. If my largely irrelevant dislike for NaNo irks you to this degree, what would a bad review do? We cannot hope to learn and grow without looking at what isn’t perfect yet. NaNo isn’t perfect. That’s fine, but it is worth talking about. And the harm of the mediocre, is to the person who is not encouraged to believe they could have done better in the first place.

      • brett79

        No, NaNoWriMo isn’t a religious icon. It is not perfect, either (why November?). I’ve participated twice and won’t be doing it again this year. That is a personal choice based on a number of factors. Do I want to? Yes.
        NaNo won’t work for everyone. Your coming across as though it should not work for anyone. Ever.
        It irks me that you are taking a narrow view on this event. Nothing you’ve written suggests that you have looked very deeply into the organization or the event itself. I don’t take your dislike of it personally.
        Again, isn’t a finished mediocre “draft” better than an immaculately written paragraph? It should not be accepted as the best one can do. It’s a start, nothing more, nothing less.
        Writing is worth talking about. Which is why I keep commenting.

      • Nimue Brown

        I’m certainly not intending to come across as though it shouldn’t work for anyone ever, and if you look at my responses to other people’s comments you will see the exact opposite of that sentiment.

      • brett79

        I have read your other comments. I’ve also read some of your other posts. That’s how I arrived at that conclusion. You make broad assumptions about its participants. Wanting the accomplishment of writing a book does not equal wanting fame and riches. Of course, they are people that feel that way, but it is a fallacy to assume that everyone trying to write a novel has that goal. Some people just want to write one for the sake of writing one.

      • Nimue Brown

        I make broad assumptions about some participants, yes. It’s very hard to talk issues without having to do broad sweeps sometimes and the vast majority of people commenting are total strangers. I am limited to what people tell me, and I’ve not been individually judgemental of anyone. I have said things that could offend, but it is my sincere hope only to offend people who see themselves fairly reflected. Anyone who writes for love, (fun counts, its a form of the same thing) who writes because they have something to say, I have no quarrel with. People with unrealistic expectations I would like to point the right way, because I think that’s actually kinder. People who are in it for the ego-trip I’m not a fan of, simply. I don’t assume everyone has the same goal, plurality is fundamental to my world view, in all things.

      • brett79

        Again, I’m not offended. I just think your criticisms are muddled by these assumptions. WordPress tweeted the link to your blog and I read it with an open mind. I just think you came to your conclusions without fully understanding the event.
        If your intent was to point the wayward sheep in the right direction, writing a counter to their process would have been clear. “Instead of that, try this” kind of approach. That being said, it just seems that you don’t like the event and those two “hipsters” that started it The latter part gleaned from your comment thread.

      • Nimue Brown

        The thing is, I write a blog post pretty much every day about whatever interests me at the time. I quite often skim along surfaces as an act of exploration, I’m not claiming any great expertise, it was just a ponder. The effect of being Freshly Pressed (I so didn’t see that coming) is to put me forward like I’m some kind of ‘expert’ creating a context the post wasn’t written in… just a grumpy woman taking issue with a thing. Suddenly there’s a lot of people here, far more than I normally get, and people who aren’t familiar with what I do and why. It’s a whole other experience. If I’d been writing for a newspaper, or someplace I thought my opinion would make any odds, I would have done some research, and I might have written something different. Maybe it would have been the same but with more numbers. This was based on things I’ve seen and things that bother me, and from the feedback I’ve had, I know I’m not alone in this. It doesn’t make me ‘right’ it just reassures me I’m not barking mad!

      • brett79

        I think you should re-read some of your own comments, because exuding expertise has been all over this. On what other grounds could you speak to others’ unrealistic expectations?
        I’m glad that your post created this discussion.
        For the record I don’t believe you wrote this piece to get Freshly Pressed. I don’t think there is a reliable formula to do so even if that was your motivation (I’ve been using for 5+ years and haven’t seen one). It is a fair point that you probably weren’t expecting such a spotlight on your criticism. Just the same, isn’t being “right” as important as being good? Even if no one read your post, wouldn’t you want to know that you had all the facts before you came to these conclusions?

      • Nimue Brown

        Knowledge of what it takes to make a book is not the same as knowing what to expect from the industry. So if you’re not fussed about getting work out there, the second is a moot point. But, I’ve been working with authors for a lot of years, and as an editor I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with people – good and capable authors – whose expectations were way off the mark and who suffered a lot of hurt as a consequence. The media tells us about JK Rowling rags to riches and we see 50 Shades of Gray, and it is so easy to think that’s just the way it goes. Write the book, enjoy the ride.

        I know dozens of authors personally. Hundreds vaguely. One is living the dream, straight to agent, big deal, huge advance, fame, success. Two got there, but a lot slower. Everyone else walks a long, slow, hard road to an uncertain destination. That is the reality of the industry. Most professionally published authors do not make enough to live on. I think more people who want to be authors need to hear this, because these are the realistic expectations – little money and little fame. It’s not putting someone down to try and flag that not knowing the industry leaves you vulnerable. It’s true in any industry. Just look at what the pop industry does to its young victims. I know how naïve I was when I started, and I’ve seen plenty more misplaced optimism in others – in the majority of aspiring authors. It sets you up to get hurt. Someone with a better understanding of the score can make better choices for themselves. What they chose is their business, but I will share what I know with anyone who asks.

        No, I don’t know that much about NaNo, but yes, I do know a great deal about the publishing industry, from self publishing through ebook houses, small houses and large ones, with a range of sources and experiences underpinning that. As well as writing, I’ve worked as an editor, I review for several different magazines, I’ve seen what people publish who do not know what they are doing. I talk to a lot of people who work in various parts of the industry. So yes, the criticism of ‘exuding expertise’ is fair, because I’m writing like I imagine I know something about publishing. All I know of Nano is what I’ve seen people doing with it and not all of that has struck me as being a good idea.

        (Edit note, not claiming any great expertise re NaNo, should have clarified before, can claim some idea about publishing, also chronically sleep deprived and needing o call it a night.)

      • brett79

        Good night and thank you for the discussion. I would be interested to a) read stories about successes and failures in the industry and b) a follow up post about NaNo after looking more into the event.

  • L. Palmer

    My decision to participate in NaNoWriMo this month has nothing to do with inspiring me to write. I have been passionate about writing for fifteen years. As you mention, broken down 50,000 words really isn’t that much. Also, to have a product worth other people’s time requires preparation before the month begins. I enjoy writing, and write as much as I can, and, if the project is right, I truly believe I can get out 50,000 words in a month.

    However, my decision was mainly inspired by the social aspects of the event. Writing can be a lonely business, and this is a chance to network with thousands of people around the world, and to support others. Even if I don’t succeed, I can take a chance and try to get to know people around the world.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes, the loneliness of writing is a real issue. I’ve found the advent of social networking some offset, although it also eats time. My not-for-everyone solution has been to marry my artist, who now sits working at the other side of the table and can be tested on now and then!

  • Midwestern Plant Girl

    I think it is a very motivational type project, but it’s not for everyone.
    Congrats on getting pressed!!

  • Anne

    Whatever happened to writing for the sheer joy of it? The craft, the style, the thought process and creativity? Deadlines exist, all published authors tell us that. But, they deal because their skill is far more able to. And, I’ve always believed that skill comes after learning your craft, honing it.

    We can’t learn if we don’t stop long enough to. Writing is much more about just clacking out the words from a thought that pops into your head because a contest is looming ahead and you must, you must! If you must, then do it because the demon inside is making you, gnawing at you and it won’t stop till you’re done. That, I believe is true writing. Not kicks in the butt from the outside telling you what to do.

    I agree with you on this. You actually made my day, because it is so hard and so many of us try, and sometimes it feels as if no one is really getting it anymore. So, thank you for saying what many of us think. Published or not.

  • joshuahargis

    “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
    ― Ernest Hemingway

  • frostythelindo

    I really don’t quite agree with your point… A couple things to counter.

    1. Everyone CAN write. You learn how to write starting from preschool. If you like to write then you technically CAN write. Now, that’s different from being able to write well, but writing is a basic requirement of society. Whereas you aren’t required to be able to choreograph a dance or write an opera. National Choreograph a Ballet Month and National Write a Novel Month aren’t parallelable.

    2. 50k words is not a book. I agree. But it is the legal minimum of a novel. NaNo isn’t trying to encourage you to actually write and publish a book. It’s the experience of punching out any amount of words larger then 10k consistently for a certain amount of time that counts. So why 50k? Because it’s the minimum. Anyone who really wanted to write and publish their novel would not just stop at 50k.

    3. You can’t blame NaNo for what people do. NaNo is only hosting the event, their goal is to get more people writing. Now it depends on the person. Some people really want to get published and it seems that this contest is the only way to get them motivated to write (in which then I say good luck to them in getting anything ever done) but some people just want to have fun. They just want to be able to tell people that “Yes, I wrote 50k. I just spent a month writing my face off and I have part of a novel that I might have never thought I could write before”. Not everyone who does NaNo wants to be a writer. They just want to understand what it feels like. Curiosity is often the drive for many things. It’s just that this curiosity has gone great enough that people made it official. I’m sure there would be National Write an Opera Month if enough people had been interested in it.

    4. People do not write books just because of NaNo. They use the contest aspect of NaNo to help them write. NaNo is structured so you have a daily goal. It’s perfect for amateurs who don’t know what to do and how. A novel is overwhelming at first sight. I’m sure you’ve felt quite overwhelmed before as well. NaNo is just a portal to finding a way to break this novel into smaller more manageable parts.

    5. I’m sure that most people will not claim themselves to be an author unless they’ve actually published something. “Author” is not being exploited as much as you think. I do admit, yes, lots of people think that now they’ve written lots of words they can get published. But that’s their fault. You can’t blame NaNo for the stupid things people do. It’s like to blame the host of a party as the direct reason for something stupid a guest did. No, that’s not true. In the end, the guest should be the one punished.

    6. If you look at the stats for NaNo, large amounts of people don’t even reach 50k. Of those who do, even fewer have gotten published (I’ve hear numbers in the double digits, but I’m not too sure). I admit, I think it would be better if NaNo included something about a first draft in its title. But what can you do? I’m also pretty sure people don’t just go around flaunting the fact that they’ve just written a so called “novel”. Most people forget about it after the month. It’s a sigh of relief to them. To many NaNo is just a contest. For fun. They don’t consider themselves authors, nor do they consider the thing they wrote an actual novel.

    I think I’ll stop here before I end up writing a full blown essay here. I hope I wasn’t being terribly repetitive.

    I just think that NaNo is a nice way to encourage writing and more people to explore the art.

    Not to exploit novel writing.

    • Nimue Brown

      1) Nope, a significant number people are illiterate, or have such low levels of literacy that they cannot write. Illiteracy is the best long term predictor for a country’s needs for prison places.
      2) I’m not sure everyone knows that, and the wider impression Nano creates is that 50k=book. Bearing in mind many people are exposed to it at a distance, not by direct participation.
      3) Absolutely, NaNo is not responsible for how people use it. It is responsible to some degree for any wide cultural trends it causes, but I did not intend to blame, more to comment on it as a cultural phenomena.
      5) You’d be surprised. People I have encountered along the way have done all manner of odd things…
      6) Now that actually bothers me. What happens to all the people who fall by the wayside? How do they feel about their work, their writing, themselves… the numbers suggest a lot of people who do this can’t complete. Then what happens? I don’t know but it makes me uneasy. Creative folk can be temperamental and easily put off.

      Fun is good, and exploring writing is good, I just don’t think this is the ideal way to do it, and that more productive alternatives might be possible.

      • Lenora Rose

        A note on 6: One of the people who failed to finish is Patrick Rothfuss, bestselling author. Granted he came into it knowing he could produce scads of words, so the fact that he came out of it still knowing the same might not be as much impact. But i think it says something that the people in charge of NaNo chose to ask him to do a pep talk this year – knowing his only time trying was a failure.

        NaNo has made it clear that there’s pride in getting even halfway. Pride in having made the effort. The site as a whole is all over the reality that this is hard, and that it’s not the normal quantity of words a real writer would or could produce, but that it’s an amusing challenge. They have consolations and encouragements for people who “Fall by the wayside”. In most cases, they then suggest alternate ways to keep going, intended for those for whom writing really is a dream. People who “Fail” are not abandoned unless they themselves cut themselves off from the community and choose to abandon it in turn.

        I have a friend who has been doing naNo every year for Many many years. her first 3 or 4 years, she failed. And succeeding hasn’t necessarily guaranteed repetition. Last year, she made 1500 words. Total. As far as I can tell, she’s barrelling along this year fairly well. She’s never seriously wished for publication, but she likes words, likes playing with them, and finds without the extra kick, she just sits and revises and revises and revises her half finished openings, instead of getting to “The end” and going “NOW I can revise it all.

      • Nimue Brown

        Thanks for sharing those – very interesting additions to the picture. I am increasingly coming to think that people who grasp all of this and do NaNo from a place of understanding and who get along with it, are more often than not fine. I remain worried about the folks who, even in face of all of that still get knocked back, perhaps unnecessarily. We’ve still got a lot of issues in the wider industry around about realities and expectations, because no one can write like its NaNoWriMo 12 months of the year, and professionals, and aspiring authors are being put under a lot of pressure to do just this.

  • dtlabelle

    I am participating in Nanowrimo this year as I happen to be researching and working on a piece at this time. I think everyone knows that they won’t have a publishable novel by the end of the month and it won’t be anywhere near 300 pages. I decided to try it to give me a kick in the butt. I know writing every novel won’t be like this as writing is usually a solitary job, but it is kind of nice to make connections. Also, I’ve learned many things that I may not have learned as quickly if I hadn’t decided to participate. At any rate I respect your opinion.

  • Phil Harrison

    I’ve discovered that people tend to be a tad irrational about NaNoWriMo either for or against. I’ve pointed out a few down sides to it and there are a lot of down sides.

    It sort of puts me in mind of my niece-in-law who wrote a book explaining how God helped her over come her horrible troubles with no editor, no betas, no rewriting and heaven help us all the grammar was corrected by my nephew who I love dearly but he’s a freakin’ computer main frame programmer. And she published it. And none of us want to review the thing because how do we explain why we had to give this thing a 2 star rating? She doesn’t take honesty well. And God sure didn’t help her out on the book.

    All that being said, yes, I do NaNoWriMo. Why? Because I can shut up the perfectionist that hasn’t shut down yet. Not sure why I can’t shut that part of me up about writing but for NaNo, I can shut him up. For July, I got 70,007 words which wasn’t bad and I’m in my first rewrite after I finished writing the book. I’m figuring 2 to 3 more rewrites at least.

    My first camp was my first experience with NaNoWriMo and the first time I ever finished a first draft. And I am the one who was going to be the class writer/novelist in everyone’s opinion. My class prediction for where I am right now was “Will be living in Tidewater, Virginia finishing his 20th best seller.” It was all in my head but it was something I couldn’t get around.

    I’m the one who got in my own way. NaNoWritMo with a little help from listening to Stephen Cannell’s videos on his website pushed me out of that way.

    I’m doing November because I needed to leave the July one alone for a bit and the only way to stop poking at it until my mind sorted it out for the rewrite is focusing at November’s. I’m at 16,327 words right now for November. I know it gets shelved and then rewritten after I do the first one.

    It works. I’m not sure why it works. I guess it’s because I like that little graph they put up for each day because I don’t get much else out of it. It’s my Hershey’s Kiss when I do good. I get to see the bar climb. That’s the only thing I would miss off the official NaNoWriMo site and if I can find something like that to take its place, I wouldn’t even visit.

    What can I say, simply pleasures for simple folks. [grin] And the one thing that I’ve learned if you finally found something that works? Don’t screw it up.

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s an interesting point (and thank you for the story) because every writer works differently. You’ve found something that enables you. Folk who respond to deadlines may well thrive in this environment, but there are those who go all rabbit-in-headlights in face of deadlines, and then there was Douglas Adams. Being able to grasp what works for you and run with it, is brilliant. Getting shoehorned into some unsuitable model because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do… can break you in any creative area of work.

      • Phil Harrison

        That’s where it gets really weird. I could give Douglas Adams a run for his money on the quote for deadlines but for NaNoWriMo something clicks. I have procrastination down to a fine art in my normal life. My other half swore I was the Mozart of Procrastination. I hate deadlines. I am the “at 12 a.m. on the day it is due, I finally write the paper” type.

        No dang idea what clicks for NaNo but it clicks and the words pour out.

        That’s why I blame the graph. If you can’t find a logical response, blame the most interesting thing that you like about something. In this case, it is “The Graph”.

      • Nimue Brown

        And that’s cool. Some people definitely thrive on deadlines, and if you know that’s you… or you need that feedback loop with the graph, or whatever it is… do the thing that works!

  • Wotiso

    How about write a terrible album month, or build an online application month?

  • A. van Nerel

    Love your piece…and I love how it managed to stir things up a little. I think you make a valid point, in the sense that no literary masterpiece will likely come out of this. I understand you lament the culture behind Nanowrimo rather than giving people an incentive to write.
    If I may suggest an analogy that might ease your mind a little: it takes a lot of work to prepare a delicious meal. It takes about five minutes to bake a pancake. With Nanowrimo, people are baking a lot of pancakes…but at least they’re cooking. Perhaps some of those people will be inspired to challenge themselves afterward and cook up something worthy of the name ‘meal’. Perhaps that’s part of the culture behind Nanowrimo too?

    You wrote: “If you need NaNoWriMo to give you permission to try and write a book…” I’m not sure if you’re correct in assuming people were waiting for permission. As someone who, like so many others, loves to write, I would think people were waiting for inspiration, a spark of some sorts.
    Of course, one can argue that a hyped ‘X-factorlike’ challenge that has little respect for the ‘art’ of writing is a bad medium for acquainting people with the ‘joy’ of writing. Then again, is that really so bad?

    • Nimue Brown

      A few people have spoken to me about the need for permission, as much as anything else to get the time free, which has interesting implications. On the pancake front, I rather like that. I’m all for pancakes. I wish it was a short story writing project because far more people could find the time to do it, and everyone would get a few readers, and we’d all get to share in each other’s creativity, and that could be a lot more lovely.

  • Barbara Backer-Gray

    I think everyone who participates in NaNoWriMo knows all this. The idea is not to write a finished novel, but to force yourself to write a certain amount for a month, so you have some material to work with. Also, if you have to write a certain number of words each day, it often helps to get over stumbling blocks. Just by free-writing until you suddenly see it. Read the book before you criticize the concept.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve met people with differing perceptions, so, have to disagree there. I agree about the utility of the discipline. I question what the wider cultural impact is for people who do not participate, do not therefore have any insight beyond the name and gist, and may make assumptions about themselves and novel writing off the back of that. You can take me as a case in point if you like. How many other folk are there like me, on the outside, seeing it, understanding it on all kinds of different terms? A better name would largely solve the issues, as I see it.

  • Millie Ho

    As a writer that’s just starting out, NaNoWriMo allows me to make mistakes and cherish them.

    It doesn’t matter if the quality of work you produce is lacking.

    November Novel Writing Month helps you overcome the fear of both failure and success, and I’m in full support.

    • Nimue Brown

      While I’m glad that you find it helpful, I invite you to consider what you’ve just said. Overcoming the fear is great… but lacking quality doesn’t matter? The quality is the soul of your work. Sure, a first draft isn’t going to be perfect, ever, but you need to come away from it feeling that you had some moments of being great, some lines that were perfect. Just a few, just enough to know that its worth heading in for that second draft. If you are going to throw your time and heart into something, surely you deserve to do the best you can with that? Being encouraged to think quality doesn’t matter seems really counterproductive to me.

      • Millie Ho

        Hi Nimue, you’re right, quality is very important. However, I that quality shouldn’t be your highest priority in November.

        I once asked an author how he could possibly write a book in four months, and he told me that he spent the two subsequent years editing. It makes more sense to me to get a first rough draft out (as fearlessly as possible) and then editing just as fearlessly after November.

        Here’s my take on the NaNoWriMo plotting process:

      • Nimue Brown

        Now, if you know that this is the right method for you, then that’s great, go for it. Finding your own way is vital, and if you need to get the shape down first and then paint in the details, that has to be the right way to go, and the shape of NaNo can work for you – excellent. Not everyone thinks that way, though, we each need our own method that suits who we are, how we think, and works for us emotionally. Many thanks for sharing the link, too.

  • Rebecca Meyer

    This is an intesting perspective. I think National Novel Writing Month can mean different things to different people. Some people may misunderstand it and think it’s possible to write and then publish a novel they wrote in a month. To me it’s simply an event attempting to motivate people to write every day. Maybe the name of the event is misleading and so that’s why so many people think writing a novel is something that’s possible to accomplish in a month. We need a catchy (but more accurate) name…

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes! Getting people to write is splendid. A more realistic name would really help. And for every person who signs up and gets it, how many folk are there seeing it from outside and making assumptions about what that name means? Probably lot.

      • Rebecca Meyer

        I agree, I think there are lots of people misinterpreting the meaning of NaNoWriMo. While it can be a great motivator to get us to write every day, we can’t just publish those 50,000 words in December.

  • thestoryofrei

    I agree that the title of NaNoWriMo does leave a lot of information out. I don’t agree on much else.

    Especially this: “To start by assuming the form is easy, requires no study, research or insight, is to set yourself up to fail.”

    No one ever claims that writing 50K words in a month is going to be easy. Or that your end product is going to be beautiful. It’s an exercise in silencing your inner editor long enough to actually get you writing in the first place. Because regardless of how rough that rough draft is going to be by the end of the month, if you can’t get over your inner perfectionism long enough to risk writing something that isn’t stellar on the first try, you’ll never write a damned thing. Right?

    NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone. Obviously. But it’s a useful tool, if you’ll allow it to be.

    And if you’re committed to shaping that rough first draft into something, it can have some pretty awesome results. I reference this article of bestsellers that got their humble beginnings with NaNoWriMo:

    • Nimue Brown

      I know there are plenty of sane people who recognise that they are taking on a hard thing. Along the way I’ve met plenty enough folk who believe that novels are easy, that they don’t need to read in order to write even, and a whole host of other perceptions of that ilk. Anyone who knows it isn’t easy really doesn’t need me telling them that. It’s just I have run into the other thing, and it can be problematic.

      • thestoryofrei

        Oh of course! You’re going to run into people like that no matter where you look and what subject you’re talking about though. It seems a little odd to single out NaNoWriMo as if it’s the only place people act that way. I agree with the sentiment, just not the application of it.

      • Nimue Brown

        I don’t single out Nano, promise, I grumble about all manner of things pertaining to the state of the world, the environment, culture, politics, modern Druidry. Most of the time I try to come up with some kind of positive blog, but I have days when I have more grump than inspiration.

  • Tooty Nolan

    If people want to write a novel, why wait? They should just write the darned thing whenever everyday life allows them the opportunity – like wot I duz – which isn’t often.

  • Katie

    This is amazing. So glad to see more people that aren’t blowing smoke up NaNoWriMo’s ass.

  • themerchantswife

    I really enjoyed your piece and your responses. Mostly though, I liked your final sentence in your last reply. I have been mulling over some thoughts along these lines without being able to put my finger on what it is that concerns me. In this age of public platforms available to everyone there are “those degrees of quality and value” that are often overlooked and really do matter. “Do not dishonour the good…by trying to democratize everything” put it perfectly.

  • Scott

    It’s peer support and a fun thing to do. I’ve been writing for publication since 1963 and I still get a charge from it.

  • broadsideblog

    “And yes, I question the utility of the support, because if you start out down this path imagining it should all be like NaNoWriMo, the realities of the industry will tear you to shreds, and I think that’s worth mentioning. It would be nice if the world were universally safe and lovely, but it isn’t.”

    The world is divided between people are desperate to be published writers, in any genre, and those of us who have done it — and been (well) paid for it, some of us for decades. Many of us who have been vetted, edited, critiqued and rejected by the agents and editors of this world know there is a very big difference between the you-go-girl! mindset of Nano and the grind-it-out reality of producing a commercial manuscript deemed “publishable”.

    I know of very few other fields of creative endeavor filled with such foot-stamping insistence that amateur efforts equal or even trump those of trained, skilled veterans.

    Yes, it’s terrific to try your hand at writing. Cheers to that. But this endless conflation of hitting “publish” on whatever comes to mind and that which is going to be widely read, appreciated and perhaps even paid for? Unresolvable.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes. There are a lot of bigger industry issues underpinning this, aren’t there?

      • broadsideblog

        Which explains my lack of interest in emotional arguments over “who’s a real writer.” Anyone who is earning their living from those skills is fully aware of the many challenges — and word count is usually the least of those.

      • Nimue Brown

        There are a number of ways we might define ‘real writer’. Actually having written something, for a start. Taking it seriously, putting it into the world, engaging with people… word count less important by a mile than whether you even finished the thing 🙂

  • May

    For me, the value of NaNoWriMo is two-fold. Firstly, it provides the sort of ridiculous challenge that I require to motivate myself to do hard things (I decided I needed to start exercising, so I signed up to run a half marathon). Plenty of people are able to do things in moderation. I am not one of them. Secondly, the social support of write-ins, online groups and regular emails counteracts the often very isolating experience of sitting down and writing.

    At the end of this month, I don’t expect to have a completed novel or a polished draft. I expect to have 50,000 words of prose, many of which will have to be taken back out, replaced, tweaked, added to and otherwise edited. But I will have 50,000 words, instead of simply a good idea that I’ve never quite got round to writing.

    Life is busy; some things are important and some things are urgent. Sadly, the urgent things usually manage to take precedence. NaNoWriMo makes something which is important to its participants into something urgent, at least for one month of the year.

  • seanatherton

    These are the benefits (as I see them) of NaNoWriMo:
    1. A catalyst for some who have talent but need a safety net in order to take the first step;
    2. A way to socialize with others who may not be in your normal circle;
    3. A tool for learning that writing is hard work;
    4. A specific (external) goal to prove to _yourself_ that you can put down 50,000 words in a coherent way;
    5. One method for getting past the “perfect the first time” trap many new writers seem to fall into.

    One of my pet peeves about NaNoWriMo is the title: National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words is definitely not a novel, it falls into the category of novella.

    And yes, a lot of crap gets written. But that’s always been part of learning a skill or a craft: at first, you produce crap; however, some of that crap is talented crap (i.e. contains the potential to be excellent…after revisions).

    I live in a city with a very active writing community, both the NaNoWriMo type and the year-rounders. No one I’ve asked actually believes that what they write during NaNoWriMo will be published. I participated in NaNoWriMo twice, and both time reached 75,000 or more words. Only one of them is worth going back to revise, and I haven’t tried to publish either. I haven’t participated in a few years, because writing wasn’t a priority for me. If I were to participate now, it would be for the social aspect…not to get something published or even to reach 50,000 words on a single piece of work.

    I agree that those who are serious about writing should not be tied to a single month…and most of my writer friends aren’t. They write all year, participate in writing groups, and have beta-readers that provide real critiques (not the ego-boost feedback). And yes, they are published.

    Apparently your experience with participants and my experiences with them are different. I agree with everything you said in the original post. I don’t agree that they constitute a complete argument against NaNoWriMo.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thanks for sharing those – really good points. I agree about the name. If it was effectively Writing Month (now international!) then I’d be enthusiastically backing it. Getting people to engage with language, story, creativity – all excellent. It could have been better designed, but it is young in the grand scheme of things and could evolve.

  • PiedType

    Writing 50,000 words a month is a great exercise in self-discipline. And 50,000 words is no small feat. But I agree with you. There’s a huge difference between 50,000 words and a finished novel.

    • Nimue Brown

      Doing it to master the self discipline of writing in that way is definitely a good reason. Journalism certainly requires that kind of ability to put out words, as do some other word-based jobs, so being able to write functionally in that way is a good skill to have, especially if you’ve got some application for it.

  • tessaphotographer

    You make some great points. I agree with you ! Although I still think it’s a fun thing to do, it is quite the exhausting challenge and then you’re left with a rough story in need of a good editor. I’m not doing it this year myself, much too busy for that !

    • Nimue Brown

      Going in knowing that you are likely to have a good and productive experience, which is for the win. I’ve no real argument with ‘fun’ that is harmless, and mostly this should be, so long as people have a realistic expectation of the experience.

  • Hippie Cahier

    A novel is more than a big pile of words. It is character and story, themes and style, it has structure and continuity. If you care at all about the beauty of your language and want just the right turn of phrase, of course you can’t reliably bang out fifty thousand words in a month.

    Thank you.

    Well said. All of it.

  • LillianC

    Well said. I agree completely. How much of what people churn out during this mad dash can be salvaged as useful text? If they do know how to prep first, maybe they stand a chance. Otherwise, they’re setting themselves up for disappointment, discouragement, and frustration.

  • cristyparkersmith

    I don’t think anyone expects the next War and Peace to come of this “competition.” I just see it as a personal challenge that’s helping me make writing a higher priority in my life. It’s more about improving habits than perfecting a product.

  • Noel Ihebuzor

    Reblogged this on visionvoiceandviews and commented:
    Must read!

  • lordofathousandsages

    Reblogged this on Sage's Blog and commented:
    You will love this thoughtful piece

  • geralynwichers

    Hi there,
    You’ve got some great reasons for not doing NaNo, and I agree with a lot of them. For me, deciding to write a novel in a month was about doing ‘the impossible’ and breaking past some barriers. It’s been a great experiment. Once it’s done, I’ll be shelving the novel and getting to the work of putting a previous work through a few more drafts.
    I heard that only 20,000 finished last year, and something like 200,000 are currently signed up. Perhaps it’s comforting that so many will be culled before it’s over? 🙂

    • Nimue Brown

      I wouldn’t say ‘comforting’ I wonder what the impact is of that setback. Sometimes knock backs are great learning experiences, and sometimes they crush people. That’s a lot of opportunities to go either way. I am seriously intending to do a ‘write a short story in January’ project, far less formally, but based on the idea that we could read each other’s stories, and enjoy the sharing, and that there’s every chance of not just writing a short story in a month or so, but doing a really kickass one.

  • C.T. Thomas (@GurgleSlurp)

    But maybe it would be really amazing if in January, everyone who had ever thought about choreographing a ballet, spent the month trying to choreograph a ballet.

    I imagine that Nanowrimo participants go in with the understanding that they are going to wind up with a 50000 word totally unpublishable story, but they might also come out of it with proof that if they want to make writing a priority in their life, they can, and that writing – like many ‘bucket list’ items – isn’t quite as daunting a task as they thought.

    • Nimue Brown

      I have no doubt that is entirely the case for some, it could be for the majority, I have no idea. I know there are definitely some for whom it turns out rather counter productive, and I think everything is worth pondering and questioning rather than taking for granted! Thank you for the comment.

  • womanwalkininfaith

    I want to thank you for being my personal reminder of why one day write a book. I knew, as a child, the title but never was quite sure where to start. Since I did not know how to see beyond the monstrosities of life to be ABLE to finally see a rainbow. thank you for the refocus this day.

    • Nimue Brown

      Start by making time for it, or space for it in your life. Think about books that have inspired you, and what it is in those that moved you. Some people need to plan in detail and some don’t, some books need more research, some very little. Work out as best you can what you think you’ve got, work out what you need to do, and do those things. Read a lot. Think. Dream big. Good luck.

  • womanwalkininfaith

    *why one day I want to write a book.

  • womanwalkininfaith

    Reblogged this on womanwalkininfaith and commented:
    Thank you for the much needed reminder to me. I apparently needed the refocus. wado

  • Nika

    Both reading and writing well are increasingly rare skills. I believe myself to be a good reader but only a fair writer. Your analogies to other art forms are spot on! I could no more write a novel than a symphony.

    • Nimue Brown

      I have whole other soap boxes to stand on there… how we mistreat language, habits of inferring, lack of clarity, poor attention to detail. Good readers and good comprehension skills are essential for democracy to function, and I really worry a lot about the implications of losing that.

      • Nika

        Me too. As a mother of four teenagers, I am also troubled by the loss of vocabulary. My sons friends lack the ability to accurately express themselves in their native tongue.

      • Nimue Brown

        Some of them do get over that. 🙂 But yes, it seems to be ever more culturally acceptable not to be able to communicate well. Can we have an ironic meh?

  • Munchy

    Thank you for so eloquently phrasing what I could only describe as “I don’t have a very good feeling about it… just because.” And if I can’t even describe how and why I feel so negatively about something as silly as NaNoWriMo than it’s obvious I have a lot to learn before I can be satisfied with a draft of a novel.

    Thank you for bringing back perspective!

  • Michelle Joelle

    I think it’s a fun way to help people let go of their inhibitions and try out a new skill. No one is promising you’ll write a publishable novel in a month if you don’t have the skills, but it is a way to encourage someone to try something impossible. Not everyone feels free enough to simply try something – and this is a nice way to give people a push. I do think people should try to learn how to dance even if they have no professional skill set. I do think people should try to paint even if they don’t have natural talent. It’s not just about the result of producing something amazing and salable, it’s about the joy of artistic endeavor. Writing isn’t just a craft to be honed for public consumption, it can be a fun hobby for the average person. So can dance, and music composition, and anything else.

    I really don’t think NaNoWriMo is saying to anyone that they can become a popular author from this method alone, but it does give you a push to just finish that idea you’ve been mulling over, flesh out that outline, don’t be held hostage by a need for perfection. I honestly don’t think this approach is helping me produce my best work, but it’s definitely uncorking some bottled up notions about perfection that have been holding me back. Its a writing exercise – try this method instead of your usual method, which is a great way to stretch yourself if you have a little fear holding you back. That’s all, really.

    • Nimue Brown

      Learn how dance, learn how to paint, yes! Everyone should have some creative outlets and options, totally agree. And learn how to write. I do not believe diving in at the deep end to try and write a whole novel is the best way of doing that, simply.

  • Guillermo Corona

    I was convinced–forced, actually–to partake. I write short fiction, so 50k is a milestone. However, I agree. Writing a novel-length book in a month? It might something good for Wattpad, but that’s it. Though what’s worrisome for me is that my friends in academia promote this as a good thing, pushing their creative writing students into it. As for my endeavor this year, well, I petered out after the first day.

    • Nimue Brown

      Now, take away that whole ‘in a month’ thing, and petering out on the first day is irrelevant. If you found in a week or two that some inspiration offered a way forward, that, in normal circumstances, would be fine. It only matters when there’s the time pressure. Yes, many novels are written to deadlines, but most of them are a good deal longer, my 6 weeks of insanity aside!

  • theinnerzone

    This is such a great post! I love writing, and so many others – some need NaNo to feel good, some just pick up their pens and submit stories to actual publishers. As conceited, it may sound, that is the bottom line. In the end, you’ve to ask – why? Why am I doing this? If the answer satisfies your goal, then sure (which I don’t think, is the case, but I could be wrong) go ahead, else get some worth from those 50,000 words which are not rushed but thought over, inspected and understood.
    Btw, kudos to you for maintaining your stance and outlook for the ones who are vehemently opposing you; it shows your intellectual depth as a writer and a thinker.

    • Nimue Brown

      Know you reasons, measure against them -yes! We’re back to the Delphic oracle and the instruction to ‘Know thyself’ without which the odds of doing the right thing for ourselves is a tad limited. Thanks for the kind words. I do try and formulate a stance I can stick with 🙂

  • Kat Enright

    That’s funny. I just wrote on this topic yesterday. Granted, my piece was much shorter, but you articulated it better than I ever could have. I’ve wanted to be part of NaNoWriMo, and I want to write a novel. I’ve even been caught up in the excitement of it. But it just does not make a lot of sense when you get down to it.

    But the worst part of NaNo, and I covered this as well, is the fact that it’s a month. Not the writing 50K words in a month, but that many people treat it as a fun diversion they do once a year. And if you just want to beat the challenge, then more power to you, but if you want to be a writer, shouldn’t you be cultivating a habit of writing? Something that you do consistently and steadily throughout the year?

    NaNo doesn’t really support that. Yes, there are many “different NaNo’s” that take place throughout the year, most of them unofficial, but it still seems like a system that will not really grow you as a writer.

  • Fredrik R.

    I think you make a fair point. I especially agree that finding just the right phrasing or imagery you want takes more time than simply writing what you want to say in the first manner that comes to mind. Personally know a lot of people who appreciate the value of craftmanship in any form of artistry, but have occassionally come across the same trivializing of writing as an art as you’re depicting here.

    • Nimue Brown

      I also think it matters to have something you want to say – to have ideas, vision, points to make is also valid, and you can weigh that against the word craft. Much of the great sci-fi is more about ideas than beauty of expression, after all. Word count as measure… I find myself thinking of Red Dwarf and Rimmer writing ‘I am a fish’ 400 times….

  • Arphaxad

    I appreciate your opinion, but think you miss a few key points of NaNoWriMo.
    First, no one over the age of 16 thinks that their NaNo novel is ready to be published at the end of November. Of course you need to do rewrites and editing, and numerous other things to polish your story before it goes to print.
    Secondly, it is nearly impossible to write your story in November without doing some research ahead of time. Much like your commissioned work, I did a bunch of research and planning for two months prior to starting in November.
    Third, your accusation that no one takes writing seriously if they are doing NaNoWriMo. I think Sara Gruen took it very seriously when her book “Water for Elephants” was written during NaNoWriMo and went on to win several awards and was made into a movie. James Patterson also fully supports NaNoWriMo while publishing several books a year.
    Lastly, I think the point of NaNoWriMo that you miss the most is the social aspect. It has been amazing to meet other writers in my area and across the web as we share an adventure. NaNoWriMo has gotten my two daughters, my wife and I to all site down and write stories. We talk about writing, we learn about writing and we do it together.
    What better reason do you need to support NaNoWriMo than to see a twelve year old, raised in the electronic age we have, writing a story?

    Thank you for your time. I would be more than happy to add you as a writing buddy if you want to join in the fun. It is never too late to start.

    In case you were wondering. I have never published a book, or even wrote a full length manuscript. I have completed 20k words in 5 days during NaNo and it has showed me that I can do it. I plan to keep it going as I believe my trilogy will require 150k per a book and I want to write it all before my 40th birthday in May.
    NaNoWriMo has been a huge blessing to my life.

    • Nimue Brown

      At no point have I made any accusation that no one takes writing seriously if they are doing NaNoWriMo. You’ll see that simply isn’t the case, if you look at the exchanges with other people. I am questioning motives, anyone who finds that uncomfortable is welcome to ask themselves why that is so. And you’re talking about going to print… and all can say is, it’s a whole other world out there, and perhaps if I take the shine off that just a little bit now, the reality of what going to print means will not crush you later. I have seen plenty of people crushed. Realistic expectations give a person a fighting chance. If that makes me an awful and unreasonable person, I’m happy to accept that.

      • brett79

        But who are you to question their motives?

      • Nimue Brown

        No more or less entitled than anyone else, and no one is obliged to read, or take me seriously. You don’t have to be here. It was pretty obvious from the title where I was heading, anyone who came to be offended – well, that’s their responsibility to a degree. I don’t expect people to agree with me, I welcome alternative perspectives, I have not blocked a single negative comment, you may note, I could have edited out the lot but I haven’t because that makes no sense to me. Half the comments I have to some degree agreed with, easily.

  • Angel

    What a discouraging post. Wish I hadn’t read it. Participating in Nanowrimo for the first time is hard enough without someone telling me I’m writing for the wrong reasons.

    • Nimue Brown

      If you are writing purely for the buzz of the wordcount and the kudos you feel you get for that, I am questioning your motives, yes. If you are writing for love of what you do, then I am not questioning your motives. If NaNo works for you, I am not questioning your right to do it, although there are wider cultural implications I do want to talk about. If NaNo does not work for you I would like to suggest that the problem probably isn’t you, but that NaNo as an approach doesn’t suit you. I know, I’m evil and unreasonable 🙂

  • Thrasher.eduhelp

    I find it extraordinarily comical that so many of you “writers” are spending so much time writing about how a simple contest (NaNoWriMo) designed to encourage people to put their thoughts and experiences to words on a page is bad for writers/writing. There are over 10,000 words in this post alone, proving that “Anyone can write.” Peace be still your passionate rantings on both sides and just go write and create.

    • Nimue Brown

      I feel, perhaps irrationally, an obligation to comment so that people know they are heard and that I (mostly) respect their opinions. Otherwise I really wouldn’t have carried on talking about it! The startling consequences of being pressed. I don’t especially want a fight with anyone, just to air ideas, ask questions, maybe challenge the odd sacred cow, but I had underestimated how angry this was going to make some people. I learn a thing.

  • imogenbell

    I have to agree with many of your points, although I do think while *quality* writing won’t be kicked out in a month, it can be a good starting point for writers who need to establish some kind of routine and schedule to fit their writing into daily life. I’m a terrible culprit for procrastination, and sometimes a tight deadline is what I need to get stuff written down. But you’re right – it does encourage some people who should simply stick to what they’re good at (ie not writing) to produce … low quality stuff. The most irksome posts I see on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page are along the lines of “I want to write a book…but I don’t know what to write about”. These people are not writers.
    I think NaNoWriMo can have merits for the people who want to take a shot at a longer project but need some form of structure to get there. But it has led to a lot of people thinking they are writers, when the day jobs they neglect should be what they focus on.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yes! Totally agree with you. People who just want to write a book should not be writing books, because they aren’t actually interested in writing a book, just in imagined achievement, fame, kudos… it doesn’t work. People who have a story to tell, an idea to share, something to say, those people should be writing. If NaNo works for them, fantastic, if it doesn’t, I hope they aren’t too put off.

      • imogenbell

        Why is it that people are always so much more eloquent at putting my ideas together than I am? Perhaps I am not such a wordsmith after all 🙂

      • Nimue Brown

        I’m forever looing at other people’s work to try and figure out how to be inspired (borrow?). You’ve got the ideas, you have some sense of how you want to sound, most of the rest is a case of doing it until desire and practice collide. The bad news is that, by then you will know more, and want more, and will have moved the goalposts on yourself 🙂

  • Nick Wilford

    Actually Terry Pratchett does put out more than one book a year, even with his illness, albeit some are collaborations. Speed does not necessarily mean sacrificing quality. The point of NaNo is to encourage people to see that writing a novel is viable – every first draft needs tons of work anyway, but it’s a lot better than nothing. I hadn’t heard of NaNo when I started writing novels, but I kind of wish I had. I spent about three years agonising over a book that was ultimately shelved.

    • Nimue Brown

      Now if it was simply Writing Month, I’d be so up for that, and supporting it every way I could think of. I totally agree that simply getting that first book written is a critical stage to go through, although I also think the more prep you can do, the better a shot you have. The more you know about books by other means, the less you have to figure out by doing, which saves a lot of time and effort.

  • Lurkertype

    I’d like to know who picked November and why.

    In the US, by the time you wake up from the Halloween sugar coma, then you’ve got to start thinking about either cooking for or traveling to Thanksgiving — which is going to cost you 4 days right there. Then there’s the early Christmas shopping, which you can’t avoid being reminded of even if you don’t do it. All that on top of school, jobs, children (children who will have those 4 days off school and might be traveling or at least sitting around the house being bored), relatives, friends, encroaching darkness and cold, bad weather… wouldn’t a different month have been better?

    Maybe we should be encouraging everyone to spend other months painting or choreographing or writing music!

    Start simple: NaPoSoMo — National Pop Song Month. Honestly, those don’t require refinement, exquisite metaphor, research… I bet everyone reading here could write one, ooh baby.

    • Nimue Brown

      Song in a month would be viable, fun, we could all listen to each other… More creativity all round would get my vote, and more support for creativity in our lives and more recognition of its value. I’ve been told the founders of NaNo were young hipster guys (I don’t know) but, clearly not mums, not anyone with family responsibilities, I know it is a hard time of year for friends of mine who do like to get involved.

      • Lurkertype

        A song of any sort per month! Anything from bubblegum pop to rap to folk to hymn to lieder or oratorios. You could have just as much feedback, social interaction, and fun.

        It has inspired other projects, such as NaBloPoMo. National Blog Posting Month, where you commit to actually putting something on your blog every day in November. I did that for several years. So maybe some other arts will take off. It’s a shame Bob Ross isn’t still with us to lead NaLaPaMo national landscape painting month full of happy little trees.

      • Nimue Brown

        I wonder if the apparent over-accessibility of novel writing comes at a cost to other creative options? If books were less obvious as the way to go, would we have more chap hop, more ceramic instillations, paintings and rag rugs… Why do we default to thinking we should write a book about it, rather than dancing it, or smearing it in paint onto a nearby wall? Words are perhaps more constructed and less natural than many other media… hmm… thank you for the ponder prompt.

      • Lurkertype

        I only thought of this because of your first paragraph here. But if you expand at length on it, I’ll be happy to read it.

        I think it would be delightful to hear new songs. The same hardware that produces novels can write lyrics and record singing, and computers have entire recording studios in them nowadays. People drummed, chanted and sang long before they wrote.

        Why not share a sketch of your painting, then the preliminary work, then the finished product? How about making a doll from scratch? Think outside the page!

      • Nimue Brown

        The inside of my head is mostly made of words, which doesn’t help, but its an interesting line of thought. I do all sorts of other things, it would be interesting to brave it and share some of them. The music I can probably bear to air, you don’t want to see my drawings, trust me, I’ve not put in the time… photos of things made… and that whole oral tradition was very much what your ancient Druids were all about, and I’m not even trying with that online. I could do more. Thank you for the prompt, I shall look seriously at some audio.

      • Lurkertype

        I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, but my brother is a fantastic artist and I always enjoyed watching his process from bare canvas to finished masterpiece.

        Jewelry making! My friend Lillian C (who posted way up there and was too modest to mention she’s an actual published novelist) showed me some great earrings she designed. We were at a convention and saw a lot of other handmade jewelry, plus people in wonderful costumes, musicians, poi dancers, acrobats, podcasters, cloth workers, artists, fencers, and writers.

  • raonaid

    I find that I work better on a given deadline, in my work like I have to set myself personal deadlines so I can best achieve. It’s the same with Nanowrimo, I feel that it gives me a deadline and focus to actually get words on paper. After November the real work of editing will begin and many of the 50, 000 words will never see the light of day 🙂

    • Nimue Brown

      Having experimented, I can do short stories and essays to deadlines happily, but anything longer, I find the deadline a stress fest. It’s a case of knowing yourself, know what you need, go with that – if you’re doing that, it’s fine. If NaNo leaves people feeling they *should* be able to do it this way and they can’t, and they feel like their failing, that’s not good. Other ways are always available. If you’re happy, excellent, do that thing.

      • raonaid

        You make a very good point, people should not feel disheartened by Nano, the structure of it is just not for some people. And I am only 7 days in…ask me at day 17 if I am still happy 😛

      • Nimue Brown

        And if you weren’t happy, that might be more to do with the set up than whether you are any good. Not all good writers are good novelists, either, other forms are available, so not getting on with NaNo only tells you a very small number of things.

  • Gigi

    Thank you! I don’t want to discourage anyone from writing, but this has always seemed so faddish and unrealistic, and missing the points you make in your post.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think anyone who is discouraged just by talking about what it means… is probably better off out. Writing is full of setback. On the other hand, anyone excited by the challenge, able to defend their own process and so forth, has hopefully confirmed for themselves why they are doing it and what they want. It’s a theory.

  • SPatnaik

    Reblogged this on My Writing in Progress and commented:
    With all of the enthusiasm on NaNoWriMo, I was surprised to read a blog that actually pointed out the drawbacks to trying to write a novel in a month. The writing process itself is never easy, and for many people like myself, my process is slow and patchy. My ambitions urge me to write 50,000 word in one month, but the reality is that I tend to write much slower and through many drafts. In that case, NaNoWriMo is too overwhelming for me. So, it was thrilling to me to read another writer who felt the same way.

    • Nimue Brown

      There’s a few about, and others have shared links if you can wade through the comments, all kinds of different perspectives. Every writer is different and we all need to find the ways of working that suit us best, so talking about that diversity strikes me as being a good thing!

  • mrscarmichael

    You have released me, stopped me feeling guilty every morning that if I only post something on my blog it’s a failure because it’s NOT my novel.

  • sentimentalnonsense

    If you read at the nanowrimo site, they agree with just about everything you have said. They tell you (REPEATEDLY) you aren’t going to write anything good in a month. It’s more like an endurance exercise. So why do it? Because it’s FUN. And for people who aren’t professional authors, it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. No one is being exploited, nobody expects a work of genius to come out of it. And if anything it makes people who don’t respect writing get an idea of how difficult it is. That’s my whole counterargument, it is FUN, and it’s not hurting professional authors or the art of literature in any way. Maybe it annoys publishers who get a flood of terrible first drafts at the end of the month, but hey, worse things have happened.

    • Nimue Brown

      Yeah, that is actually an issue, sometimes, the extra big ‘slush pile’. If you look through the comments here you’ll see all manner of examples of people for whom it doesn’t work, and people who clearly have some odd ideas about what they can realistically expect to achieve. Most NaNo folk are sane, lovely, doing it for good reasons, just having fun, as you say. I do have issue with the pressure professional authors are increasingly under to churn work out at this kind of pace. I’ve seen that, and I’ve seen what it does to people. Maybe NaNo folk know that no one can really write a book in a month, but the expectations of creative folk in all professions can be awfully unrealistic about time scales. Not NaNo’s fault, part of a wider cultural issue, but it needs mentioning because there are wider implications here that probably aren’t visible to many of the people involved.

  • J. T. Frazier

    I thought NaNoWriMo was simply a way to encourage authors to focus and get out the beginnings of a draft. Don’t edit or rewrite. Just get out the germ of a story. After cranking out those 50,000 words, take that as a start to a real book.

    The way it’s been portrayed to me, and most people I know who are involved, are already writers. So why the need to do this. Change up from the norm can help you break through. Having an excuse to gracefully drop of the social media scene can help focus. Seems like a reasonable idea. Not necessary but sometimes we just need that kick in the pants. .

    • Nimue Brown

      I think for many people it is, which is fair enough. It does have wider implications, but for anyone doing it happily – might as well get on with it. I worry about the people it does not suit and who end up feeling guilty or like they are failing, or not authors because it doesn’t work for them. Not everyone responds well to the kick up the bottom.

    • jameswilliaml

      I find that a germ of a story is found in a solid foundation in a few chapters to build on. That foundation only comes from a lot of thought and a lot of experimentation, which also means a lot of negative word counts. In my mind, plowing ahead ignores the good habits of editing that build the necessary working points that form good novels. And a complex novel needs to be slowly written to make sure each plot point, each subplot, gets attention. NaNo ignores all this for word counts.

      • Nimue Brown

        I learned today that not re-reading or revisiting is one of the ‘rules’! Madness. How do you keep track of your own work over a month without re-reading it? That is simply not a good habit to foster and as you say, puts the word count before all other things.

      • jameswilliaml

        That is utter madness. That might actually be the single worst thing a writer can do. I have a math background on top of everything else and to tell a mathematician working on a proof to never reread would be the single most insane thing that can be said. Creation needs direction, and that has to come from past work.

  • mannequinmonthly

    I read the book written by Baty, and even joined NaNoWriMo, but never finished to the end. It is not easy writing coherently when you need to churn out the words. What to chose was also a ?. I had so many starters to chose from I couldn’t pick one. Now, I am working on one with a backup when I get stuck with writer’s block. If I try for the 50,000 in 30 days, I am not working on my more serious, I want to get published, books. Plus, I can type in my own time line, edit and edit some more because I want it as good as it can be and readable for others, not for some 30 days writing event. NaNoWriMo is good for what it is. Kick starting your writing. Sure wish it would auto-edit for me though! If it did, I would be right on it.

  • kiyudesu

    Geez, I never liked the idea of NaNoWriMo at all and you just perfectly explained why.

  • thespiritualrebel

    Many professionals, especially in a limited market such as writing and publishing actually fear competition from an amateur who may be the next big thing, one more spot taken might mean one less spot for them , it’s more about insecurity than aesthetics or love of the craft (that was pompously painful to write).
    There are readers of all levels not just those who read the thorough bred literature, it stands then there should be writers for all levels and not just the lauded literati.
    As far as I can see NaNoMo seems to be a good idea, get people excited about writing or even just about the possibility of writing and the stress an amateur may feel trying to come up with 50,000 reasonably worthwhile coherent words may actually deter some.

    • thespiritualrebel

      Oh meant to add, congrats on the controversial post and being freshly pressed.

    • Nimue Brown

      Basic figures go… number of books published internationally has radically increased, number of book sales has not grown to match it. You are right, that has implications for people who are trying to make a living this way. I do not think we benefit as a culture if we get into a place where we cannot support creative professionals. If we push towards arts being ever more amateur, I think we impoverish ourselves. No one person is going to make a heck of a lot of odds either way in this, but at the same time, it is as well to flag up the trends, I think.

      • thespiritualrebel

        Whilst I concede you have a point about the figures of books sales, wouldn’t it be better to encourage more people to read books rather than discourage people from writing them? Books are a fabulous and undervalued source of both entertainment and knowledge, in this technological age.

        I fear one day in the future imagination will all but be redundant unless we are hooked up to some screen showing us what we should imagine. I know for myself there has never been a movie made that compares to the movies in my head when I read and good old fashioned books never run out of batteries, somehow others just don’t see it that way.

      • Nimue Brown

        Most of the time I’m out there touting the good stuff, I review, I do shout outs for books I think are good. It’s just this was the post rocketed randomly to infamy by Word Press. Its not how I spend most of my time. Lots more reading would go a long way to counter the issues of quality in writing. Simply, people who read more are better authors. And reading books is good. Did you see what Neil Gaiman put in the Guardian a few weeks back? Brilliant stuff, worth googling if you haven’t read it.

  • Thirteen Thoughts [1] | Another Book Blog

    […] read this piece about NaNoWriMo the other day, and was a bit taken back by how egregiously off base this guy was […]

  • Nanowrimo and Self-Publishing | storyweaver12346

    […] of the post that appeared in the Freshly Pressed page. You can look at these first. One was called No to Nanowrimo and the other one NaNoWriMo: Because the World Needs […]

  • In Defense of Creativity: A Response to No NaNoWriMo « Real Writers Write

    […] openly against the practicality of participating in National Novel Writing Month. The post, “No to NaNoWriMo,” kicked young, creative minds in the teeth with very strongly worded arguments against the […]

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ll just comment that as soon as you venture into sharing your work, ‘kicked in the teeth’ is inevitable. (see my post author envy for details) a bit of warning on that may make it easier to bear. Better to be put off a bit or prepared a bit by a stranger in a blog than find out the first time your work, or your qualities as a human being are torn apart, in public. It will happen.

  • jameswilliaml

    I coincidentally wrote my own argument against NaNo. My main beef is that it encourages bad writing habits. Writing a certain amount every day, though noble, is not the whole point of writing. Editing as you go, rereading what you read the day before, and most important, pruning bad sentences, is more valuable at times to a book than plowing ahead. And at the end of the month, how many 50k word books will just sit on the shelf waiting for a much needed edit that will never happen because the only thing learned in the month is writing more?

    I read people who prepare and research for the month in an attempt to write as their next whatever book. As though they only write during one month out of the year. I have a book in progress, getting to the rough draft stage too. There’s no way on earth that I’m going to force it. I still have more research to do. More minor adjustments to previous chapters to do. And most of all, I don’t want to rush the character development. I’m dealing with sensitive issues of failure, loss, loneliness, and infidelity. These are not subjects to force my way through. They call for careful phrasing. The alpha chapters I have up will be rewritten over and over and are only up so I can get some feedback on whether the endeavor is good in the first place.

    But I’m a cynic. I think the world is inundated with terrible books as it is and this only encourages more terrible books to be written in an effort to achieve a word count.

    • Nimue Brown

      As you didn’t post that link, I’m going to It’s such a good insight into the importance of knowing your own process, as well as flagging up issues of quality and what actually makes for a good book. Many thanks for sharing your words here. If it takes 180,000 unfinished books to get 20,000 finished ones of which maybe 20 are worth publishing… (I am guessing the last figure, I have no idea, but it definitely isn’t most of them!) that doesn’t seem like a promising set of odds to me.

  • Duckie Brewer

    I agree with what you say for the most part. I would never be able to paint a masterpiece in a month, and just like I could never write a truly amazing book in a month. However, the beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it introduced me to other writers. Many people I’ve encountered so far are already a part of a large writing community, and they write beyond NaNo all year long. NaNo just put me in touch with them. As for the book, they call it their first draft, and they are fully aware of the work that needed to be done before and after. The reason I’m truly doing NaNo is not for the pretty charts or the glory of pounding out 50,000 words (I’m almost well past that). I’m doing it because I want to meet like minded writers in my area. Just last night, I learned about Scrivener and talked through organization strategies with other authors. I think if you’re doing NaNo just for the bragging rights, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. However, it’s a common misconception that writing is an act of solitude. Great writing comes from sharing, community, and process. NaNo is not the end all be all of it, but it can be a valuable tool if used correctly.

    • Nimue Brown

      I very much agree with you. Understanding the way in which books come out of a context is important, and I worry for the folk who think they can write by hiving themselves off from the world, (rarely a good idea) and the folk who think they can write without reading. That connection is important. The only trouble with amateur communities of any kind is that it can be a case of the blind leading the blind, and if nothing else that can mean you take a lot of time working out from scratch things someone could have told you – as with Scrivener! If you seek out people who are doing what you want to do and doing it better than you can, in any aspect of life, you can speed up your own growth a bit.

  • Sam

    I want to comment on this, but only to say the same things other commenters have said. I don’t see my NaNo project as a finished piece in any way. I had an idea for a story and I’m taking the month of November to write it down. I find myself thinking almost hourly, “I’m going to have to edit the f*** out of this before I even show it to my critique partners.”
    I see NaNo as a chance to explore my characters and plot so that when I do a full re-write during another month of the year, I know them well and can see their change easier. I can know when would be a good time to foreshadow and if it’s too soon for a certain plot point.
    I’m appalled that you wouldn’t support writers to write because that’s what’s at the heart of NaNo. Even the founder promotes the importance of NaNoEdMo (Editing Month).

    • Nimue Brown

      Nowhere have I said I wouldn’t want to support writers. Actually some of the comments on here have turned into private conversations about how I can help, and if you look at my guest blogs section you’ll see something of what I do to help other, often new authors get a platform and some visibility. If you know what you’re doing, and are getting on with it – that’s fine, I’m not judging you. Given the way you’re talking about foreshadowing and plot points… you know something about novels, you have a grasp of technical aspects of writing, you are quite simply, a long way from what I was grumbling about!

  • Karen Dowdall

    Your read my thoughts or I read yours – I could not agree more. I am new to Word Press and I am really trying to be a good writer. It takes learning, time, study, and everything you said. The NaNoMonth of writing makes writing a game instead of something beautiful from the heart and soul- not to say that many are not heartfelt expressions as well as being engaging, interesting and worthy, I am sure some are, but it is kind of like high school – sort of.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve seen in the comments lots of lovely, thoughtful people doing things for reasons – what’s not to like And then yes, those other folk, ‘high school’ rather nails it. I realise online we can’t readily tell ages, perhaps some of them simply are that young.

  • nredford86

    Reblogged this on thebackwardstereotype and commented:
    Some really interesting points here and in the comments as well

  • John

    Ironically, when Nov 1 rolled around I was deep into some heavy editing of a draft I finished in August (and had been letting mulch). The craft of writing has its own rhythm. So no, I haven’t been tempted by NaNo, either.

  • In Defense of Wrimos Everywhere: A Response to “No to NaNoWriMo” | Official Home of Star Davies and Divica

    […] openly against the practicality of participating in National Novel Writing Month. The post, “No to NaNoWriMo,” kicked young, creative minds in the teeth with very strongly worded arguments against the […]

  • stressingoutstudent

    Hm, I have mixed feelings about this – and no doubt each aspect has already been covered by someone who commented above, but I see NaNo as an exercise. This doesn’t mean everyone does, but that’s how I treat it. To my knowledge, the point of NaNo isn’t really to crank out a whole book in a month – it’s a month long exercise in getting over your perfectionist self and start priming the pump, getting your ideas down on paper in some form. Does this degrade the art and supposed seriousness of professional novel-writing? I don’t believe so. Producing a masterpiece is far from what NaNo is about. I’m not even going to say that stuff like Fifty Shades shames the art because plenty of people do love it. Who am I to rain on their parade?

    This is an interesting post because I’ve been caught up in the frenzy and actually had never read/heard an argument against NaNo.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thanks for sharing! Considered at the individual level, if you know what you’re doing and it works for you, I have no argument with it. I have come to realise during this process that I am a fairly judgemental person when it comes to quality… that doesn’t mean everything has to be fine art, or that only certain kinds of creativity ought to be taken seriously (I work in comics after all! Not a widely respected form) but so long as there is an option of good stuff, and so long as cheap and disposable does not dominate in all things… But really, I want to sit every 50 Shades reader down and tell them to get some Lady Midnight, Cain Berlinger, Giselle Renarde… so many other really good erotica authors out there who know far more, and are far more talented story tellers….

  • Rose F

    Some years I do Nano, and other years I don’t. It all depends on whether or not I have a project that’s ready to be drafted, and you’re right. What I get at the end, even if I have researched, and planned an outlined a story ahead of time is a rough draft at best. My reasons for doing it are more about 1) camaraderie with my friends who are doing it and 2) to get a good chunk of draft written out.

    I can only speak for myself, but I never expect to get a finished novel out of Nano. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing Nano if it’s kept in perspective, but I respect your feelings and I understand why you’re choosing not to participate. It can be a useful tool for some people.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s like most things – if it works for you, splendid, if it doesn’t, its really important to know that it is not the be-all and end-all. I worry that, for people who do not participate and know all the details, it creates misleading impressions of writing. It has far wider cultural impact that just what happens to the people who do it, and that could stand considering.

  • Cody Todd

    I find it interesting all the negative comments about this piece fail to mention whether they agree with the first paragraph. The aim of this post is to point out the utter lack of respect for the craft of writing. I don’t think anyone would support a design a bridge in a week event or write a symphony in a month but everyone can get behind writing a novella (that’s what 50,000 words will get you) simply because most people are too ignorant to realize good writing is more than simply keyboarding. Any idiot can string a few words together using a computer. It takes a writer to put words together in a way that creates characters, settings, plots, and ideas which resonate with readers. A writer sweats and toils over each and ever piece of writing. Drafting and redrafting, editing, revising until he or she believes they’ve produced the best piece of writing they can. Then another professional (an editor) will go through the piece editing, revising, slashing and dismantling.
    NaNoWriMo, as Nimue Brown has eluded to over and over again, has led to the impression writing is as simple as sitting down and pounding out a few thousand words in a word processor. This attitude has led to the decline in quality writing in the publishing industry. It’s about word counts, production rates and advertising instead of quality content. I’ve had the misfortune of reviewing several books that hit the Times bestseller lists before they were released. I would have published none of them in their current draft. Beyond a horde of spelling and grammar errors, the actual stories were not well-developed, character development was thin, and the plots were held together with very thin threads. It was obvious these books were written in haste and put through production quickly with little editing. We can thank things like NaNoWriMo and e-publishing for eroding respect for well-crafted writing.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you! What is so frustrating is that many people inside the NaNo bubble cannot see this and therefore just do not believe that it exists. And in some cases, do not believe that it matters. The idea that fun=ok no matter what. Many people find McDonalds fun. I don’t think that means it should be the only food source available.

  • scumbagsam

    I’m not going to say anything too negative to this post, because it’s tone is already negative in it’s own right.
    Why would you be against anyone writing 50000 words in a month. You’re right, it’s not a ‘novel’ in its finalised form, but it is a piece of work someone can be proud of, even if they don’t then keep writing and editing and trying to get it published later.
    nanowrimo is a project (which raises money for libraries and schools) which people contribute to for fun. It’s not meant to produce a million new writers.
    Hey, let’s stop giving money to charities because we’re never going to CURE world hunger/poverty/cancer, so why bother?

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s not a terribly good analogy. I’ve already said why and it was there in the blog post, which I assume you read? Because we create a belief, not just in some NaNo folk but in the wider culture that sees NaNo from afar and makes assumptions based on it, that any old crap will do. I would rather be proud of having written something good, at any length, than be proud of banging out a lot of words that no one will ever read. Why not pour all your energy and inspiration into making the best thing you possibly can? Why be offended by having it suggested that you try to excel? What is wrong with wanting to be the best that you can be and suggesting to other people that they could afford to set their sights a little higher?

      • scumbagsam

        I’m not saying I disagree with trying to write something to the best of your abilities, only saying that slating people for trying to write a novel in a month is hypocritical. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you. Some professional writers DO write a first draft novel in a month and then spend the rest of their time redrafting. The whole point of NaNo is to inspire people to do something they love and not be afraid to write something terrible. It’s about awareness to the cause of literature. If you think the time spent writing is in direct correlation to the quality of the work that’s insanity. Some people spend years writing a novel that is crap. Others can spend a month writing and come out with an amazing story.

      • Nimue Brown

        I’ve not ‘slated’ anyone for anything, I have questioned. I’ve not said there is one right way of writing a book, because there isn’t one right way. I am troubled by the way in which you are inferring, because you are reading things in that certainly were not in that blog post. I care a great deal about literacy, and one of the essentials for literacy is being able to read and debate what is actually there. I’ve seen a depressing number of people trying to debate based on what they think I mean, accusing me of emotive criticism that simply is not in the post but is purely interpretative. I have asked questions, I have not slated anyone. If a person chooses to take those questions personally and be offended by them, that is their choice. To do so based on total misunderstanding of what I have said is a shame. Hearing words that are not written, is not good reading.

  • msh

    I’ve no real thoughts one way or another about NaNoWriMo and it’s effects on the creative or the value of it. All I know is it is extremely annoying to have friends so consumed by it for a month that you can’t have a simple conversation with them about anything other than to read their thousandth word/sentence/draft. If you are going to write then write but don’t make such a production out of it that your life shuts down on every other level.

    • Nimue Brown

      If you are actually going to write in any serious way, you do have to learn how to fit that in around friends, family, and not boring everybody witless. Thank you for raising this point, it’s a good one. The self-absorption and obsession with word count is not terribly healthy when it manifests in the way you describe. I’ve been writing for years now, and it’s like talking about the weird dream you had last night… most of the time, most people really have no desire to hear about that!

  • kasturika

    I never considered attempting this challenge because I too believe that a story and plot cannot be developed within such a short time. Yes, if you have one and have done all the research, and all that’s left is typing it out from the pages you’ve hand-written, then yes, its possible!

    As far as the other challenge involving a blog post a day, I say good luck to people who are attempting that. But I’d rather not try. I’m not risking my credibility by posting anything just for the sake of posting!

    • Nimue Brown

      I have been doing the ‘blog every day’ thing for a while now, mostly because it suits me and it’s cheaper than a therapist 🙂 But on the days when I have other things to do, or no ideas, I skip it. I don’t believe in routine for the sake of it. And I totally agree about the issue of credibility. Better to put things into the world that you can stand proudly next to, rather than things you aren’t comfortable with.

  • Professionalism | Soliloquies

    […] In this second article, the author says no to NaNoWriMo, and compares trying to write a novel in a month with trying to compose a symphony in a month, or choreograph a ballet in a month. She’s worried that people might some how be harmed by this attempt – it’ll take them away from their true art, or it’ll discourage them when they realize that novel writing is something to be left to those with the refinement of a lifelong practitioner. […]

  • Susannah Ailene Martin

    Thank you for this. I have been feeling bad for being one of the only writers I know that is not crazy over NaNoWriMo. I too do not think that a good book can be written in a month. And 50,000 is a novella, not a novel.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for saying! I think many people doing it have no awareness of this kind of knock on effect, and the more ‘normal’ NaNo is, the more alienated you can feel as a writer who doesn’t like or get it, and that’s not helpful. We all need the space and freedom to do things on our own terms.

  • Alison Ross

    Reblogged this on One Elle Alison and commented:
    I’m re-blogging this because we’re almost halfway through November and I haven’t even started the chapter I wanted to get done this month – not even the whole novel, I had resigned myself to just a chapter. I’ve decided to trade in my Starving Artiste brand for hunkering down at the new job I started this month and cleaning the entire apartment. I’ve sold my creative soul for a salary and a dust free bedroom.

    • Nimue Brown

      Survival is important! But there is plenty of time after November to write the chapter, and the new job will be familiar and less demanding of your attention, and hopefully good things will come. We all have to do these sometimes, there is no shame in it, and your creative soul needs bread and other basics to keep going. Balancing that wisely is no kind of failure. Best of luck.

  • EventuallyFormerFatty

    I won’t attack your opinion like so many others here have. But please, let me offer you an alternate opinion.

    A few months ago, I decided I was going to invest myself in a weight loss lifestyle change, hence my blog. The top advice anyone receives upon embarking on a quest like this is “Don’t do it alone!” You are encouraged to have a workout buddy and a support network. On top of that, many suggest keeping a food journal to keep yourself accountable. But at the end of the day, no one cares if I fail in this quest but me. I’m only really, truly accountable to myself.

    I look at NaNoWriMo in much the same way. You set yourself a goal and you hold yourself accountable for reaching it with a community at your side. Even in the “pep talks” NaNoWriMo releases, they recognize that this is simply a step in a journey, not the journey itself. Most of those doing NaNoWriMo don’t actually think that they can just take novel they write in a month and begin pitching it to literary agents. (The exceptions to this are likely self published via Kindle.) At the end of the day, they have started something.

    NaNo is little more than a shared goal, but for many it is more about that commitment to themselves.. It is about making yourself a commitment saying “No matter how busy my life gets, (and it is always busy) I will make writing a priority this month.”

    Obviously I am a defender of NaNoWriMo, and you don’t need to be. It’s done a lot for me, actually. Learning to write at that pace has allowed me to do freelance writing, which has been a crucial source of income sometimes. It also has helped me to win several writing competitions because I knew I could do it. It is what transitioned me from being a good writer to getting paid for writing. Is my NaNo “novel” published? Nope. Still in the editing stages. But at the end of the day, it was the magical process of taking what seemed like a dream at the time and turning it into a priority. And when people choose to make their dreams into priorities, magic happens.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing that, and for doing so with grace and generosity. I really appreciate people sharing diverse and conflicting opinions, and I absolutely treasure the people who can passionately fight their corner without have to resort to insult and accusation.

  • Kinna

    I’m a reader not a writer and darn proud. We need more readers. Reading is an endangered artform and I wished more people would choose to express their creativity by reading and reading closely.

    • Nimue Brown

      Good reading is indeed an art form, and I share your sentiments. And if you want the social side, so many book clubs and reading circles out there where you can talk about different experiences of the same book. I’m a big fan of readers. Readers are wonderful. Serious, dedicated reading as art form people, particularly the ones who feed back, are what makes authoring worthwhile. I’m biased, mostly by dint of being a serious reader of books myself 🙂

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  • Lenora Rose

    I agree with you that the name is a bit deceiving, but reading about it in any detail on its own site makes it clear that the name is incomplete. Like, oh, feminism, it’s been misunderstood, misused, dismissed as too simplistic, challenged as wrong even by people who like the actual underlying concept. I can see looking for another name that’s remotely as easy to say and gets across even as much of the base idea as National Novel Writing Month does – but I don’t see it happening. Writing Month is too broad. Anything else is too unwieldy.

    For myself – while I have numerous friends with varied motivations who do participate in NaNo every year, and have been known to cheer them on, I have consciously never joined them. Until this year.

    My explanation was simple: I wrote whenever I could ALREADY. (And edited, and revised, and learned the industry, and discussed scams, and queried agents, and sent short stories to zines). What I needed special courses or challenges or other external prompts to do was any other hobby; they all fall by the wayside because WRITING. I finished a novel draft, rough but worth revising, when 9 months pregnant. I didn’t want or need a kick in the pants to do writing.

    Then I had that baby. Who is now a toddler.

    I never stopped writing, but I did none for the first few months of his life, and a dribble the next few, and a slightly larger dribble the next few, and a smaller dribble the next few…

    … see where this is going? I did more editing than that (What with the aforementioned novel to revise), and some agent queries did go out for a truly finished work, but I was starting to feel stuck. My output of fresh words was sorely down. I would and could go a week, even two, without really touching my writing.

    I had lost the habit. I’d lost the speed. I’d tried setting personal goals, accountable only to myself, and they never worked.

    And since I had friends doing it already, and knew there was a community out there for encouragement, I decided NaNo would work.

    By the official rules I’m a rebel, since I’m adding those words to an extant project. But they even have forums for people doing NaNo while bending the rules, by writing in multiple projects or writing extant work or writing a play or non-fiction – because they feel that’s enough in the spirit of the thing to be worth supporting.

    I don’t care too much if I “win”, although it would be a nice extra plum. I’m writing only when my son is napping or in bed for the night, and during a month that is unusually busy. (By which I mean we’re going to be travelling the second half of the month, not just year-end and Christmas rush and the usual gamut of excuses.)

    What I do care about is that it’s a good way to drag me back into the habit that sitting in front of the computer or on the word processor means WRITING, not hanging out on facebook or blogs. Something in the group participation, and the accountability of it, got me going when simply saying “I’m going to get back in the writing habit” didn’t. AND it IS doing it in a month that is extra busy, thus proving that i have no excuses.

    I have almost 20k words already. I’m pretty sure that’s close to my output for the last YEAR.

    I also know someone who’s been finding she has been writing enough it’s feeling like it’s keeping her from doing other things (Projects around the house, extra time with her kids), and she’s doing the anti-Nano; her personal Not-Novel-Writing-Month. I think that’s a laudable goal, too. I’m cheering her on.

    Is NaNo the best way to write for everyone? No. It sure wasn’t for me. Until it was.

    • Nimue Brown

      Writing with a small child in the mix is a whole other thing, and in my case certainly resulted in very little actual writing of fiction for quite some time. I didn’t have any spare brain and it was only editing work that kept me feeling involved for a few years there.

      I you know how to make NaNo work for you – fair play to you. I think I’m mostly interested by what it does when viewed from afar, because it does have an impact precisely on those people who have a tenuous grasp of what’s going on. Getting more information about the realities of NaNo into the world is definitely a good thing. More information is always good. Thanks for sharing.

  • MLR

    Great post and comments. It clarified why I stopped doing Nano. It was good for a certain period in my writing journey: when I’d written a fair amount, but nothing novel-length.

    For about four years, Nano helped me discover the differences between writing a short story and a novel. But I kept getting sick from stress and sleep deprivation – lifestyle-wise, it was like a month of final exams. And I experienced the very thing you mentioned – I felt like a “bad writer” because I struggled to meet the deadline, because I could never shut off the inner editor who desperately wanted to reflect and revise, and because I had non-writer friends who glided past the 50,000-mark with barely a hiccup.

    I quit the year I realized I’d rather spend November revising an existing novel than writing another unsalvageable rough draft.

    Interestingly, some of my co-participants either stopped after one go, or lost interest once they stopped getting “wow, you wrote a novel!” comments. It was just a ceramic hand-print for them.

    • Nimue Brown

      If your internal editor slows you down but does not stop you, then you internal editor is not a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘overcome’. It is always easier to do things if you don’t really care about them. 50k is easy if any 50k will do, but I do worry about the way this can seem to penalise the person with a more perfectionist approach. There’s nothing wrong with needing to work slowly, crafting as you go, it’s a perfectly valid approach. Glad to hear you got out of what was clearly a damaging experience and reclaimed your work on your own terms.

  • kabrown4

    I couldn’t agree more with this post if I tried.
    ‘If you need NaNoWriMo to give you permission to try and write a book, please ask why that is so. If this is something you want to do, then do it because you want to do it.’
    This is my problem with NaNoWriMo in a nutshell. I have struggled for years with the guilt that I enjoy writing, because not very many people understand that it is a process that can if you let it can completely consume your life. You think about your work in every waking moment, even when you’re not doing it. It is only in the last year or so that I’ve come to terms with my desire to write and finding balance in my life. I’m happier now than I have ever been, but NaNoWriMo gets right on my nerves, because it trivializes something that is very precious for me.
    I understand why a lot of people love it, but please, just remember there are people out there who love writing all year round, not just in November.

    • Nimue Brown

      That all sounds very familiar, yes, I feel that too 🙂 Support for creativity is a good thing, but it needs to be broader and deeper than a month long splurge in order to be useful. There have been a few authors who have talked about permission to write in a wider, social acceptance sense, and that’s a large looking issue. Apparently we can collectively take people seriously writing for a month, but not for more than that, which is odd given that if you take it seriously, you need to do it for more than a month…

      • kabrown4

        So true, writing can be a lifelong commitment. I can remember writing down stories and being interested in writing from a very young age. I didn’t really know it at the time, but what I was doing was getting on with something that I really enjoy. I’m 25 now, and it has taken a lot of inner confidence to admit to myself that maybe what makes other people happy isn’t what I should try and force upon myself. I would never force them to do something they didn’t enjoy, so why was I letting myself be curtailed into being a conformist. They weren’t writers and they didn’t really understand why I liked it, which made me question why I did so much that I stopped doing it entirely.
        Thankfully the people who have always supported my writing the most have always been my family and my partner, but sometimes they aren’t the ones who influence your decisions the most. I’m not letting that be a regret though; being a typical writer I’ve got those experiences banked away for a character in the future.

  • kabrown4

    Reblogged this on A Young Writer's Notebook and commented:
    I love this post. I know a lot of people love NaNoWriMo, but I am not one of them and this post sums up a lot of reasons why I don’t.

  • Rupert Eliot

    Nice post. Funny comments too. Remember: try re-read the post and see if it directly says the opposite of what you say it does, before you comment:)

    • Nimue Brown

      I found myself repeatedly scratching my head and re-reading my words in case I had somehow forgotten what was in the original, and trying to figure out whether it was just a case of weak writing on my part. I suspect some folk came here having read commentaries on other blogs and piled in without actually reading anything I had said. It’s a theory, at any rate.

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  • hatterslattitude

    I attempted to do the student version of NaNoWriMo with a handful of students who wanted to try as an after school club a few years ago. The word count can be considerably less for children. I have one who actually wrote an “adult sized” 50K. But then again – she already had one book published by that point and had been doing research for a long time on the one she was writing. It gave her a better place to write than the public library – so yea for her. For the others – it didn’t go so well. A few kids tried to write about themes that were way beyond their knowledge and range of skills, one tried to write a long essay about a life-experience that was truly horrible. She needed the free therapy obviously. But overall, it was a good idea that didn’t pan out so well. November is an awful time for school children and teachers – that’s when preliminary science and reading fairs and spelling bees are taking place and novel writing was just another daunting project for most of the kids to try to balance – especially since we had a week off for Thanksgiving right before the deadlines.

    I have always like the idea of spurring creativity, but I appreciate your take on this method of doing it. You have giving me that, “Yea! I’m not alone!” feeling. Thank you.

    • Nimue Brown

      I think there’s so much to be said for getting to do a small thing well – short stories lend themselves much more to that, and better to be able to do the best thing you can do than get locked into a word count. You’re definitely not alone.

  • robin taylor

    Love your points here. So well put and dead on. I didn’t know much about Nanowrimo until some friends mentioned it to me and a couple were fooling around with it. I mentioned it on my blog because I’d never heard of it before and wondered what people thought.
    I’m a writer and word count means nothing to me. When I start hammering away words pour out of my head like a water from a hose. What counts to me is what the words say and if I’ve got a decent story to tell. I do think the purpose of the Nanowrimo site is kind of fun for people, though. Maybe it’s a challenge, maybe they think a person needs permission or something to show to the world to prove they can write…who knows. I think it’s quite the lofty idea to think you can get an intact, well-written novel done in a month…but, 50,000 words that might wind up being a start? Why not?
    It’s just nice to see people excited about writing something longer than a tweet…!

    • Nimue Brown

      There s that ‘longer than a tweet’ aspect, good point. We are losing the longer forms of communication, so encouraging people to try the longer options is not without merit. Thanks for raising that.

  • robin taylor

    btw-please forgive the typos and idiot grammar mistakes!

  • booookish

    Good post!
    I slightly agree with this though. I want to become a published writer who can live off the art, yes I said ‘art’ because writing is an art. So here is where I completely agree: you can’t rush art and in a sense nanowrimo does devalue the ‘art’ of writing because it gives off the impression that it’s easy to write a novel and that any person can write a novel in just a month (which isn’t the case). But I’ve participated in nanowrimo a number of times (I actually got to 50,000 words in 2009) and when I participate in the goal I don’t necessarily look at it as “I’m writing a complete and wonderful piece of literature in a month” – I’m going to partake in the fun activity and see if anything good comes from it. In 2009 when I wrote my shit 50,000 words there were a couple of sentences and ideas that had potential, and that’s what I use it for. Nanowrimo isn’t for editing or researching or even to produce high quality material – it’s to let your ideas flow in this random slightly sporadic and maybe something good will come from that. I can see how it can degrade the art of writing but for people who think that they can seriously write a brilliant novel in a month without revision don’t appreciate writing anyway.
    that’s my take on it 🙂
    – Miranda

  • stevenhlatto

    I totally agree. A reason I have not joined this madness is because writing 50,000 words in a month, will surely produce something that reads like a cheap weekly magazine full of gossip. I just hope they don’t publish any of the rubbish that will be created in 30 days. That would be a travesty and an insult to those that take time to create their masterpieces.

  • stevenhlatto

    Reblogged this on Steven H Latto and commented:
    I totally agree. A big no no to NaNoWriMo

  • James C. Moore

    Perhaps reading this blog has been fortuitously coincidental. I once considered NaNoWriMo and had what I thought was a good idea for a novel. This short novel was practically writing itself, albeit in very rough form, when I reached the depth of my knowledge. Then, while doing research, I began doing more research rather than returning to the story. By then, I was so confused with the details that I lost sight of my plot lines and dropped the entire project. There, it sits. Unfinished.

    Last year, over frivolous conversation, I got the idea for a short ‘Vampire Love’ video and proceeded to write the screenplay. I did some quick research on Gothic names for my lead character. I chose the name “Nimue” – the sorceress known as the “Lady of the Lake” in the Arthurian legends. The project remains unsatisfied because my male lead broke up with his girlfriend. Actors! LOL Thanks.

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  • Wisp Of Smoke

    You said it better than I could have, well-done.

  • dlatwood

    I agree. How about Write an Outline month? That’s working for me. 🙂

  • thorsaurus

    My first impression was sour grapes, but I’ve changed my mind. You have managed to answer nearly every comment here. Admirable, yes, but also an indication you are firm in your beliefs about NaNo, not just taking shots for rant’s sake.

    Some thoughts:

    I see NaNo as harmless, no lasting damage to someone who really wishes to write.

    Carving out 1666 words a day might lead to inspiration in a literary-whirling-dervish manner. The raw pace of the endeavor could unearth an aspect of a character or setting that is a complete surprise to the author. (And isn’t it fun when that happens.)

    The “50,000 words isn’t a novel” argument seems a bit esoteric. Perhaps technically not a novel, 50,000 words can certainly produce a fine story. I doubt “The Old Man and the Sea” is 50,000 words.

    Thank you for the conversation.

    • Nimue Brown

      You’re welcome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’d agree there’s no connection between length and the value of a story, I’m a big fan of the short story as a form, although it doesn’t get the recognition I think it deserves. I’m sure many of the people doing NaNo get these issues, the problem is that there are far more people who don’t do it, but get an impression based on what they see if it – 50k novel in a month is an easy idea to take on-board without seeing all the details about what it really means, or how it relates to the rest of reality.

  • Katie Wellman

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I attempted NaNoWriMo ONCE and immediately though – what the hell? I have to edit this crap too, that should be included in the time frame. It became NaNoWri2006 after that. Needless to say – it’s still not done.

    While I appreciate that NaNoWriMo gets writers to start thinking about publishing a book – it seems unrealistic and ultimately makes me very depressed when people are like “I wrote 55,000 words this month for NaNo” and I’m thinking “I edited 5,000 words 10 times this month because it still sounds off…”

    Anyway, thank you for saying this! I’m tired of having people make me feel like a bad writer because I’m not participating – I just choose to write in a manner that’s more organic to me.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. This is very much the sort of thing I worry about – the assumptions, and how they impact on writers who do not fit the NaNo model. Best of luck in what you’re doing. Better the 5000 words you feel good about than 50,000 of no discernible use, any day.

    • Alexandra

      hmm… that’s strange. When I did NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2012 it was stressed to participants that editing is not in the time frame. Maybe they changed the rules?
      I never thought that serious authors are supposed to take part in this, unless they just want to have fun or to push through a writer’s block.
      I always imagined it was meant to be just an entertainment.

      • Nimue Brown

        Apparently many serious authors do take part. I know a number of published authors who use it as a way of getting a first draft down and because they enjoy it, and as a number of supporters of NaNo have pointed out, a few books have emerged from it, which has been used as evidence that is is a perfectly viable route to being a successful, published author. For an example, there’s a comment in here somewhere, someone who has not written before and expects to have a publishable trilogy of novels by the end of the year.

  • Alexandra

    I wonder why you took NaNoWriMo so seriously. 🙂 All people are different, and it’s very likely that for some NaNoWriMo was the start they needed, and I’m also sure that for many others it’s just fun.
    There are published books whose first drafts were created at NaNoWriMo.
    I read one such book, and, honestly, it was bad. I can’t say for sure if it was bad because the original draft was damaged by the hustle of writing a piece in one month, or it’s just the maximum the author could do anyway. But the point is, that book was published, it is an accomplishment. More than that, lots of people really loved the book and I think it even was a bestseller for some time.
    I did NaNoWriMo twice, and both times I found it too easy and useless. But I still see why some people find it fun. Not everything should bring substantial result, sometimes it’s the process that matters.

    • Nimue Brown

      Because I have seen what it does to people. To those who don’t manage it and feel that they have ‘failed’ and give up on writing. To those who have problematically inflated ideas about the thing they have made and their chances of getting it published. To those professional authors under pressure to write like every month is NaNo in order to make a living. It may seem like a trivial bit of fun to people who have never been hurt by it, but that does not mean there are no serious consequences.

  • ksthompsonauthor

    THANK YOU! I thought I was the only one and thus thought I was a jerk for thinking it at all.

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  • Yvonne Aburrow

    I forget who it was who said it, but someone said that most authors have to throw away the first million words they write.

    My “pet peeve” about novels is when someone sends me their novel and asks me to critique it, and then gets offended when I offer critique of grammar, style, etc. So now I decline to do it.

    And also people who say they are writing a novel but they don’t read other novels in case they accidentally plagiarize them.

    I think anything that gets people writing and/or reading is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t set them up with unrealistic expectations of writing a best-seller or a classic (not necessarily the same thing).

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