The Good of NaNoWriMo

The coming of November is a signal of the end of the year. The weather shifts into full chilly mode. Halloween is behind us, Christmas is ahead. Since I have been living in Japan for over a decade I struggle to remember that Thanksgiving is a thing. November, for me, is truly the name where I realize how little time is left in the year and how much I still want to accomplish before the calendars change.

November is also the time when so many on Facebook, Twitter and other sites start broadcasting their own attempts to start, and finish, a novel.

That’s right, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month kicks off. I imagine that if you are reading a blog post about writing from a guy that wants to write, there is a good chance that you already know all there is to know about NaNoWriMo. If not, check out their website.

I’ve tried my hand in the past at NaNoWriMo in what seems like another lifetime. I was working a standard office job and November also happened to be the month where my goal was to create a prefecture wide conference conference for roughly 200 English teachers. I wasn’t able to finish my 50,000 words. I honestly don’t even remember how far along in the process I got. I can’t even truly place the year I did this other than knowing it was somewhere in the span of 2008 to 2012.

Since then I have always taken notice of NaNoWriMo, but haven’t really felt the desire to take part since that first time.

But, don’t get me wrong. My not taking part in the month writing project is not out of any spite or negativity towards the competition. In fact, I’m always a little surprised when I see and hear people cast ill will towards NaNoWriMo.

This ill will seems to stem from a variety of feelings. I’ve heard annoyed claims that maintaining that daily pace is detrimental to “real” writing. I’ve heard classist claims that “real” writers don’t need a special month but should write anytime. I’ve heard bottom-line claims that the amount of “amateur” novels written in November mean that sales droop from then until January, especially for new releases, because readers are worried they are buying hastily written contest schlock. I’ve even heard the rudely constructed argument that it is stupid and stupid people do it, so there.

All I can really do is shrug my shoulders at these claims, and other claims like them. Okay, that last one gets more of a roll of the eyes, but you know what I mean. I’ll admit, I don’t really know if NaNoWriMo has a great effect on sales. Sadly, I don’t sell enough to really notice a dip.

As, for the claim about daily pacing, I’m one those writers that feel I actually benefit from setting my own daily goals. When I can fully commit to writing 2000 words a day, I always feel like my writing, and the speed of my writing improves. If life (aka: work and family) allowed me the time to maintain that pace, I think I would be a happier creator all around.

And the argument about those not being “real writers,” I’m still waiting for a good definition of what makes someone a “real writer.” Personally, I like the rather wide definition of “if you write, you are a writer.” We all have different goals and dreams for our writing and I’d rather cast that net wide than be restrictive.

But really, what I think the detractors of NaNoWriMo are overlooking is what attracted me to it. The very simple reason of “If you are looking for an excuse to write, here you go” and the accompanying “Here is a community to write with.”

Pretty much from the time I learned to write through my college years, I loved writing. I would fill up notebooks with stories that never seemed to finish. Even as I acted in plays, participated in sports, and played music with friends, I would return to paper and pen, or keyboard and screen, as a way to tell my own stories.

But, I will also admit that the idea of trying to turn writing into something more than a private matter never seemed realistic to me. It felt like a pipe dream. Becoming a writer seemed as likely as becoming a super hero. After college, as I traveled abroad and started working, time for writing slowly drifted away and was forgotten about. It became one of the many things that I used to do.

It likely would have stayed that way had it not been for someone telling me about this (relatively) new thing called NaNoWriMo. It seemed neat. A challenge to myself. After all, writing had been something that I loved, and here was a chance to once again pick up the pen and put out some words. And, even better, the challenge of it had the motivation built right in. I even liked that I wasn’t trying to write the best novel in the month, I was simply trying to write my own.

I started writing, and even though I did not finish that month, I was reminded how much I enjoyed the process of simply putting one word after another to tell a story. To tell a story all my own.

I’m not joining NaNoWriMo this year. I’m currently sitting on a work in progress that has  21,282 words written towards my rough goal of 60,000. Yes, I am hoping to finish it by the end of November with a daily target of 1,548 words according to Scrivener. (If you are wondering about the math, Sunday is our family day, so I don’t include it in the calculations.) That this novel is (hopefully) being finished in November is more of a happy accident than any result from planning.

But, even though I am not attempting NaNoWriMo, I still think that it played a role in reminding me and motivating me to write. I think it is very likely that without NaNoWriMo that I would not have picked up the pen. And how can I wish ill will to a group that reminds so many people that they can follow their passions?

So, I wish all those attempting NaNoWriMo, and the organizers, the best of luck this November. Keep filling up those pages.


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5 thoughts on “The Good of NaNoWriMo

    1. Generally speaking I like to do any rewriting or editing after that first pass at the manuscript. But this time I made a major change in a character’s background mid-stream, so I find myself resisting existing chapters in order to reflect the new status quo.

      1. Thinking of backstories- it took a while till I figured out my antagonists backstory. It can be difficult to give a backstory if you are writing a children’s book. It really helped when I finally decided to make a big change in my antagonist- there is a character called Marge in my book, who Sparkle, my main character, befriends (that is basically where my story kicks off). When I decided to make Sarge and Marge cousins- I was able to figure out Sarge’s backstory- Sarge is my antagonist.

      2. It wasn’t rewriting that I did- I think I figured it out in the very beginning of the first draft. He went Marge and Sarge not being related to them being Uncle and Niece to the final result: cousins.

        Sarge’s backstory is quite heartbreaking: When he was about 3 or 5 years old, his mother left him with his cruel father. Up until age 13, his father kept on mistreating him. His only comfort was found in a place called “The Bog”, the only place his father couldn’t get to him. At the age of 13, his father left him- he ended up with a lot of pain, anger, jealously, and confusion.

        The confusion comes from watching his cousin’s family situation: he doesn’t understand: he is like how is it that her father and my father were raised by the same parents, but only one came out to be loving.

        He ended up putting his pain on others, causing him to be the bully that he is. He ended up mistreating both the toads and his next door neighbors, the Fairy Frogs.

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