Saturday, November 14, 2015

Nanowrimo – is it worth it? by Renae Kaye

Talk to any author in the last two weeks, and chances are that Nanowrimo will come up.

For those who are blissfully unaware, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  The aim is to encourage authors to write a book during the month of November.  The original founders of the movement decided that 50,000 words make a book, so you need to write 50k during the 30 days of November to “win” Nanowrimo.  There are writing workshops, encouraging emails, support groups in your area, T-shirts you can buy… the whole thing.  I think the concept sounds great…

…until I start looking at the results.

For me, personally, I want to do Nano.  This is my third year I’ve tried, and it’s going to be the third year I fail.  It’s the 14th of the month, and I’m telling you already I’m going to fail to make the 50k.

I went into Nano this month with lots of enthusiasm.  I had the story clear in my head, I wrote down some notes about it, I cleared my schedule and I started with a bang.  Things went quickly downhill from there in the shape of children with mystery illnesses and injuries to myself.

Writing 50k in a month is an average of 1667 words per day.  Which sounds easy.  For me, I try to keep a general average of 1200 words a day during a normal month.  But keep in mind, that the days I write, I will usually write over 2500 words.  On a good day around 5000.  Because this keeps the average up.  There are days I don’t find time to write.

Last year I attempted Nano, but gave up after 2 weeks because I had a book release.  I was writing blogs, talking to people and generally stressing out about the book that came out on the 28th of November.  I just couldn’t deal with the extra stress of trying Nano too.

However, just because I’m predicting a fail for myself, it doesn’t mean others will. So let’s look around at the other authors I know are doing Nano.

One author (let’s call her A1) is giving it a good go.  Her total is great and she’s having a lot of fun with it.  I was discussing it with her and she told me she didn’t care about the quality of the writing, she was just writing!  Then she told me that at least two of the scenes she’d written, she’d have to cut from the final story, because they didn’t fit in with the theme.  She just wanted to write them to get a clearer picture in her head of the story.

So, this author is making no attempt at quality, but just putting words on the page in order to “win.”  I’m not judging A1 and other authors, but if Nano is encouraging more authors to write with the hope of them publishing, then this is a big fail.  And this A1’s story is not isolated.  I’ve seen at least two other authors admit that their Nano writings from previous years would never see the light of day without serious editing and rewriting.  From this, I can conclude that in trying to reach the 50,000 words needed to “win” Nano, some authors are truthfully just wasting their time.

Okay, I admit it, that sounds a little harsh, because I think any form of writing is beneficial to an author, whether it is published or not.  But Nano tries to encourage authors to write a book.  Writing any old thing is not what Nano is about.  I don’t add the words I wrote on my shopping list to my total.  The spirit of Nano is to put down words that can make it to a book that someone else will enjoy one day.

I'm really happy that A1 is having fun - we all need fun.  But let's make sure that those who need to write are writing with purpose.

Then, yesterday another author (let’s call her A2) was chatting to me, and I said something, to which she replied she couldn’t do it, because the strain of Nano was so much, she needed to really get on and write, and it was causing her so much angst, etc, etc.  I was shocked.  I told her, “Do you realise this is just a game we’re all playing.  There’s nothing to say we have to do Nano.”

I could see the stress she was under by trying to reach this total that someone had plucked out of the air and said “One size fits all.”

Not every author can write 50k in a month.  

Maybe A2 is one of them.  There is not supposed to be judgement on an author who can't make 50k.

Then there’s the author (let’s call her A3) who reached the goal of writing 50k on day 8.  Jeez, for me that was upsetting to see.  It made me want to throw in the towel then and there.  Here I am saying that I can’t write more than about 35k in a month, and she writes 50k in a little more than a week.  Why am I bothering to even try?  Why am I even an author?

I’ve looked around at people, and there are a couple of “success” stories of Nano.  Some people have said to me that their Nano writings were published.  But for the large majority of us, Nano is a big fail.  To me, the concept of Nano is supposed to be one of support.  Together we would all try to write 50k and support each other in doing it.  But I don’t see that.  I see people who are struggling under stress trying make themselves do 1667 words a day.  I see people doing stories that will not be any good, just so they can say they “won” Nano.

The concept of Nanowrimo is a good one.  The reality is less.  It is making good authors stressed.  It is making authors write drivel.

So, if you’re participating in Nano, I have a couple of checks for you.

1.  Why are you doing Nano?  What is your purpose?

Now think about your answer.  Did you answer something like, “I’m hoping it will encourage me to finally write this book I’ve been trying to do for two years”?  Or did you answer, “Everyone else is doing it, so I felt I had to do it too.  Isn’t that what all authors do?”

It’s not a competition where you can’t call yourself an author if you don’t make your writing total.  It’s not a race where one author gets to say, “Ha ha.  I finished my word count on Day 23 and you’re still going.”  It’s supposed to be fun.  It’s supposed to be encouraging.

2.  Is a goal of 50,000 words realistic to you?

If your answer was, “I write 100,000 a month anyway,” then why are you doing Nano?  If your answer was, “I struggle to write 10,000 a month,” then realistically, increasing your word count by five times what you usually do isn’t realistic.

One of the basic failings on Nano is that they think 50k makes a book.  In my publishing experience, 50k is a novella.  It doesn’t go to print.  It also doesn’t take into account any sort of difference between authors.  Nano should be about goal setting.  I should be able to set my goal for the month – which is going to be different from your goal, because we’re different authors.

3.  How are you approaching Nano?

Do you have a group of supporting buddies?  Are you supporting your writing buddies?  Are you checking up on your friends, asking them how they’re going and doing a general cheer?

Are you helping or hindering others?

4.  What will happen if you win?  If you lose?

We really don’t want people slashing their wrists because they didn’t make a word count.  And if you’re participating just because you want a badge that says “winner” then perhaps you may need to think about why this is.

If I win Nano, I will be about two-thirds of the way into writing my novel.  50k is not a book for me.  I need a minimum of 60k.  If I don’t win, I will be less than two-thirds of the way into the novel.  I had planned to write those 50k words anyway, and I’m hoping Nano will give me the push and the support to get those words down sooner rather than later.

2011 Nano Participants results

So if you’re struggling with Nano, how about a respite?  Nano isn’t going to make or break your writing career.  Make yourself a more realistic goal.

And check out your writing buddies group.  Just a little shout out to them, saying “well done on making that 25k!” is a great help.

And lastly – happy writings!

How to contact Renae:
Twitter:  @renaekkaye

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