Why All Authors Should Try NaNoWriMo at Least Once — A 13-Year Veteran’s Perspective

NaNoWriMo may not be everyone’s jam, but trying if only once in our career may teach us a lot about ourselves as writers and our writing process.

JazzFeathers
Oct 4, 2020 · 8 min read

Next November, I’ll take part in NaNoWriMo for the 13th time (I can hardly believe it!).

In these 13 years, I’ve met lots of writers who have taken part in the challenge, as well as others who would never think about it.

Some writers do their own one-month challenge because the NaNoWriMo method works really good for them. Other writers abandon the actual challenge because they discover that this way of writing doesn’t agree with them at all.

All positions are sharable. It all depends on the writer and what they are looking for in the challenge. I think that taking part in NaNoWriMo can teach us a lot about us as writers and our writing process, and so it is worth trying it at least once in our writing life.

Our of our comfort zone

Even when we are adventurous writers, we tend to find our comfort zone and move inside it.

It’s about finding our routine and working with it, which is an excellent thing. I’ve been struggling to build a routine for a few years now, due to my hectic day job. I know lacking a daily routine is bad for our writing.
But becoming too comfortable in it’s not very good either because we end up doing and thinking the same things.
A routine helps us being productive, but we should always be on the lookout for new things to explore so that our writing and our stories don’t stale and start to repeat themselves.

NaNoWriMo may be such a diversion.

A routine helps us being productive, but we should always be on the lookout for new things to explore so that our writing and our stories don’t stale and start to repeat themselves.

It changes our routine and out rhythms, but also it pushes our boundaries, and so allows us to see things regarding us as writers and our writing that we normally don’t see anymore.

This is beneficial. It helps us discovering different processes that may work even better for us, but we might never try if we stick to our routine.

Benefits of participating in NaNoWriMo

I see a couple of things that writers assume about NaNoWriMo and stop them from participating.

  1. I can’t write on command. If I don’t feel it, I can’t write it.
  2. I’d end up doing a lot of bad writing for the sake of quantity.

There’s a thing about NaNoWriMo: what it is and what it requires depends on us. While it started up being a challenge to write the first draft of a novel at least 50k long in 30 days, today NaNoWriMo is only a challenge to write 50k words of any project in 30 days. What that project is, how we go about it, what kind of challenge it poses is up to us. Therefore it’s in ourselves that we must find the value of it, or we won’t care to go to the end.

Personally, I think there’s a lot of value to be found in taking part in NaNoWriMo, especially if we are actively exploring our writing process. Because there’s a deadline and a goal, we need to optimise everything we do, and here is the best part of the challenge in terms of evolving as writers.

1. Planner or Pantser?

The great majority of writers start off as pantsers. It is the most natural way to go. It’s also the best way to ‘trying out’ this writing thing.

And some writers are really pure panters. I’ve known a few myself, but my experience is that most writers aren’t pure pantsers. Some of us are planners. Most of us are both pantsers and planners.

I’ve been a pantser for many many years until a project I started with NaNoWriMo lead me to plan more. I discovered that while I’m fine pantsing some part of the process, some other parts work a lot better if I plan them. I do believe mixing these two personalities made my writing a lot stronger. And I’m not sure at all I’d come to it if I hadn’t try NaNoWriMo.

While I might have just tried out a few different ways to sort out a situation in my normal routine (which I still do, sometimes), the 30-day deadlines spurred me to find a more effective way to sort out narrative problems. And this has lead to using outlines and synopsis regularly.

2. Dealing with roadblocks

Roadblocks may always descend on us while we write. They are always around the corner.

Sometimes, the best way to deal with them is by sitting them out. Wait until the right idea comes to us.

Most of the time, sitting it out isn’t the best solution, it wastes a lot of time, but we still try it because we know that sometimes it has worked, and never try a different way.

Sometimes, writing whatever allows us to go from point A to point B is the way to go, no matter how badly we are writing that part.

Since there’s definitely no time to wait out any solution during NaNoWriMo, we need to find different ways to deal with roadblocks. Sometimes, writing whatever allows us to go from point A to point B is the way to go, no matter how badly we are writing that part. The important thing is letting the story move. There will be time to find better solutions and better prose during revision, and it will be easier because the rest of the already written story will help us.

This is something I have learned from NaNoWriMo. Nothing is written in stone. Everything will change during revision, so we shouldn’t be afraid to write even very bad scenes if this allows us to go on with the story. When the story is moving, something good always happens, whether during drafting or revising. When we stop, the story stops too, and there is a risk that it will never get moving again.

3. Shutting up our inner editor

Many stories don’t get finished because we engage too much with our inner editor. We want the chapter, the passage, the episode to be perfect before we go on.

NaNoWriMo doesn’t allow it. If we keep tweaking what we have already written, we’ll never write 50k words, certainly not in 30 days.

Once again, NaNoWriMo gives us reason to go on, no matter what. And I think this is an excellent thing too. Because we want to get to those 50k words in 30 days, we start to pursue whatever it takes, shutting up our inner editor, and writing the story to the end.

I firmly believe there’s no better way to finish a story.

Our inner editor really has no business in the writing of the first draft.

The first draft may be terrible (mine usually are), but it’s more important that it is complete, rather than beautiful. We can work on a badly written first draft and turning it beautiful, but an unfinished story will sadly remain so, most of the times.

Our inner editor really has no business in the writing of the first draft. NaNoWriMo will quickly teach us that.

4. Trust the story

Both the previous two points rest on this one fact: we need to trust the story.

When we trust the story, we’ll come to the end, and we won’t care if the first draft is badly written, because we know that we can and will revise it and make it shine.
But if we never let ourselves write badly just to make it to the end, we’ll never give that story the chance to exist.

NaNoWriMo has taught me that giving ourselves permission to write a bad passage or a bad chapter is actually good for the story because we give it the opportunity to breathe in its own way rather than force our own ideas on it.

I’ve always been able to rewrite a badly written first draft into a very readable revision.
Today, I follow this principle even outside of NaNoWriMo.

5. Letting go

Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. It might be the wrong story or the wrong time to write it. Or we might not be ready for it yet.

Inside our regular routine, we might try to go on anyway, try to make it work somehow.
But NaNoWriMo has that deadline. Are we able to make the story work well enough to go to the end, in 30 days?

I’ve given up on NaNoWriMo a few times when I realised that I wasn’t motivated enough, that I didn’t have the right idea, or my idea wasn’t clear enough in my mind. And it was good because it taught me to assess both my story and my energy and motivations and balance them with other projects. Always, when I gave up on NaNoWriMo, it was because I knew that if I had persisted I was never going to write a workable first draft, and I’d waste time on that project while letting other languish.

It’s a hard lesson, but one I’m happy I learned. None of us has indefinite time to dedicate to first drafts, not even who can afford to write full time. Being able to tell when a project is going nowhere is one of the most important things to learn from this challenge.

Conclusion

NaNoWriMo is a tight challenge. It might be very harsh on us. But still, I think it’s work trying it at least once. Putting ourselves on the line might not bring us to the 50k words goal, but it will lead us to paths we might never explore any other ways. And on those paths, we’ll become better writers.

Sarah Zama wrote her first story when she was nine. Fourteen years ago, when she started her job in a bookshop, she discovered books that address the structure of a story and she became addicted to them. Today, she’s a dieselpunk author who writes fantasy stories historically set in the 1920s. Her life-long interest in Tolkien has turned quite nerdy recently.
She writes about all her passions on her blog
https://theoldshelter.com/

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JazzFeathers

Written by

Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd https://theoldshelter.com/

The Cogs and Gears Storyteller

Storytelling as an experience for writers and readers. How stories work their way into our lives

JazzFeathers

Written by

Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd https://theoldshelter.com/

The Cogs and Gears Storyteller

Storytelling as an experience for writers and readers. How stories work their way into our lives

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