Why I Never Do NaNoWriMo

These are a few of my favorite things. Credit: Luis Llerena

It’s almost November again, which means the end of Halloween, the falling of the leaves, Thanksgiving, and, for those with literary aspirations, the start of NaNoWriMo.

I doubt I need to explain what NaNoWriMo is to my fellow Mediumers. No. Mediumites? Mediumaries? Mediumnauts? Uh, how about Medium practitioners? Place your suggestions in the comments below. You’ve got one month to write a novel—50k words. No sweat, right?

If you type “what is 50,000 divided by 30?” into Google, the first results you will see are about National Novel Writing Month. And the answer, in case you were wondering, is 1,666.66666667. That’s really not so many words per day.

Most dedicated writers obsess about word counts.

Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing, said he writes upwards of 2,000 words per day. At that heavy rate, he can pump out a 600 page bestseller in three months. But who the hell else does that on a regular basis? Certainly not this guy.

Many writers can’t commit to the craft full-time because they have other jobs or families. For others, it’s hard to stay driven. Motivation waxes and wanes according to moods, and everyone on here has some secret shameful horror story about wasting time instead of staying productive. Maybe it’s checking emails or social media. Maybe it’s watching Tasty videos. My point is everyone procrastinates, even—probably—the pros. Or there’s the dreaded specter of writer’s block.

Writing is hard because it is psychological.

We beat ourselves up over something stupid like word counts because we create expectations. I’m sure I’m not the only writer here who starts to feel physically like crap if I don’t write for a few days. That’s a sign that you’re committed. Or maybe you’re actually addicted instead and going through withdrawal symptoms. I don’t know.

But what I do know is it’s easy for a writer to create excuses in order to not produce. It can be difficult facing a blank page or screen. According to Hemingway, it’s easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and bleed. That’s easier said than done.

It requires motivation.

For some, that motivation comes once a year like Christmas or the NYC marathon. What else could be a better motivator than knowing a lot of other people are doing it? There’s a built-in support system of like-minded individuals all trying to create something—all while reaching a quota.

To the people who succeed in reaching 50,000 words or finish a novel this year: Congratulations! Seriously. You deserve it. But I won’t be joining you.

I don’t do NaNoWriMo.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea is intriguing. Hell, even inspiring! From a purely hypothetical point of view, I like to think I would be up to the challenge. 1,666 words per day for 30 days is manageable. Maybe if I did it I’d finally score that elusive book deal I’ve been searching for…but I kind of doubt it.

The main reason I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo is because I already have way too many projects going on to add a 50k word novel to my list. It’s just not logistically feasible. A big part of that is due to

Or my lack thereof.

At any given point I am working on three to five short stories of varying lengths and stages of development. Plus: I have a second novel that hovers over everything else, even when I’m not working on it. I’m always thinking long term and I’m not lacking in motivation or for things to do.

Es Muss Sein.

Fans of either Beethoven or Czech author Milan Kundera will recognize that German phrase. It’s a heavy, booming insistence of, It Must Be. For Beethoven, it was a motif. For Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Es Muss Sein is something akin to fate. But for me, it is inextricably tied to the soul.

When I sit down to write, those are the words I hear. When I’m thinking about a story, those are the words I hear. When I have an idea for my notebook, whether good or bad, those are the words I hear.

I worked on my first novel for four years, and then spent another four years off-and-on revising and editing until the book shone like a polished stone. It hasn’t been published—at least not yet. Maybe I could have written eight 50,000 word novels over the same span of time, if that’s how I would have wanted to prioritize my work.

Except I have what my mother calls, “A one-track mind.” I’m a tinkerer and a perfectionist. I’m the type of writer who sometimes spends more than eight hours on a single paragraph.

If I were to start a NaNoWriMo, I’d have to follow through until the very end. (Es muss sein?) And who knows how long that would take? Surely much longer than the mere month of November.

So good luck, my literary friends. I’m sure you’ll create something great. Maybe I’ll even get a chance to read it. As for me, I’ll be here in the corner with a pen and paper and a tea, still plugging away, day after day.