I have held off writing this post until the end of the month because I didn’t want to “yuck anyone’s yum” as the kids say. I have no beef with other people participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but for me, NaNo is a no-go. And I wanted to write about it for the writers who feel discouraged that they struggle to do NaNo or don’t like to do it, especially when it seems like everyone is participating, except you.
I jokingly refer to NaNoWriMo as “No Words November” for me. Where other people see synergy and community, I find myself crushed beneath other people’s massive (for me) daily word counts. Comparison-itis hits, and it hits HARD. My soul dies incrementally at the beginning of November with each friend who participates and posts that they wrote 2,000+ words in a day. On a personal level, I am very happy for them that they’re making progress and don’t want to mute the word or my friends for a month, but my inner writer is screaming in panic as I am lucky if I get 500 words a day during November. The more I see the large numbers, the worse it gets to the point that I often get so far in my head that I stop writing in November. This has happened repeatedly.
This is a me problem. I know it is, and I know I need to work on my comparison-itis, but I think for people who tend to be slower writers or who don’t zero draft, NaNo feels like an insurmountable task. During the height of the semester, I’m lucky if I can get 10,000 words a month. Part of my personal grudge against NaNo is that it’s in November, which is when I am a) perpetually exhausted from the time change/weather b) under a mountain of grading because that’s when the long papers roll in. It’s just not a convenient time for me as a professor to be doing anything extra, let alone stretching way past my normal word count.
If we could shift NaNo to like June, that would be great. I vividly remember being in college and one of my friends having a meltdown because she was behind her NaNo goal and her schoolwork, which she sacrificed to write more. I wanted to shake her. NaNo is one month, grades are forever. The same rule applies as an adult with a job. I’m not sacrificing my mental health and totally stressing myself out for something that in the long run doesn’t matter. NaNo is just another month, just another arbitrary activity, and my life and worth doesn’t hinge on a word count.
My process also doesn’t work with NaNo. The typical wisdom is that you shouldn’t edit as you go, which I have to do. Editing is my warm-up before I start my next writing session, and it keeps me from having to do a massive amount of editing at the end of my draft. On top of that, I am a plantser/gardener. This means that I don’t usually have an outline before I start writing or, if I do, it’s on an act-by-act basis or only a few scenes ahead at a time. Not being a plotter means that either I have to zero draft (messy, scant rough draft), which I really don’t like to do, or I need to rapidly figure out where the hell I’m going. My lack of forethought does not lend itself to this process. I do not like cleaning up a mess. I am the kind of person who cleans the bowls and pans as they cook instead of dealing with a giant mess at the end. The same holds true for writing. Without being able to edit as I go or having the time to do so while writing so much, it really isn’t worth it for me as I will struggle to finish a book that requires that much editing.
Know yourself and your process should be the main takeaway from this blog post. If traditional NaNoWriMo works well with your writing process, then you should definitely go for it, but if it doesn’t work for you or the way you write, it might not make sense to go for 50k words in a month and wreck your mental health or manuscript. Every year the FOMO gets me during week 1 when everyone’s energy is high and they are so enthused, but once the stressed posts set in, I realize why I don’t torture myself. I know I would hitch my self-worth as a writer to those giant (for me) daily word counts, and things would not end well.
If you haven’t enjoyed NaNo this year but feel like it’s necessary or a hallmark of a “real” writer/author, it isn’t. I have never won NaNo. I have only tried twice and failed both times. Camp NaNo where I’ve stuck to a more reasonable word count goal is the only way I can do NaNo. I have eight books out with several more cooking, so don’t feel bad if NaNo just doesn’t jive for you. You certainly don’t need to do it in order to finish your manuscript or to find a supportive writing community. You can do that all on your own any month of the year.