Should You Do NaNoWriMo?
We’re quickly approaching that time of year again.
Everyone is fit to burst with excitement and anticipation.
The big day looms, and all I can think is…
Dare I put myself through the pressure of NaNoWriMo again?
I am sure that you, dear reader, will have considered the same thing at one point or another.
The best way forward, I decided, was to put together a list of pros and cons to help me, you, and everybody else decide whether or not we can bear to put ourselves through it again.
For anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Also known as November, for those of you that have not had the displeasure.
I say displeasure, but I don’t really mean that. There truly are good things about NaNoWriMo as well as bad.
Let me explain…
NaNoWriMo planning starts in September. You spend September and October planning your 50,000+ word novel. Then, come 1st November, you start writing!
To hit your 50,000 word total, you must write on average 1,667 words a day. Sounds doable right? I will probably write more than that a day in passive aggressive emails alone.
(Those of you that also work in customer service will understand my pain. Either way, check out the fantastic Customer Service Wolf on Instagram for a hilarious insight.)
Once you hit your 50,000 word goal, you have ‘won,’ you are a ‘winner,’ and you have successfully written a novel!
Or have you?
On paper, it sounds simple. It sounds like an easy way to get yourself from here, potentially novel-less, to there, bursting with excitement to share your new novel and ready to sign your publishing contract.
But I’m afraid it’s not that simple.
Con: Do you really have the time?
Let’s take the average typing speed of a normal human: 40 words per minute. If you don’t stop typing, it’ll take you just under 42 minutes to write up those 1,667 words.
Sounds easy? I challenge you to write non stop, for 42 minutes. Just keep writing, but it has to make sense, be coherent, and tell a story.
It’s hard, huh?
I know, I know. You will have been planning for two months by the time it comes to do it for real. You already know what you want to write. It’ll be much easier.
I sound harsh, but I have been there.
You may remember one of my previous blog posts, about how I failed NaNoWriMo.
Admittedly, I failed for a variety of reasons. But what I can tell you is that no matter how thorough you think your plan is, I can guarantee you that your daily words will take longer than anticipated.
Assuming they take twice as long, you’re looking at around an hour and a half. Can you honestly tell me that you have an hour and a half to spare every single day of November?
Even with the most intense time management, I don’t know many people that have that kind of time to spare and NOTHING else they ought to be doing instead.
Before you think about taking part in NaNoWriMo, you need to be honest about whether or not you really have the time.
Pro: NaNoWriMo will focus your writing time.
‘No, Ellie! You’re wrong! I have bags of time and NaNoWriMo will focus me!’
Oh really? That’s fantastic!
(It’s hard to tell someone that what they’ve just told you is fantastic without sounding sarcastic. But honestly, I mean it.)
If all that you need to focus your time and get that novel written is the structure of NaNoWriMo, then NaNoWriMo may well be for you!
They are incredibly supportive of any and all writers. The motto on their website is: ‘The world needs your novel.’ And that is probably true.
There is a huge amount of help, guidance and support for writers on the NaNoWriMo forums, with tons of articles and emails, and even a huge base on Twitter that you can tap into for support.
Seriously, there are so many supportive, inspiring writers on Twitter. There are even Twitter accounts set up to guide you through some writing sprints as well as people all over the globe taking part who are happy to provide moral support.
If you have the time and need a push, then there is a good chance that you will thrive within the NaNoWriMo environment.
Con: NaNoWriMo puts a lot of pressure on you
If you’re anything like me, that push and focus works great for the first few days, but the pressure starts building. It’s hard to maintain that momentum and you’re only human.
If you really want to do this, consider how much of your life in November will be dedicated to it. How much you are going to want to hit that word count. How negative you are going to feel if you don’t hit it.
I was incredibly hard on myself when I started to get behind.
The emotional cost of failing is very high, at least for me and a lot of people that I know. And, unfortunately, most people don’t ‘win.’
If you check out the stats for NaNoWriMo on the wikiwrimo page you won’t be encouraged.
In 2016, for instance, there were 384,126 participants and over 34,000 winners. That’s less than 10% of people actually reaching their 50,000 word goal.
I’m not saying you can’t be in that 10%. I am just saying that it takes a lot of incredibly hard work to do so, and you need to be prepared for that.
Pro: You have the first draft of a novel come November 30th
That’s exactly what it is, though.
I don’t mean to sound negative—writing a book in 30 days is an amazing feat. If there is anyone reading this that has done that, I truly applaud you.
Having a first draft is a fantastic place to start. But there are too many people out there that don’t realise that this still needs a buttload of work doing to it.
I tricked you. I told you this was a pro but it’s secretly a con, too! #sorrynotsorry
On average, traditionally published authors go through at least three drafts before the final piece is ready, depending on their process.
There are too many people out there that think November 30th is the pot of gold at the end of the (slog of a) rainbow.
I used to be one of these people. Little teenage Ellie used to look at NaNoWriMo through rose-tinted glasses and see it not as the first step on a long, arduous path, but instead as a magic spell that would write me a book and make me a famous published author. Just like that.
Finishing your novel doesn’t make you a novelist. You’re still an aspiring novelist.
But that is not a bad thing. No, 30th November does not bring a world of people wanting to buy and read your book. But you do still get something out of this.
If we instead change the focus, you can achieve a lot from NaNoWriMo.
Going from an empty page to a first draft in three months (including the two months planning) is incredible. It puts you in a fantastic position to move forward, both with said novel and with your writing career, considering how much you will learn during this time.
Con: Is that book really gonna get you anywhere?
The sheer volume of people that start NaNoWriMo is incredible. And this, its 20th year, will potentially be the biggest one yet based on the incremental increase you can see on the Wikiwrimo stats page.
However, as Jerry Jenkins also points out, there have only been 250 of these completed novels traditionally published since 1999. That’s 13 per year.
Considering that a total of over 3,000,000 (yes, three million) different NaNoWriMos have been started in the last 19 years, it is astounding that only 250 got a traditional book deal.
Though I hate to say it, as I am sure your novel idea is great, it’s unlikely you are going to get a traditional publishing deal out of those three months of hard work. The odds just aren’t in your favour.
(Sorry, teenage Ellie. Writing a novel in November is not going to make you Rowling-Rich.)
Obviously there’s the ever-expending indie publishing market, and you can make it there. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of indie publishing vs traditional publishing before making your decision, though.
I’m an optimist. Anything can happen. I do truly believe that.
But before you rush off to create your NaNoWriMo account, just remember that what you’re getting out of it isn’t a publishing deal and tons of money.
You need to be real about what you’re going to get out of NaNoWriMo.
Because what you’re most likely to get is the start of a first draft, or even a complete first draft. A building block. The first step on a very long road to being a successful author. And that is nothing to turn your nose up at!
Plus there is plenty of networking to be done. In my home city of Nottingham there is a fantastic community of people that take part, and spend time writing together. There probably is where you live too. Writer friends can be both the most interesting and the most valuable.
What an amazing gift it would be to have those things. If you can achieve that, then you are already succeeding. It takes work and is a huge accomplishment.
So should you do it?
You know what? Why not?
There are so many reasons not to. They may or may not apply to you.
If the above cons don’t put you off, and you believe that you are capable of dedicating the time and not getting sick of writing with such pressure on you for a whole month, then why not try it?
If you have been reading through this helpful guide and feel that perhaps you won’t be able to take the pressure (which is okay! You’re allowed to not want to put yourself through hell!) then don’t. And don’t feel bad for one second for making the right decision for you.
I tried NaNoWriMo last year. This was the first time I have properly attempted it as a real life, grow up writer, and I wasn’t able to do it.
Even so, I learned a lot in those months.
I learned how to plan better. I learned how to better weave my plot. And I learned a lot about my limits.
‘Failing’ NaNoWriMo was one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer.
So yes, if you can go into this with an open mind, ready to achieve a first draft and not a finished book that will make you millions, that you are ready to try it.
But please, for me, be kind to yourself. Most people agree that NaNoWriMo is hard, especially for new writers, and I want to make sure that you aren’t going into this expecting too much.
Enjoy it. Have fun working on a novel. Throw yourself into the vast pool of NaNoWriMo support and get everything out of it that you can.
If you’re in need of a daily boost reminding you how badass you are, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. My Twitter account is @ebettswriter, and I’d love to hear how you’re getting on, what you thought of this article, or just to say hi! I don’t bite.
And most importantly, dear writer, go forth and write.
Over to You
If you have tried NaNoWriMo, tell me, did you succeed? What would be your top tips for making sure people survive to 30th November?
Whether you have done it before or not, do you think you will be taking part this year after reading my pros and cons?