Evaluating NaNoWriMo: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Like thousands of other writers around the world, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). During NaNoWriMo, writers commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November.

Since this was the first time I joined the big event, I didn't really know what to expect. But now that I'm on the other side, having successfully completed my 50K goal and my book, I've taken some time to analyze the experience.

The bottom line for NaNo is that you have to concentrate and write fast. But I've always wondered if forcing yourself to write fast is helpful. Can any good come from a novel (or half of a novel) produced under such pressure? Or do most NaNo books end up being garbage?

Now after having gone through the experience, I can safely say that I have found several benefits of writing a LOT of words in a SHORT amount of time. But on the other hand, I see the drawbacks too.

The Good:

*The story has the chance to flow.

I'm the first to admit that most of my "writing" time is filled with countless interruptions, and just when I get going, one of my kids needs me for something, or the kitten is climbing the Christmas tree, or the dog is eating another stray glove.

I've learned to write no matter the circumstances. And the slow steady pace works well. A little bit every day eventually adds up into a completed book. But . . .

Through NaNoWriMo, I pushed myself to write more, to go beyond my usual comfort zone and steady pace. And since greater proportions of my story were unfolding in my head every day, the story stayed with me better. I found myself thinking about the plot and characters more often during my non-writing times. And when I came back to the manuscript the next day, the story continued to flow and pick up speed.

*The inhibitions begin to fall away.

Because the story was flowing stronger and faster, I found that I had less "wasted" time trying to pick back up on where I'd left off the previous day. I could more easily jump back into the raging river and let the story spurt me away in the fast current, rather than drifting lazily along the way I was accustomed.

My characters' needs became more urgent, their problems more real, and the conflict more consuming. The story became paramount, and the nit-picky issues fell away.

*The creative part of the brain has the chance to operate at maximum capacity.

Once the inhibitions fall away, then the creative part of our brains has the freedom to come out and play. One of my favorite aspects of being a writers is experiencing the new developments that happen during the writing process, when the creative part of the brain comes up with something unique and totally unexpected. It might be a brilliant new plot twist or an interesting way to round out the character arc.

When we reach that place of uninhibited creativity, we begin seeing and embracing ideas that we didn't know existed.

The Bad:

*Allowing for potentially sloppy writing mechanics. 

But . . . fortunately, this is something we can always go back and fix during the editing stage. In fact, after I finished, I wrote a self-editing checklist to help guide me when I go through the book again. The story's potential is down on paper, but now the hard work begins of analyzing every scene and trimming and honing it to its fullest potential.

*Neglecting other things in your life. 

Yes, my exercising was very inconsistent (almost non-existent) during the month. I pared down my blogging and social media to the bare bones. And I spent my Thanksgiving "break" practically glued to the keyboard. But . . . it was just for one month. And surprisingly, I even had time to beat my oldest son in a game of Scrabble or two.

My Summary: To my surprise, NaNoWriMo had no ugly sides to it, and I would definitely participate again. I think it's something we could do any month of the year, particularly if it doesn't work with our schedules to participate in November. However, if I was going to challenge myself to write a lot in a short amount of time, here are just a few of the things I would do to make it successful:

*Have the story well-planned or perhaps even partially started before beginning the month-long challenge. I always find the first chapter more difficult to shape, and so having that done already (or several chapters) can help the rest move forward more smoothly.

*Get an accountability partner, someone you can check in with, who knows what you're doing, and can keep tabs on your progress with you (and maybe even participate too).

*Take a mini-break from social media. I actually wrote up some of my blog posts ahead, reposted a couple of older posts, and even took a day off (for Thanksgiving).

What about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo or wrote a LOT in a short amount of time? What was your experience like?

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