Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

The NaNoWriMo Challenge

The November Annual Challenge

I have had a couple people write me and ask me what I thought of the NaNoWriMo challenge that goes on every November.

Well, I think it’s fine as far as it goes. Anything to get writers motivated to write is a good thing in my book.

But at the same time, I often feel it is tragic. The people who push the challenge are so far down into the myths, they bode no other methods.

What they push is this: Write sloppy, train yourself to write sloppy because you can always fix it later.

And very, very few writers ever spend the time or have the energy to “fix” a sloppy worthless draft of a story. So those books end up in files, lost to time while the writer feels guilty for most of the next year because they never “fixed” their book.

There are a ton of reasons, mostly concerning the creative process, why most writers can’t go back and clean up and finish those books. Not getting into that here, but there is little doubt most of the challenge books never see the light of day.

That is tragic.

Yet the writers who write the sloppy draft feel happy that they could pound keys for 50,000 words in thirty days. Writing sloppy, most people could type far over a thousand words per hour. So fifty hours in thirty days.

About an hour and a half per day. Most people watch television for longer than that every day.

So I love that the challenge gets people writing. I hate that it teaches them to write sloppy, waste perfectly good writing time to create something no one will ever see and will be torture for the writer to fix. That’s a great way to tell your brain that writing isn’t fun.

So now we are in the middle of the month-long challenge. It is not too late for some writers to cycle back, clean up the sloppy and finish the book clean.

And when you are done, send it to one first reader, get it copyedited (not edited), then get it out to real readers, meaning publish the thing and start the next book.

Writing is a ton more fun if you only write one draft and finish your story cleanly.

And that is my mixed opinion of the NaNoWriMo challenge.

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  • Harvey

    With you 100%. That’s exactly my take on it. Great to get a would-be started writing, but horrible for what they teach. Also horrible in my opinion for how they encourage writers to “interact” with others in the same boat. A lot of circular references going on, I suspect.

  • Vera Soroka

    I just got back to writing my novel today. Managed over 1600 words. It was a bit tough going. I would never take a long break from a novel again. I have to get to know this world again and I’m not sure where I’m going but we’ll keep going anyway.

  • Cora

    I love it and it works for me, for a couple of reasons. First off, I’ve learned from you how to get the mind set to write a clean first draft. But from there, November gets me writing regularly. And I get lax during the year. Additionally, it’s a nice way to connect with writers locally – sometimes a tough thing to do. So it’s win-win for me.

  • David Anthony Brown

    I volunteer for NaNoWriMo, and don’t regret the time I put into it. I enjoy sitting across the table from another writer and having a discussion on craft or business. I try to do some teaching where I can, with newsletters and face-to-face. But the persistent myths have jaded me on the November challenge. Nothing to really be done about it.

    Great challenge, if only because it gets people to write. Nano helped get me started down my path. It’s a mixed bag though. A lot of days, I feel like the only person who looks forward to what I can write in December, and January, etc.

    • Kevin Johnson

      I get the same way, David. When I write, I come up with other ideas way too quickly…like my brain just telling me to stop one project and start another. The next project always seem so exciting!

  • Kevin Johnson

    What’s interesting is I teach a creative writing class in a middle school and I use NaNoWriMo every year. The thing is, I start the first lesson of the semester with Heinlein’s Rules. I make them memorize it. Then we get into coming up with ideas and how to push past that critical voice so writing is all about playing and getting comfortable with writing as play. The students love the idea of having the freedom to create what they want, but the worries and second-guessing are strong throughout November. I like to tell them that they will break through that wall–some will do it with a cannon and others will do it with a plastic spork. But everyone WILL do it.

    I’m nervous about how they will react to our “editing” sessions when I tell them to check for spelling and make sure it’s legible, then send it out to our in-class paperback anthology.

    I tried teaching cycling, though, and they don’t quite seem to get it. Hopefully next semester they will. 🙂

  • Annemarie Nikolaus

    I think, the sloppyness is the fallout of NaNo missing to instill real confidence and trust the process.
    During the last years, a sort of business has grown that pretends to help writers to prepare for NaNo. This contradicts the founder’s original line “no plot – no problem” that encouraged to write into the dark.