November is upon us, and with the close of Halloween and the beginning of a new month you might be seeing across various social media platforms “daily word counts” being posted, sudden concerns about productivity, or rants over applications like “Scrivener” or “Write or Die” when they unexpectedly crashes. If this is happening to you, I’d recommend stocking up on coffee for your friends and patience with yourself. November is the month of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.
I’ve seen writers react both positively and negatively over the event. The positive sentiment usually constitutes cheerleading, tough love advice, and an overall celebration of hardcore, P90 X-style word-herding. The authors who loathe NaNoWriMo? They hate it with a passion, and don’t get the nay-sayers started on the NaNoWriMo instances that see publication. That’s some prime vitriol there.
What’s my opinion on NaNo? Anything that gets people writing, I think, is a good thing. NaNo is an incredible challenge. Fifty thousand words in a month when people are planning family get-togethers and massive multi-course dinners? That’s amazing. I know how tough it is to plan for a podcast around book appearances, and yet here are these writers both experienced and brand-spanking-new all making a mad push across 30 days. Seriously, that takes guts and I got nothing but love and admiration for that sort of drive.
There are some writers I’ve met who have told me that NaNo is the only time in the year when they write. For some of these writers, they need NaNo to light a fire under their asses. It’s that “mob motivation” that gets them moving. There are other writers who live for the thrill of the deadline. Knowing that you have to finish by November 30 is a bit like betting on sports or playing the slots in Vegas. You’re gambling against your own talent, abilities, and reputation to reach that final day of the month with over fifty thousand words to show for the effort.
Then there are the writers who tell me “This is when I’m allowed to write.”
Wait. Hold on. Say what?
I honestly don’t know if this is an agreement between partners or if this is some weird regimen that writers have inexplicably convinced themselves that November is somehow a magic month for ideas and productivity. While this would be a good time to say “Nothing wrong with that. You do you.” I don’t get this midset at all.
According to the NaNaWriMo website…
National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.
See, this goes way deeper than just one month of intensive writing. NaNo offers people who have always wondered “Could I be a writer?” a chance to see if they really can crank out the words for a novel. Regardless of your background, if November is the only month out of twelve when you “allow” yourself to write, I encourage you at stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. The goal in NaNo is not to write a novel but to just write. Let’s say when December 1 rolls around, you only have 40,000 words to your name. Should you be disappointed? Well, in this humble writer’s opinion, NO! You have half a novel in front of you. Why stop when December 1 arrives? I’ve seen NaNo participants chuck ideas because they “didn’t make the goal” and this is when I pull my hair out.
It’s not about making the goal. It’s about getting your butt in the chair and writing.
This brings me to what I believe is the other lesson to take from NaNo. You’ve just spent 30 days writing your heart out. You forced yourself into a brain-numbing routine of getting words on paper. Now, on December 1, you’re going to just stop? For the love of God and all that is holy—why?
Setting a pace is so important. Maybe “2000 words a day” is good goal to shoot for, but start off with a 500-word count. Keep with that for a month. Get into a constant, consistent zone of productivity. Remember, this is a long game we’re playing. Not a sprint.
Now regardless if you pushed yourself across the 50K goal or fell short, you’ve already knocked it out of the park with the 1000-2000 words-a-day pace, so how about doing something reasonable on December 1. Take a breath. Give yourself a break. Then, on December 2, set a pace closer to 500 words. Should be easy enough to do after NaNo, right? Continue on your NaNo project, or for a change of pace, do something different. Whatever it is—a blogpost, a short story, or a new novel—write. Write in December. Write in January. Keep writing, because that is what writers do. NaNoWriMo is not your once-a-month getaway. It’s your first step. Go ahead and follow through with the next one. And the one after that.
But when December 1 rolls around, challenge yourself again. Instead of saying “Well, there always next year.” ask yourself “What’s next?”
Because that is what writers do.