The Pros & Cons of NaNoWriMo

When I was 20-weeks pregnant with my rainbow baby, my husband, two-year-old, and I flew to Virginia for my best friend’s first baby shower. As one of the hostesses and as a pretty good cook, I was in charge of making the food. All of it. Catering seemed cost-prohibitive (much like hiring a ghostwriter for your novel might seem…also, you love writing, just like I love cooking…it’s the fun part!).

Anyway, we arrived later than I hoped (8 p.m.) to her mother’s house. I got my family settled and started whirring away in the kitchen. I had a list of prep work and dishes to get assembled, so that the next day I could get up and finish the job. I stayed up most of the night. I was deliriously exhausted. After a few hours-sleep, I got up and went back to the kitchen. The shower started at 2. Guests were arriving, and I was still putting the finishing touches on some of the dishes. I was sweaty, sans-make-up, and looking like holy hell. After the food was plated and the buffet set, I ran upstairs, hastily wiped my face with a baby wipe, dashed on some nice clothes and make-up, and ran back downstairs to toast the mother-to-be. (Are we allowed to drink yet?)

As I caught my breath from the marathon, I surveyed the results. Most of the food turned out well. The “world-of-love” / “oh-the-places-you-will-go” theme somewhat translated in the food—we’d served dishes inspired from various places around the world, especially places the new parents had visited. There were some hits and some misses. For example, for dessert, I made cake balls decorated with blue and green icing to look like planet Earth. My little Earth balls looked more like nuclear war had broken out and Mother Nature said, “You jerks are on your own,” before peacing out to colonize Neptune. My Earth balls were a freaking disaster; though, the people who were brave enough to try them said they tasted good. My husband said they tasted like cake batter (sooo…edible?). 

How NaNoWriMo is Like My BFF’s Baby Shower

Cooking for that baby shower is a short version of what participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is like. You have a plan—ideally a pretty solid plan. You know you’re committing to a few red-eye nights (but that’s okay because you’re going to have written a damn book in a month), but you can do this. It’s going to be great.

So, you do it. You dedicate November 1 to November 30 to writing a freaking book. You outline, you pre-write, you write, you think. You lose sleep. You make some really good choices. You have good characters and a good concept. You make a few Earth balls (oops), but you can fix those later…or you can throw them out and try something else when you’re editing. You keep going. It’s almost November 30…and then it is. The end.

You did it. You wrote a book. The theme’s a little foggy and the writing is a little sloppier than if you were just going at your slow and steady pace, but it’s all there. All 400+ pages. Now you just have to edit the thing. **Cries. Eats Earth ball**

Pros of NaNoWriMo

Does this sound appealing to you? If you’re the kind of writer who has an idea but who’s never been able to finish a book because you’re overly analytical or you start fussing with sentence structure, NaNoWriMo can be the kick in the keister you need to push past those distractions or whatever other kryptonite holds you back.

The pros of committing to NaNoWriMo are:

  • The sense of accomplishment. You wrote a book. In a month. It might not be a great book. You might never revise or publish it, but you did it. If you’re the kind of aspiring author who’s afraid that they’ll never be able to finish a book, NaNoWriMo is the perfect proof that you can at least write the whole concept from start to finish. Let that motivate you to then take a more strategic approach to either revising your NaNoWriMo novel or to going from start to finish with the next one.
  • The habit of writing. If you’re going to write a book in a month, you’d better get a seatbelt to strap yourself in at your computer because you’re going to be developing some serious disciplinary skills. So many hopeful novelists talk about writing but then lament that they don’t have time. Well, if you commit to this, then you can commit to writing the other 335 days of the year. You’ll figure out when your best time to write is.
  • You’ll get better at writing more (and you’ll get faster). A standard novel is 80,000 words. November has 30 days. That averages to 2,666.66666666…(oh come on!) words a day. If that seems like a push, it is. That’s okay. Aim your arrow high and do the best you can. You’ll finish the month faster and better than when you started.
  • Your focus is on one project. Most writers have a ton of ideas rolling around in their mind. This forces you to focus. Let’s put it this way…if you’ve ever wanted to be a novelist or an author, NaNoWriMo’s a great place to kick start writing that first novel.
  • You have a great community of supporters. There are a ton of people who participate in NaNoWriMo. Like any marathon, not everyone will cross the finish line, but with those out there who are also writing, you can lean on them for motivation when the coffee pot leaves you uninspired. Use #nanowrimo, #nanowordsprints, and #campnanowrimo to find like-minded writers.

Cons of NaNoWriMo

Like all things, even good things, like fudge, there are downsides. While NaNoWriMo is mostly calorie-free (caution: may induce stress-eating), there are some cons. Those are:

  • You finish your novel and end up with an 80,000-word knot to untangle. It’s no coincidence that December is National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo). (Seriously, who’s profiting off of this!?) The thing is, if your draft is a hot mess, editing can take longer than writing to fix. We hope you’re prepared to get all Dr. Frankenstein on your baby there.
  • NaNoWriMo can stress people out. If you’re going to beat yourself up or have a meltdown or punch a wall or scream at your kids because you can’t hit your daily word quota, maybe take a step back and put things in perspective. No one’s putting a gun to your head to write a novel in a month (put the gun down). You chose to do it, so you can also choose the pace that works best for you life. It’s a great exercise as long as it doesn’t break your brain or your family. For some reason, loved ones are way less supportive of your dreams when they turn you in a snarling beast.
  • Not finishing can leave you feeling defeated. Like I said earlier, some writers don’t finish. It’s okay. Life is busy. You had to cook a turkey and then take a four-day turkey nap. Your precious 95-year-old Aunt Rebecca came to visit and forgot to leave. Whatever the issue, life happens and you don’t finish. If this is going to send you into a depression spiral, step away from the computer. Set realistic, achievable goals (NaNoWriMo is none of these things) and do what works for you.

Tips for Nailing NaNoWriMo

Given the pros and the cons, if you have a story idea, the time, and the right disposition, you should totally give NaNoWriMo a shot. (Its a figure of speech. Seriously, put the gun down.) I plan to do it this year but better than ever (now with fudge!). I’m going to have a plan that won’t need me to stress over hitting a daily word count.

I have a book I’ve been stewing on for a few months, but I haven’t taken anywhere yet. It’s got enough moving parts to where I can get it in shape ’80s-montage-style for drafting in November. Here’s what I plan to do and what I would advise any author to do with their story.

  • Develop a detailed story map. Recently I wrote about the merits of outlining and specifically referenced K.M. Weiland’s book Outlining Your Novel. While Ms. Weiland outlines for months at a time, it’s certainly doable to start now and to get a solid enough outline in place before November 1.
  • Create an outline, character sheets, scene lists, and pre-write some scenes. I’Have character’s voices, backgrounds, and side stories in place.
  • Be clear about the story’s midpoint and climax. You need to know what’s supposed to happen, so you can build up to those moments and make them resonate.

Sit down at the same time every day / night to write. For me, it’s night. I’m realistic. I have a family. There’s no way I’m going to be able to write stress-free until the people I love most are in bed.

I strongly contend that the level of planning you do before NaNoWriMo officially starts not only affects your motivation for writing your story, but it also impacts your ability to write a successful (and complete) rough draft. The more planning you do pre-NaNoWriMo, the cleaner that draft will be, too. You won’t be doing major surgery on your draft come NaNoEdMo; you’ll just be tying up loose ends, cleaning up some language, maybe re-writing here and there, but you’ll be in good shape for January, National Novel Publishing Month (I’m kidding; NaNoPubMo isn’t a thing….yet.)

If you’re thinking about giving NaNoWriMo a shot, contact me. I can help you outline, plan, and develop your novel’s characters, theme, and scenes. We’ll break figure out the main conflict and climax and create a storyline that flows right into those essential plot points to maximum effect. By the time we’re finished, all you’ll have to do come November 1 is start writing.