4 Myths about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

4 Myths about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

When I was a teenager, my mom had a friend who introduced me to a radical idea. Once a year, she said, she sat down to write an entire novel. She spent a great deal of time preparing for this event, even making a meal plan so that she would be able to devote the majority of her time to the production of her novel.

At the time, I could not conceive of the idea that a person could produce an entire novel in a single month. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered this event was known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). And it was a few more still before I figured out how to cross it’s goal line with consistency.

I’ve spoken before about my love / hate relationship with NaNoWriMo. As a young writer, struggling to get words on the page, I mostly noticed the pitfalls of what felt like undertaking a massive project in the middle of one of the year’s busiest times. (I mean, who chose November for this? It’s sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, with Thanksgiving thrown in for good measure!)

I didn’t start participating in NaNoWriMo regularly until 2016 – and I fell 5,000 words short of the finish line that year. (I actually finished my project just shy of the 50,000 mark.) But I have been a regular ‘winner’ since 2017, and I have become something of a convert of the event.

There are, I have come to understand, a fair number of misconceptions about NaNoWriMo. I fell prey to many of them myself for many years! Now that I’ve met a lot more of the community, however, I think it might be worth clearing up a few of the pervasive myths.

NaNoWriMo is for only for novels

It’s right there in the name of the event – National Novel Writing Month. The point is to write a novel! I’m sure many people see this and instantly determine that NaNo is not for them. Perhaps instead of writing novels, they write screenplays. Or short stories. Or poems, comics, blog articles, or fanfiction.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. There are many different types and styles of writing. And because this massive event includes only one type in its name (instead of being National Writing Month), some people write it off as being for serious writers of literary fiction who surely sip wine while they’re at it.

And while NaNo IS for those people, that doesn’t mean it’s not also for you. I’ve known plenty of people who use NaNo for short story or poetry anthologies. I’ve even met people who use NaNo to work on their Dungeons and Dragons campaign notes. One of my friends is using NaNo to outline her novels this year, rather than diving into her first draft.

Writing encompasses a vast array of activities, mediums and genres. And while some of the event’s participants are really serious about trying to finish a book, plenty of people are just writing for fun. Maybe they fell out of practice and want to get back into the groove again. Or perhaps writing is just a hobby.

Whatever the case, most members of the NaNo community are looking to connect with other writers to find advice and encouragement. So if you’ve shied away from the event before because you’re not writing a novel, I highly encourage you to give it a second look. Chances are, someone else is working on a similar project and would love to chat with you!

NaNoWriMo requires you to start a new project

Every time NaNo was pitched to me, the core idea was to start a new project. In the months leading up to NaNo, the writing community buzzes with chatter about fresh ideas, character bios and outlines.

But the greatest source of frustration among the community is that many writers are in the middle of another project by the time November rolls around. I’ve seen several tweets lamenting that current projects simply can’t be put aside to favor a new one. (An action that can be deadly to the productivity of a writing project.)

This kept me away from NaNoWriMo for many years. I was actively writing and tracking my word counts. But I felt like an outsider looking through a rainy window while everyone else had fun. Some people work on two projects in November – a NaNo project and one they started before. Which is great if you can tackle the workload.

Finally in 2016, I decided I was tired of lurking on the sidelines. I was in the middle of writing a novel, and I knew the cheerful encouragement surrounding NaNo would help me mount the final hill to the finish line. So I decided to do something radical.

I rebelled. I signed up for NaNoWriMo with the full intent of using my current WIP.

One year later, I did it again. I was deep in re-writes for Symphony of the Stars, and I enjoyed the previous year so much I wanted to do it again. That was the year they introduced badges and, guess what? There’s now a badge for declaring yourself a NaNo Rebel.

So there’s no longer any reason to slink through the shadows. Whatever stage of a project you’re working on, you’re welcome among the NaNo crew!

NaNoWriMo is about finishing an entire project

There are many stages in the production of a novel. Lots of people think it starts when you sit down and start telling the story. And for some people it does. But lots of writers do a ton of work before they reach that stage. Personally, I spent several weeks working on world building and character development, and then I still jot down an outline before I actually start drafting.

So the idea of writing an entire novel in a single month still blows my mind. Even if you do manage to finish the rough draft of your novel in the allotted time – that doesn’t mean it’s finished. There are usually several editing passes involved in a polished product. Not to mention time with editors and beta readers, then yet more editing passes.

Once again, I think the name of the event is misleading. The actual goal of NaNoWriMo is not to finish something – it’s to write 50,000 words. Because 50,000 words is generally how long a story has to be in order to be considered a full novel. So if you can write 50,000 words in a month, technically you have written a novel. But most of us have far more to go after that initial 50k if we’re going to type the end.

So if you’re daunted by the idea of starting and finishing something in the same 30 day period – take heart! You’re by no means required to finish an entire project to claim your win for the year. The idea is to commit to writing, to encourage yourself to write, and to celebrate what you write – no matter how many words that might end up being.

NaNoWriMo isn’t worth it if you can’t hit the goal

You’ve probably noticed that at one point in time or another, I believed in all these myths. This is the final element that kept me away from NaNo for awhile. I simply couldn’t write 50,000 words in a single month.

Today, if I put my head down and devote all of my work slots to a single project, I can write 50,000 words in two weeks. I average between 6 – 8,000 words per day without really stretching. But this is after I spent years building up my writing habit. There was a time where I could barely squeeze 1,000 words into a day. And I remember getting excited when my max daily word counts started topping 3,000 regularly.

Heavy word production takes a lot of time and practice. And although it took me a long time to realize it, that’s actually the core of NaNoWriMo. It shows you how to break your goals down into smaller pieces so that you can tackle them on a daily or weekly basis. It encourages you to develop a habit or a schedule while keeping your end goal in sight.

So no matter how many words you end up writing, be it 1,000 or 100,000, NaNoWriMo is worth the time and effort. Winning the event is actually somewhat arbitrary. You can buy yourself some merch for hitting the goal. And I believe there’s a printable certificate that becomes available each year when you cross the winning word goal. But it isn’t as if literary agents are ever going to check how often you hit the NaNo goal.

Which also means there’s no real consequence for losing. You’re not a horrible writer if you got busy or distracted. Or if your project ended up being less than 50,000 words.

These days, the NaNo site is a lot more flexible than it used to be. I noticed one of my buddies set her NaNo goal as half NaNo and it displayed her progress bar as 25,000 words instead of the usual 50k. And if you participate in Camp NaNoWriMo (which takes place every April and July), there are a wide array of different types of goals available on the website.

Heck, you don’t even need to use the NaNo website to get involved in the event. Just use the hashtag on social media and the writing community will be happy to chat with you without ever checking up on your status.

At the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is about encouraging writers to write. So if you’re on the fence about whether or not you should give it a try, come join us! We’d love to have you!

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