Nanowrimo. Why I don’t.


You don’t have to run a marathon. (Photo by Allan Flood.)

Since we’re coming up on November, we’re going to start hearing a whole lot about Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, and every year it makes me cringe. While I have nothing but respect for those who turn their lives upside down for a month to participate, I can’t think of a worse way to write. OK, maybe with a clay tablet in the middle of a gunfight. But you catch my drift.

What do I have against Nanowrimo, you ask? Let’s do some math. To get to 50,ooo words by the end of the month, you will need to write 1,666 words a day (plus change). Let’s assume you already have a writing plan of some kind, or you’re just going to write by the seat of your pants, and you plan to write every day. We’ll also assume that you write like the wind, and you can blow through 500-600 words an hour. That’s three hours, every day, for 30 days in a row that you will need to write. At least.

If  you have a job and a family and a commute, something’s got to give. After stuff like sleep, work, commuting, cooking, eating, cleaning, laundry, quality time with your kids and spouse, yardwork, church, volunteering, caregiving, etc., there’s not a whole lot left.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does this cool thing called the American Time Use Survey.  The BLS found out that for people between the ages of 25 and 54 with jobs and kids, about 2.5 hours were used for leisure and sports. If you take an hour of that away for exercise, you end up with a whopping 1.5 hours a day to crank out your 1,666 words per day. That means something important has got to go.

I’m not saying Nanowrimo is all bad or even impossible. But I’m just not willing to pay that price. I want writing to be part of my daily life — I’m in it for the long run. So I’d rather make time every day — even if it’s just 30 minutes and a couple hundred words —  than turn my life upside-down for a month.

And I worry that a lot of beginning writers try Nanowrimo for the same reasons people trying to lose weight commit to running a race — it’s a powerful kick in the ass. But what happens to those people after the race is over? The sad thing is that many of them never make it that far. As this New York Times article reports, about half the people who start a running program drop out in the first six weeks.

I am not a runner, but just like success in many other sports, experts say the key is to start slow, increase difficulty gradually, and not burden yourself with a demanding program.

I think the same advice applies pretty well to writing. Write a little every day. Instead of putting your life on hold to write, make it an integral part of your life. Be patient. It may take you a year to get a draft of your novel (or maybe two years). But if you show up every day — even most days — you will get there.

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2 Responses to Nanowrimo. Why I don’t.

  1. Lisa Thomson says:

    I’m about to launch my fourth go around on NaNo so I am indeed very familiar with all that must be sacrificed (albeit temporarily) during the month of November. And I agree that writing a little every day is a better strategy for the long haul, BUT trying to hit that word count allows me to tell my inner editor to shut the heck up and gives me the freedom to just let it all flow out of my fingers. It’s also lots of fun to read through it a couple of months later — it seems only vaguely familiar, like something I read in my childhood.

  2. I totally agree, It’s too much pressure and stress for me, and life is short. I like writing plans and goals that lend themselves to a livable writing life. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

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