National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges writers-new, experienced, and all levels in-between-to write a novel (50,000 words) in thirty days during the month of November. The tone of the event is fun, collaborative, and a bit manic. (50,000 words in thirty days breaks down to 1,667 words a day, or about 5 to 6 pages. A strenuous exercise, even for the most experienced writer.) Participants are encouraged (but not required) to contribute to the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, a non-profit organization which brings free creative writing programs to thousand of classrooms.
Clearly, NaNoWriMo is a noble enterprise, and a lot of fun for writers of all ages. But one of the criticisms of NaNoWriMo is its focus on quantity over quality. There’s no time for revision when you’re cranking out 5 or 6 pages a day for a month. The NaNoWriMo website even admits, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap.”
Indeed. Yet for some writers, the quick pace of NaNoWriMo is exactly what they need to break through writer’s block or cure a nasty bout of procrastination.
NaNoWriMo is especially intriguing to those people who have “always wanted to write a novel” but don’t quite know how to start or are overwhelmed by the prospect. The website goes on to say, “By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.” Any writer who has the least bit of experience will tell you that this type of free-writing, blocking out the internal editor, has enormous value.
The NaNoWriMo website also encourages a sense of community. Participants register on the site and connect with other participants in their area to meet at libraries and independent book stores to support each other and write in groups.
Support is also offered by the NaNoWriMo organization in daily pep talks and emails. The 2010 Pep Talk Team includes children’s authors Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Tithe) and Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), and fantasy author Mercedes Lackey (Heralds of Valdemar series).
Still, NaNoWriMo has a few drawbacks. For one, any works in progress will suffer from neglect during the month of November. And at the end of the month, the writer is left with a manuscript that is mostly useless. The biggest mistake is for a new writer to participate in NaNoWriMo, finish the 50,000 word “novel” and believe she has a completed a publishable, salable product. No agent or publisher wants to see these writing exercises, believe me. (Or if not me, then believe agent Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary Agency.)
The answer is see NaNoWriMo as a writing exercise-a long, arduous, exhausting exercise-and not an accurate experience of the writing life. Taken in this way, NaNoWriMo can be a valuable experience to a writer’s career, breaking open new creative possibilities and building new relationships with other writers.