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Five Reasons Not to do NaNoWriMo

We’re three days into November. Or, as many of think about it, three days into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Cathy wrote a great post yesterday about trusting your gut during NaNoWriMo. Today I thought I’d write a post about the reasons you shouldn’t do NaNoWriMo at all.

Now, to be clear, I secretly love NaNo. I’ve done it sporadically over the last couple of decades, and I absolutely love the concept of it. I just think that if you’re doing NaNoWriMo for the wrong reasons, it may do more harm than good. So let’s get into it. Here are the top five reasons you absolutely shouldn’t do NaNoWriMo.

(Note: The first year I participated, I started on the 8th of November, so if you haven’t started yet and you think you’d enjoy the experience, it’s definitely not too late!)

1. Because it will be easier to write my novel when I’m part of a group.

The great thing about being part of any writing community, including both Writer Unboxed and NaNoWriMo, is that there are other people there with the same goals and dreams and oddities as you. Hanging out on the NaNo Forums is almost like going to a writing conference without the need to buy tickets, leave the house, or even put on pants. But here’s the sad truth of the matter:

A group won’t help you write your novel.

Being part of a group of writers can be encouraging, but no one else is going to do the writing for you. Every year, thousands upon thousands of NaNo participants spend more time writing forum posts asking for encouragement, or bemoaning their lack of progress, than they do working on their novel.

It won’t be easier to write your novel when you’re part of a group. You may get more encouragement and feel more engaged in a writing community than usual, but you will also have a great many more distractions and chances for procrastination.

2. Because I’ll be able to focus exclusively on my novel for a whole month.

Life happens. All the time. And those of us with jobs and families and friends and hobbies and other commitments always struggle to put aside time for writing. As much as it would be nice to think that with NaNoWriMo comes the freedom to put life on hold and write all the time, nothing else in your life actually changes.

Plus, November in the USA is a month full of preparation for Thanksgiving, when hordes of interstate family members arrive on your doorstep demanding sacrifices of turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie and then complain incessantly about the quality of the food, while preventing you from doing anything you would prefer to be doing. (Disclaimer: My understanding of Thanksgiving is based entirely on bad sitcoms.) Meanwhile, here in Australia, the weather has just turned from “mildly warm” to “it’s so hot that if you think too hard your brain may burst into flames.” So not only will you not have more time during November than usual, you may actually find you have less.

If you can’t focus exclusively on your novel any other time of the year, you won’t be able to focus exclusively on your novel during November. Expecting the world to miraculously make more time for you because you’re writing is just setting yourself up for misery.

3. Because I’ll write 50,000 words in a month, instead of my usual two or three thousand.

That’s great! Best of luck with that. I mean it. Just tell me one thing: How?

Unless you’re willing and able to completely change your life, your priorities, and your commitments during the month of November (which some people do), it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to increase your writing output by 2000%.

According to the “rules” of NaNoWriMo, you’re supposed to start a brand new project and write 50,000 words to “win”. But there’s a little-known secret about the rules.

No one comes to your house to make sure you’re following them.

If you want to keep working on your current project, go for it. If you want to set yourself the goal of writing more or fewer than 50,000 words, no one can stop you. You have the power to use the benefits of NaNoWriMo to your advantage, without being constrained by the rules.

But the fact is, if you normally only write a couple of thousand words in a month, you won’t write 50,000 words in November. Don’t set yourself up to fail. And don’t expect miracles just because you joined a website. Instead, look at your usual output and your schedule for the month, and design your own stretch target.

4. Because in December, I’ll be able to get published.

I’m sure I don’t even need to say this, but…

No. Just… no.

Word on the street is that this is the reason many authors, agents, and publishers despise NaNoWriMo. In all fairness to NaNo itself, the website is very clear on the fact that the work you do in November is not going to be ready for publication on December 1st. But every year, a slew of NaNo manuscripts are self-published in the first couple of weeks of December, and literary agents are inundated with poorly written query letters.

Firstly, unless you’re writing MG or (possibly) YA, your 50,000 words does not a novel make. An adult novel is rarely shorter than 80,000 words. (Yes, I know there are exceptions. They’re exceptions.) So the first thing you’ll need to do when you “win” NaNoWriMo is to finish writing your novel.

Secondly, perhaps there are people out there who can churn out an entire novel in 30 days and have it be perfect. But I’ve yet to come across one. What you’ve got at the end of November is a first draft. Or part of a first draft. That draft needs to sit and fester a while. Then it needs to be revised, rewritten, edited, exorcised, yelled at, threatened with fire, and revised some more. Only after that will it be ready to seek a home somewhere.

There are many novels out there, both self-published and traditionally published, that started their lives as NaNovels. But they weren’t published in December of the year they were written. If that’s your reason for signing up to NaNoWriMo, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

5. Because you want to pick up chicks by telling them you’re a novelist.

What do I know? Maybe that is a good reason.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done it in the past? What do you think are the best reasons you should participate?

About Jo Eberhardt

Jo Eberhardt is a writer of speculative fiction, mother to two adorable boys, and lover of words and stories. She lives in rural Queensland, Australia, and spends her non-writing time worrying that the neighbor’s cows will one day succeed in sneaking into her yard and eating everything in her veggie garden.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.