Should You NaNo?

29 Oct

Costumes. Candy. Ghoulishness and gore. As October draws to an end, many Americans are caught up in the annual frenzy of Halloween fun.

But writers around the world are already preparing for November and the month-long party that is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as participants affectionately call it.)  For one whole month, they will put their lives on hold and focus on a single goal:  To write an entire novel in thirty days.

In the past, I have joyfully signed up for the challenge. I love to write first drafts and what could be more fun than to do it with the support of 200,000 other writers? The NaNo site has tons of tips and programs to keep participants motivated and on track. Local groups get together and compete to keep things interesting. It’s everything a writing celebration should be.

So why aren’t I joining in this year?

Although I’ve participated in NaNo three times, I have never even come close to “winning” or writing the required 50,000 words during the contest. Oh, I’ve written entire first drafts in a month before, but never during November.

November is family time. Winter days are short, and there’s Thanksgiving to prepare for. I can’t ignore housework for a month when relatives are coming from out of town to visit. My kids will have at least a week off school for the holiday, and they usually catch a winter virus or two. Despite my best efforts, the season will take its toll. My word counts will fall flat and before I know it, I’ll be hopelessly behind.


Failing at NaNo leaves me feeling burned out and exhausted.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that NaNoWriMo was never intended for people like me. It must be wonderful for those who live alone.  But for those who have children at home, work long hours, or care for chronically ill relatives, it can be very discouraging.

As much as I love National Novel Writing Month, I think it would be healthier for me to write a little bit each day than to try to cram it all into one month-long writing binge.

I would love to hear your ideas on NaNoWriMo. Will you participate? If so, how will you juggle writing and family demands? If you’ve decided not to participate, why not? Would you be more likely to do NaNo, if it happened at some other time of year?


Posted by on October 29, 2012 in NaNoWriMo


15 responses to “Should You NaNo?

  1. rosemarykaye

    October 29, 2012 at 1:33 AM

    I also have mixed feelings about this. I’ve never taken part before, but I know people who have and who seemed to achieve the word count – but they were single, with no children, whereas although my children are older now, they still need attention, taxi-ing, etc – plus there are a lot of school events requiring my attendance from now up to Christmas. There are also many local events where I live – things that I’m involved in, such as craft fairs, concerts, Christmas sales, etc. I can’t get out of these and I don’t want to – they’re all part of the year for me.

    I agree with you – I’d be very unlikely to ‘succeed’ at this, and then I’d feel miserable and defeated.

    One other point – although i did not read any of the finished products, I did feel that at times that the people I know who did keep going were just churning out any old words to make the count. I know that’s meant to be part of the idea – you just get your first draft done and worry about the editing later – but I’m not sure these very rushed methods would work for me.

    Having said all this, I know it works for many people, and I wish them luck!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      October 29, 2012 at 10:00 AM

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who finds it hard to juggle writing and the holiday season. And yes, I’ve asked myself the same questions about quality. I really don’t like big revisions, so I’d rather do a good job on the first draft. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

  2. Janis McCurry

    October 29, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    I’ve found for me that certain incentives, like CP groups, blog deadlines work very well for me because they are of short duration. Having something to share every two weeks is achievable for me. A 30-day write every day is not.

    I’m one of those writers who ponder in my head for awhile before putting words to paper. I don’t PBIC and spew just to be spewing. I’d rather think about my path, how to start a scene, what to put in it, what to achieve. Only when I have those components figured out, do I write. Because of that, I don’t even participate in our local writing chapters NEW (no excuses writing) because I’m not fast enough to figure out things 30 days in a row. I envy those who do.

    So, my incentives work better if they are in short blocks.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      October 29, 2012 at 10:04 AM

      Janis, I think our process is similar. Like you, I spend a lot of time thinking before I write. That’s not good in writing challenges, but I think it does save time on the revision end. I guess it’s really important to realize that every writer is different and then accept ourselves for who we are. Thanks for making me think!

  3. Corina

    October 29, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    This is a bad November for me to do NaNo too. I don’t have kids, but I do have family obligations. My father, who lives abroad and whom I rarely get to see, will be in the state for almost three weeks starting Nov. 1, and my uncle will be visiting me (for an undetermined amount of time and also starting Nov. 1) to help me do some work on my house. It’s … really bad timing. But apart from February I can’t really think of a better time of year to hold NaNoWriMo. It seems to me that every month has something that will be problematic for somebody: a holiday, a sporting season, a common vacation time.

    I’m still going to do it. I don’t have a chance of winning this year, but I’m still going to join the fun where I can. I totally agree that it’s not for everyone, but the camaraderie of the event really helps *me* get my word count up, even if I don’t make 50k in 30 days. I follow the word sprints on twitter and if one comes along when I’m not doing something important, I’ll join in. I’m not a terribly competitive person, so i can live with not winning and not feel too horribly about myself. But I’m also one of those people who can agonize over a single sentence for my entire allotted writing time, so the encouragement to just keep moving forward really is helpful for me.

    As for juggling, my plan is to get up a little earlier in the mornings and give up my usual internet time in favor of writing. I also know that on slow days at work I can get in a few words. (Don’t think I’m a horrible employee. I would never do that if my bosses didn’t know or weren’t totally OK with it. It’s one of the perks of my job.)

    • Corina Mallory

      October 29, 2012 at 9:19 AM

      Thinking about it, what I’m really saying is that I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but I’m happily piggybacking off the energy and camaraderie of the event to accomplish my own goals.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      October 29, 2012 at 10:07 AM

      Corina, I am laughing because I had also thought of February as the only month that would be free from holidays and trips. Then I realized it’s also the shortest month. Perhaps we should have our own little alternate NaNo in February. Good luck with your unofficial Nano writing, whatever your word count. It’s true, you can’t beat that NaNo enthusiasm. 🙂

  4. Joanne Guidoccio

    October 29, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Hi Clarissa,

    I also agree that it would healthier to writer fewer words and lead a more balanced life. While some members of my writing group look forward to this annual event, I don’t think they’ve ever published any of their month-long projects.

    Like Janis, I prefer short-term incentives.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      October 29, 2012 at 10:10 AM

      Hi Joanne, When I first wrote this post, I was afraid I’d be bombarded by Nano-ers who thought I was a killjoy. Apparently, there are plenty of people out there who believe slow and steady wins the race. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Judith Keim

    October 29, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    I tried a fast writing project once and was exhausted and unhappy with my results at the end of it. That was probably due to the fact that I’m basically a pantser. If I were a real plotter and had done an outline ahead of time, it might have worked. While I’m not doing the NaNo, a friend and I decided to try and complete most of a children’s book (for me, middle-grade novel) before the end of the year, starting on November 1st. This time, I intend to do more plotting ahead of time. I’m hoping the encouragement we give to each other will make this project more rewarding and fun!

  6. stephanieberget

    October 29, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    I signed up. I’ve participated three times and accomplished so much. But this year I’m still uncertain for all the reasons you stated. I may use that time to edit. I’d love to join your February NaNo.

  7. marsharwest

    October 29, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Hey, Clarissa and othere WITS folks. I’ve never done NaNo, but I had a critique partner who’d done it for many years before she and another gal and I got together as CPs She’d never finished a single one of those. Didn’t complete until we all started working together. We had a 20 page goal each week. We didn’t make that every time, but we got the books done.
    And I’m one of those competitive people. I can’t stand to lose, so not winning would have a very negative effect on my ego, which is easily bruised. 🙂 You’re wondering how I handle rejection from agents, publishers, contests, etc.? Not well.
    Now I am planning on cranking out a ton of words this weekend at a writing retreat, but I’ll be by myself in a B & B room. No dogs, no husband, no other obligations, but to write. But it’s only for the weekend. I can keep real life out for that long, but otherwise, life happens and pulls at us. I try never to say no to the Grands, and then their’s exercising, etc. As I said. Life happens. I write around it the best I can. I’ve been surprised at all the non NaNos’s here. I believe we have quite a few who participate in my writing chapter. For those for whom NaNo works, good for you. Go get ’em.

  8. Peggy Staggs

    October 29, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    With NaNo always falling in November I’ve never attempted it. That’s the month I start gearing up for the holidays. I find that I do better at writing retreats. No distractions. This fall has been one big distraction.

  9. Lynn Mapp

    October 29, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    I have a difficult time getting in to read my e-mail, home and work. I have never done Nano, and this really wouldn’t be the year to do it.
    It’s a great way to get motivated, but with work, family responsibilities and life in general, it’s one more thing I can’t manage.

  10. maryvine

    October 30, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    I’m for February, too. November would never be a good month for me. I know a gal who did a nano and didn’t have to do much editing afterward. She got a book deal and I could see nothing wrong with the writing.


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