Thursday, December 5, 2013

How NaNoWriMo (Nearly) Ruined My Life

This year, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo.

My first and, I’m sorry to say, my last.

I entered NaNo with great expectations. I exited it with great relief.

This isn’t to suggest I didn’t have some fun. I created a NaNo club at the college where I teach, with about ten members (mostly students). I enjoyed organizing the club, meeting with the students, keeping tabs on each other through Twitter and our Facebook page. I’m looking forward to next semester, when we plan to have a party and reading to celebrate our efforts.

I also socked away a good chunk of a new novel I’d been planning for a while. I have no idea if it’s any good--it’ll take major revision before I can even begin to see its potential--but if nothing else, it was interesting to try out a new form of drafting, if only to see whether it suits me.

Bottom line, though: it doesn’t.

I write because I enjoy it. It makes me feel good about myself. I’ve got enough stress in my life (who doesn’t?) without turning writing into another form of it.

But that’s exactly what happened with NaNo. I felt compelled to write, write, write every spare second, and in consequence, I never felt as if I was enjoying the writing. Instead, it became a weight hanging over my head, an onerous chore, a pain in the you-know-what. There were rare moments of pleasure--a line here and there that I thought was well expressed, a plot twist or development I felt was rather inspired--but for the most part it was torture.

This isn’t even to mention what the experience did to my family life. Let’s just say my wife and children were far more forgiving than I had any right to expect.

Nor did NaNo provide me with discipline that otherwise would have been lacking. I’m pretty good at carving out writing time every day. The only difference is, I carve it out when I can, not when I must.

So what do I take from this experience? Only this.

Everyone has to find their ideal method of drafting. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. A combination of personality factors, life circumstances, writing strengths and weaknesses, and dumb luck (or divine intervention) determines what’s best for each of us. For many, I'm sure, NaNo is a very good thing. I admire those writers who come back to it year after year, as well as those who’ve found it a way to get on paper the first draft of one or more published works.

But I’m done. The next novel I write, I’m writing the old-fashioned way: deliberately, on my own schedule, and with due consideration to the other obligations in my life.

It won’t get done quickly. But it’ll get done. And I’ll have a chance to savor it when it does.


  1. I'm like you, NaNo doesn't work for me. Better to go a little slower, and have a better draft--plus still feel human in the end :-)

    Thanks for sharing, for us fellow non-NaNo writers. And congrats to those who made it through November!

    1. Thanks for the response. I'm glad I tried NaNo--but yeah, for me as for you, feeling human is more important than producing a fast draft!

  2. Great post. Good to know these things about ourselves. Nano works for some people, and not for others. I didn't end up finishing because it just didn't fit into my personal timeline--things happen, life happens, and like you said, I write because I enjoy it.

    1. Yep. I think I felt that I SHOULD love NaNo, and at first I felt there was something wrong with me that I didn't. But each writer's different, and we have to find what works for ourselves.

  3. I did NanoWriMo last year and "won" but, like you, once was enough. It was very stressful, didn't leave me enough time to muse and dream and think. Looking bad, though, the writing wasn't half bad. Like you, I also don't struggle with self-discipline - maybe Nano is a better fit for procrastinators? Just a thought. Enjoyed your post!

    1. Thanks, Jo. I haven't done a good read of my draft yet--I reached 50K, but the story's not complete and I want to finish it before re-reading--but my sense is that it's not terrible. In that respect, I'm grateful to Nano. But like you, I like having the "time to muse and dream and think."