National Novel Writing Month seems to be a very popular activity in the creative writing world but it is one that I have never participated in. For those who enjoy it and for those who it works well for, good luck. For those new to the content, here’s why I choose not to participate and why I believe that it may not work for some new writers:
1. It’s Quantity over Quality
Creative writing is about freedom, self-expression and creating stories and ideas. It may sound cliche but for me it’s an art. It’s something that I love doing but believe in doing to the best of my ability. I like taking the time to work out things when I get stuck, even if it means that I don’t write for a while. I don’t outline. I rarely plan. I just see, think and then, in a sense, follow my story where it leads. Rushing a whole novel together in a month would just not work for me. It would alter that process that I already prefer to use. I am not a fan of the competitiveness that seems to be occuring in creative writing whereby people are asking for more work in a shorter period of time and treating it as purely a commodity. When I did freelancing, some of the jobs that were posted asked for an entire novel in ten days and to a high quality, which I don’t believe is possible. Maybe it could happen occassionally that you would be super focussed and would write a fantastic novel quickly but I fear that the majority of the time, your quality will suffer if you rush too much. Realistically, if you rush writing an entire novel in such a short period of time you will have a lot more structural problems, editing issues and mistakes to correct than usual. NaNoWriMo seems to encourage rushing what should be a lengthy process, even for a fast writer.
2. It feels too forced
I don’t like to force inspiration too much. For short pieces like the 100 words activity it’s nice to have a prompt and to write a random piece of writing from it. For an entire novel, I really don’t want to do that. It just seems to treat inspiration like a tap that can just be turned on and utilised as much as possible. That might surely lead to burnout. Of course, if you realise that you haven’t written very much after a very long time, try to get back to writing but don’t fall into the trap of focussing on word counts and being in competiton with other writers. You are not other writers. You are you and you write how you write. If it takes you several years to write a novel but others do it in six months, that is perfectly normal. Everyone does it at their own pace.
3. It Encourages Writing as a Novelty or Competitive Activity
NaNoWriMo is surely a great way to encourage new writers but I fear that many are encouraged to start in a way that may actually be counterproductive for them. It treats writing like an activity to do superfast and in a supercompetitive way for just one month. New writers may want to start more with simpler writing exercises or just to try free writing. I understand the concept of NaNoWriMo is to encourage new writers but it also seems to encourage a lot of work just for one month when writing, in reality, is really a consistent activity with slow and busy periods just like with many other activities. It is not something that is done as a one-off, if you want to do it well. It’s an activity that you do repeatedly and which you improve at all the time. Writing is a passion or vocation not a novelty.
4. It’s a huge challenge
As a new writer, it can be very tempting to go into any activity just to get started. That’s great. Get writing. Get started. Actually writing is how you really learn to write. It’s important though, to be aware that activities such as NaNoWriMo are big and difficult tasks. In my own experience, I started writing novels by writing shorter stories when I was very young and they naturally got longer.
My Advice on How to Actually Start Writing
1. Get a pen and blank piece of paper (or a computer/laptop/tablet/phone if you want to do it digitally).
2. Imagine something or just free write. It can be anything you want. You can imagine a scene, write lyrics, connect random words and phrases, write thoughts. Anything.
3. Write it down. Whatever is in your mind. Write it down and don’t judge it. Let it just happen.
4. Continue doing it. If it’s a scene, just let yourself continue imagining what happens next and write that down as you imagine it.
5. Do it frequently. Do it when you are bored and anywhere that you have time to think. On the bus. On the train. Use it as a cure for boredom or as a way to air your thoughts as they come to you. Allow writing to let you communicate your real thoughts and feelings and to express your imagination. Treat it like a friend not an activity. It’s your confidant, your canvas, your microphone. Be honest with it.
That’s it. It’s that simple. Many people out there would have you believe that there’s more to it but that’s the truth about starting to write. You just do it.
What do you think of NaNoWriMo? Do you find it useful? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.