Why I Am Not Participating In NaNoWriMo This Year (But It’s Fine If You Do)

photo of nanowrimo pictures
This isn’t one of those Chick-fil-A things where if you participate you’re an enemy collaborator and Liam Neeson will find you. And he will kill you.

I did National Novel-Writing Month in 2004. For those of you unfamiliar, the goal is to motivate writers to write (which is definitely the hardest part of being a writer, oddly enough). You write fifty-thousand words (the length of a short novel) in thirty days (the month of November). And, as a friend once said: “fifty is a lot of thousands.”

As a senior in high school, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time (in 2004) while making straight As and genuinely being a fastidious student. That was my senior year of high school. I did it again in 2005 as a college freshman, but I was already having problems with it—namely, that it kind of destroys your writing style.

Because, in order to encourage writers to get more of their thoughts down on paper in prose form, NaNoWriMo gauges completion by word-count. Silly fonts, margins, or unreasonably small and numerous paragraphs will make a document fill more pages, but it will not alter your word-count.

But you can alter your word-count. And, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you almost certainly will, even if you do not consciously set out to do so.

“Alex walked to the grocery store,” is a simple sentence. It needs context to be interesting, and perhaps some slight expansion. What it does not need is to become: “Carefully slipping his earbuds into his ears, Alexander P Sellers—Alex to his friends—made his way along the neighborhood sidewalk, using his carefully arranged music playlist to drown out even the quietest noises of his suburban surroundings, as he made his way on foot along the half-mile walk to the nearest grocery store.”

That’s not all bad, of course, but that should not be a typical sentence. But when you are working on NaNoWriMo, less dramatic examples of this kind of automatic extension of sentences begin to creep into everything that you write. A nightmare when you’re trying to tweet, of course, but it does not do you any favors when writing essays, emails, or blog posts. “Can’t wait to see you,” becomes “I truly cannot wait to see you again.” And while that second sentence can get a particularly awesome Miley Cyrus song in your head, it is a bit too much for the sentiment being expressed.

So, if you want to do NaNoWriMo, good for you. It’s a great experience. And it is wonderful to know that you can get it done (with normal font and margins, that’s about eighty pages, single-spaced, of solid text). But do not expect that it will be your highest-quality work. Part of the point of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality.

I am not participating in National Novel-Writing Month this year. But I am writing a novel (supernatural/contemporary fantasy). And this is a month.

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