After my last post with my collection of tips for planning and starting our NaNoWriMo stories, a couple of comments on social media asked what was the point of just writing a lot of words. A common assumption about NaNo is that people write gibberish (or close to it) to meet the word count demands of 50K words in one month.
To be sure, some people do write messy stream-of-consciousness rambles that don’t add up to a story. But NaNo writing doesn’t have to be poor quality.
I’ve participated in NaNo for four years, and twice I’ve “won”—meaning I successfully reached 50K words. (And the years I “lost,” I participated as a NaNo Rebel and finished the books I was working on, so those are still a “win” as far as I’m concerned. *smile*) Every NaNo book I’ve written is published (or will be published), so I know what the quality of NaNo writing can be.
But if NaNo isn’t about the quality of our writing (for good or bad), what is it about? Or to put it another way, how can we make NaNo work for us?
Step #1: What Are Our Goals for NaNo?
The first step in making NaNo work for us is figuring out our goals for the experience. There’s no right or wrong answer, but pursuing someone else’s goals is likely to lead to frustration, so it’s best to figure out what we want.
Let’s take a look at some of the many reasons—or goals—people might have for participating in NaNo. We might want…:
- the camaraderie of “group” writing, when everyone cheers each other on
- to finally write that book we’ve been thinking about for months or years
- to prove we can write or finish a book
- to challenge ourselves to meet the word count
- to earn the winner badge and sponsors’ “winner goodies”
- to prove to ourselves or others that we’re serious about writing
- an excuse for setting aside the distractions of life to focus only on writing
- to challenge others in a writing group to see who can write the most words
- Etc., etc.
If we review that list, we can see that some goals are focused on word count and some aren’t. Some participate just for the fun or just to be part of something. Others are very serious about winning and focusing on word count.
That list should make it obvious that there’s no “one right way” to NaNo. And again, there’s nothing wrong with any of those reasons.
Step #2: Do Our Goals Create Good or Bad Pressure?
The second step of making NaNo work for us is deciding what those goals mean as far as the pressure we’ll put on ourselves to win. Once more, there’s no wrong answer.
Some people enjoy the pressure of trying to write 50K words. Some writers don’t want any pressure at all. Some writers would think writing 50K words in a month is taking it easy compared to their usual word counts. *smile*
Many of those who say they don’t want to participate in NaNo fall into the “I don’t want the pressure” camp, and that’s fine. But I just want to point out that NaNo pressures us only if we let it.
I’ve participated in NaNo sometimes knowing I wouldn’t win, and those times, my goals were all about the fun, camaraderie, and trying to finish up a project. Rather than being focused on winning, my attitude was all about how some words are better than no words.
That said, there is one group who shouldn’t participate in NaNo unless they want to win. Some writers (especially those of us who are perfectionists or hard on ourselves) can’t ignore the pressure, even if we want to. We might feel guilty for low word counts, no matter our goals.
If people with that trait want the pressure, they’ll probably win. However, if they don’t have the goal of winning, they might feel the pressure to win anyway, just because the challenge of NaNo inherently exists regardless of the goals they’ve set for themselves.
But other than for those types, we can make our NaNo goals match the amount of pressure we want for our writing. From no or little pressure to swimming in a lake of it, we can determine what works best for our goals.
Step #3: What Do Our Goals Mean for Writing Quality?
The third step of making NaNo work for us is deciding what those goals mean for the emphasis we want to put on writing quality. And I’ll say again, there’s no wrong answer.
Some writers want their NaNo experience to result in publishable writing (after normal editing). Some writers prioritize word count or other goals more than quality. Some writers just want to come up with something they can be proud of.
Many of those who say they don’t want to participate in NaNo fall into the “I don’t need to waste my time writing crap” camp, and that’s fine. But as I said at the beginning of this article, there’s nothing inherently part of NaNo that requires crap writing.
One year in NaNo, I broke 61K words and yet managed to revise and edit that story into something of quality. One of my other NaNo stories won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Paranormal Romance—definitely quality! *grin*
I’ve written before about how fast drafting—which is what NaNo often requires to win—doesn’t have to create editing nightmares. In fact, fast drafting can encourage us to tap into our subconscious and improve our writing.
As I delved into in that post, how much we struggle with writing quality during NaNo will often depend on several factors:
- What’s our natural drafting style? Clean or messy? Detailed or bare bones? Filled with clichés or deep into our characters’ point of view for unique descriptions?
- How fast are we typing? Do we correct typos as we go? What kinds of typos do we usually struggle with?
- How deep in the “writing zone” are we? Are we tapped into our subconscious and our characters’ point of view? Are we deep enough to feel the threads of subtext, themes, and layering? Is our writing naturally flowing? Is our voice stronger?
In my experience—because I am a naturally clean drafter—fast drafting can result in slightly more typos but deeper layering of character arc, character attitude/voice, theme, foreshadowing, etc. In fact, my fast-draft scenes often require less editing overall.
Obviously, my experience doesn’t match everyone else’s, but my point is that NaNo does not have to result in crap writing. This is especially the case if we prioritize quality over word counts and winning.
As I mentioned above, we could take the attitude of using NaNo for the fun and camaraderie while we’re getting in our words, figuring that some words are better than no words. Or given that fast drafting can result in more words and more quality, depending on our drafting skills, we might discover that we don’t even have to give up one goal for the other.
In other words, we can get out of NaNo whatever we want. We can make it work for us and our goals and just enjoy the experience, but only if we stop listening to what others think we should be doing or prioritizing and instead focus on what we want. *smile*
If you don’t participate in NaNo, what are your reasons? Has this post changed your mind about what NaNo can mean for our writing? If you do participate in NaNo, what are your reasons and goals? Do your priorities match how you approach NaNo writing?
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