Amanda Luedeke

November 21, 2013

Thursdays with Amanda: Why I hate NaNoWriMo


Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

(I’m taking a break from all-things-marketing for the rest of 2013…so if you’re here for posts on platforms and promotions, stay tuned…they’ll come with the new year).

It never fails. Each November 1, my Facebook news feed is full of bright-eyed, hopeful, excited writers, eager to embark on their quest to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The camaraderie is awesome. The energy, infectious. And each year there is a teeny tiny part of me that wonders if I sign up, too.

Then, week one ends. The energy, though still pulsing, is a tad weaker. The number of people talking about their goals, less frequent. Then comes the first admittance of failure:

“Stuff came up with the family…can’t finish NaNo this year. :(”

Not a big deal. Those still in the trenches assure that person that there was nothing they could have done to change their situation and that NEXT YEAR it will be different.

But then week two hits. And week three. And you get to the 21st of the month (the day I’m writing this post), and it’s as if NaNoWriMo isn’t even taking place. Of my thirty-plus Facebook friends who had advertised their participatin in NaNo, a small handful remain. And even then, their updates are sparse, full of stress. Full of doubt. They’ve been beaten down and they don’t know how they’ll pull through.

This is why I hate NaNoWriMo. It sets writers up to fail.

As if writers need yet another reason to question their craft. To doubt whether they’re cut out for this author gig. As if they need another reminder that they can’t do it. They’re failures. They should quit while they’re ahead.

NaNo does this to tens of thousands if not HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of writers each and every year. There are over 300,000 signed up for the program this year. Let’s say a two-thirds achieve the 50k in one month goal. That’s 100,000 WRITERS WHO HAVE FAILED.

I hate this. I hate this, I hate this, I hate this. I hate seeing my Facebook and Twitter streams mention NaNo less and less. I hate how it means writers are failing and they’re feeling terrible because of it. They’re feeling ashamed. They’re feeling like they’ll never measure up.

I hate reading about writers who are frantically trying to fix what went wrong. They’re pulling all-nighters so they can catch up with their word count. They’re ditching family events, putting Christmas shopping on hold. All so that they can try and salvage the wreck. “Failure” is looming, and they’re trying so hard to evade…so hard to pull away. But they can’t. Why?

Most writers simply cannot write 50,000 words in one month.

So why force yourself to this standard? Why not accept that you work at a different pace? WHY PUT YOURSELF THROUGH SUCH TORTURE? Because you just need to plow through? Because you want to see if you can do it? Because this is the only way to turn off your self-editor?

There are other ways, my friends. There are other ways. Ways that don’t involve tears and bloodshed.

So this is it…this is the main reason I hate NaNoWriMo, the crash diet for those looking to get into some kind of healthy writing lifestyle. I could also mention how even if one finishes the program, it sets writers up for disappointment.  Fact is, no one buys novellas anymore. So your 50,000-word novel? There’s nothing I nor any other agent can do with it. Not to mention that it is SUCH a feat to freaking finish the 50k in 30days task, that few want to take the time to go back and polish their stories. Few want to edit. Few want to rework. And that certainly doesn’t do anyone any favors. Because 50,000 words written in 30 days (most of the writing time taking place late at night) is not going to be publishable material. So the writers walk away, saying they’ll come back to it…which they do, months later, and are suddenly depressed by how much work needs to be done. Most start over.

And even the very mention of NaNo can be an issue. Most writers don’t realize this. Most writers don’t realize that when talking with an agent or editor, the moment they mention “well, I have that NaNoWriMo manuscript that I could dust off…” we’re panicking inside. We’re wondering how to say no. We’re closing the door on the opportunity because most of the NaNo stuff we see is absolutely terrible.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

I hate NaNoWriMo. I hate what it does to authors. I hate the stress it brings. I hate how it communicates “you are a failure” to so many of my friends. And I hate the stigma that comes with a NaNo manuscript.

So that’s my take on NaNoWriMo…what about you? Love it? Hate it? Or maybe you’re indifferent? Let me know.

This post was and is purely my opinion. I know NaNoWriMo has done great things for some writers, and I’m happy for them. I also know that others truly look forward to it each and every year. I’m not discounting that, and this isn’t me attempting to provoke an argument or conversely, fish for compliments and public affirmation. This is just my two cents, k? K.

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  • Kell Brigan says:

    I agree with everything you said, but I’m bothered more by the people who “win” and don’t realize that their stuff is junk. Or, at least, slush. Because, hey, all them stupid writer people do is crank it out and get rich, right?

  • Donna Volkenannt says:

    Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
    This was my first year entering and completing NaNo. I surpassed the 50K-word goal on Nov 28th. I won’t call what I wrote a novel because it’s an incomplete very rough first draft, which is about 3/4 finished.
    For me, the positives of NaNoWriMo were:
    The inspiration to get started on a novel I’ve been wanting to write for years.
    Setting a reasonable daily writing goal with an achievable monthly goal at the end.
    Pausing my internal editor (couldn’t completely shut her off), not easy for me.
    Knowing that this is a start, not the end. I have a plan to finish, rewrite, revise, and edit my work in 2014.
    The negatives were:
    Attending a workshop where one of the regional reps gave hints on how to cheat to up the daily word count.
    Knowing my first draft isn’t my best work.
    Feeling obligated to donate, which I did at the beginning of the month. I’m a generous person, but somehow feeling compelled to donate when I saw the graph that showed the organizers receive millions in donations was offputting.
    Family Christmas is at my house next month and I have a lot to do that could’ve been done in November.

  • Denise Hisey says:

    Though you make some good points, Amanda, I do disagree with the overall tone. This is my 4th year of NaNo and it’s only because of NaNo that I’m writing in the first place. The local camaraderie with writers is astounding and has infinitely changed my life.
    I ‘won’ the first 3 years -as in got my 50K words. This year I won’t make the goal, but I’ve made incredible progress in other ways.
    It’s true I have some manuscripts waiting for editing, and they may never get published. But if getting published were the only marker of success it would be a sad world indeed.

  • Carol Moncado says:

    I think it all comes down to the person and the mentality. This is my 7th NaNo and looks to be my 7th win. The first year I uncontracted all my contractions after spending 12 days in the hospital with a 3mo old who had surgery right before Thanksgiving. The lack of contractions put me legitimately over the 50K mark [but I also knew it was drivel and had no intention of doing anything with it except practice]. BTW, uncontracting can’t doesn’t help any ;).

    For me, this is the way I write. I open a new document and my internal editor heads for the Bahamas [man, I wish I went instead and she stayed here – I’m COLD!].

    I *know* it’s going to need a lot of work, but if I try to write a pretty shiny first draft, I get slogged down, it becomes too much like “work” and I don’t finish it. [I have at least a dozen of these attempts on my hard drive, all between 10-35K.]

    BUT if I let myself have oodles of fun and the discovery of the characters [yeah, I’m a pantser – plotting gives me hives ;)], I enjoy writing. Then I take on the much more tedious [to me] task of fixing it. I don’t do it with all of the manuscripts, some of them just aren’t worth fixing, but the ones I do, I love. [And hopefully, the day will come where I do fix all of them because, you know, they’re contracted ;).] The one I have making the agent/editor rounds right now is a result of Seekerville’s SpeedBo[ook in a month]. 70K rough draft is now a 93K “final” draft that makes me cry every time. Lots of changes in the meantime, but that’s okay.

    Does NaNo work for everyone? Nope. Not a chance. Does it work for some? Absolutely and I know you know that. The tough part comes in when to stop badgeri.. er, encouraging someone who’s having a rough time and just needs a bit of a push and accepting that it’s okay they don’t finish and they’re good with that [instead of them wishing you’d pushed].

    I should make it this year, despite the fact I spent through 11/14 polishing that SpeedBo manuscript [and only 6600 words written at that point]. It’s a matter of knowing yourself, your writing style, and what works best for YOU!

    And not judging or condemning those who work differently. Because that doesn’t do anyone any good.

  • Mary Vee says:

    I choose not to sign up for Na-No. Call me chicken. But in exchange, I set a personal goal to be accomplished during November. This year the goal, just to stir some expresso into the mix, was 60,000. I am in eyesight and really think, without going crazy, tapering to 2000 words a day between now and the 30th I will make it. There is something about signing up for NaNo that draws blank pages for me. But let my overachiever take over…and I will surpass. I’m weird. The 60,000 was the needed amount to finish my 90,000 word book. I hope, expect to type “The End” on the 30th. TTFN Back to work.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    I know I’m late to the party, but I’m going to weigh in. I did NaNoWriMo once, two years ago, and wrote the first 50,000 words of a novel. Not a 50,000 word novel–the book ended up at around 100k words. It was a tough month, but in the end, I was pleased with what I’d done. Yes, it was rough, but my first drafts always are. I finished writing the book in January, edited it that summer, and started querying agents with it last fall. I signed with Chip because of that novel this fall. So for me, it was a success story (so far). However, I haven’t done NaNo since. I think I may make my own NaNo in January, because I need to get my latest book finished.

    I can see what you mean, but I thought it was a good experience.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      To me, this looks like a really healthy process, Robin. Granted, some can move faster and other need to move slower, but for you to spend November through August (roughly) on the novel that lands you an agent is about right. I think what I don’t like is how NaNo tends to give this impression that a Nov-August timeframe is too long. So props to you. This plan clearly worked, and it seems like it was healthy for you.

    • Robin Patchen says:

      That’s a good point, Amanda. The idea that anybody could write a novel ready for publication in a month–that’s insane. I just liked it because it gave me a good jump start on the book.

  • Kathryn Atkins says:

    Hmm. I understand it puts pressure on writers to write. But … we sometimes need the KITA to change old habits. I think it’s more about being on the page EVERY DAY, making that commitment, and beginning a new good habit that will hopefully result in a finished book, even if it’s not the NaNoWriMo interface.


  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Amanda, thanks for raising these concerns over NaNoWriMo. Another concern is it results in sloppy writing that takes too many months more to clean up afterwards.

    It also doesn’t help that it’s in November, a month with a major holiday and only 30 days. (How about August?)

    Each year, I say that next year I’ll do NaNoWriMo. Now I’m rethinking that. Thanks for something to ponder.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      You could always do your own NaNo month (like others have suggested). Or instead of a month where you aim for 50k words, just aim to write every day. I could be all for that kind of a goal.

    • Peter DeHaan says:

      I do write every day, so I’ve reached that goal! (That’s very affirming — thank you!)

  • Sharyn Kopf says:

    Thank you for writing this, Amanda! This year I decided to sign up for the first time, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself to meet the goal. It seemed a good incentive to at least start my next novel. Then, less than a week in, other things came up that were more important & I had to put that goal aside. Haven’t felt a twinge of regret or self-loathing since. Maybe because last year I had to write a manuscript in five months … & I did! So I know I can finish a novel (scheduled for a 2/14 release) & meet a deadline. Not sure why I ever thought vomiting out a novel in 30 days might be a good idea.

    I’m over it now.

  • Cecilia Clark says:

    I wrote 50k in the first 12 days and I could only do that with serious planning prior to the month starting. NaNoWriMo has given me a network of supportive writers to cheer me on, a purpose driven regimen and the knowledge that I can best all the blocks life puts in my way. I have made excuses for decades for why I can’t do it and now I am proving to myself that I can. I have a dozen beta readers from all walks of life and they are all giving me positive feedback on the work in progress. it does not matter if I do not reach my self imposed 100k target, what matters is that I tried and I kept trying and I believe in myself. Those who fall by the wayside are not ready yet, they will come back and succeed when the time is right for them and I will be here cheering them on. <3

  • michelle grover says:

    Love your crash diet metaphor! Though I’m sure eating less and writing more is needed along the way (and perhaps esp. in November), consistency/commitment and a clear plan are critical for success.

    Your comment about ditching family events, etc, is valid too. I’m pretty convinced that if we skip out on living life, we won’t have much worth writing about.

    Thanks, Amanda. Happy November!

  • Anna Labno says:

    Agents don’t like to hear about these projects. Don’t forget readers. Before I started writing I didn’t like to hear about an author who writes a book within a few months, not mentioning ONE MONTH. I didn’t think it was possible. When readers see writers bragging about the word count on social media how many words they have written down, they see it as a factory–a story isn’t unique anymore. Also, they hesitate to buy books from the same writer when they see a book published every three months or so.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      To add to this…books that are concepted and written within a few months (let’s say three) just don’t break out. If you want a breakout novel, it simply takes more time.

  • Cheryl B. Lemine says:

    Hi. Thank you for your post. Now I do NOT feel guilty anymore for choosing to NOT NaNo! I teach creative writing to 6th-8th graders at a public, magnet middle school for the performing arts. I considered NaNo just because I’m ramping up my professional writing again. I did join NaBloPoMo November 10th because I’m wanting to work on my blog/platform. I have enjoyed the challenge to blog daily but have taken time to not blog to make a road trip to visit family. I think I got the best of what November offers!!

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      I think NaBloPoMo is really a great thing, because it simply encourages daily blogging…that’s it. Now, THAT’S doable.

  • Agree, I watch people bailing like crazy. I also agree about the novella because most of them must be poorly written and not edited. I know much of my perspective has to do with the fact that I don’t like to follow the crowd, but I also understand how the need for connection can pull others in. I personally think doing volunteer work is a much better use of time.

    Thanks Amanda for using common sense in your posts.

  • Carey Green says:

    I’ve always wanted to have the challenge of NANOWRIMO but never have. I know for me it would take a lot of brain-prep before hand, kind of like getting psyched up for a new weight loss or exercise program. I agree that it probably sets writers up to fail… and none of us need MORE opportunities for failure. I’m enjoying my own pace, so I’ll probably leave NANO for those ultra-driven types.

  • Pamela Meyers says:

    Amanda, you raised some excellent points.I have never participated in Nano because November, for me, is not a great month for doing such a thing. By the last week of the month people are in holiday mode, planning for Thanksgiving and other holiday events. Writing time ebbs for many about then. It just works better for me to set my own goals. This summer I had to finish a first draft by mid September when the ACFW conference took place. I figured out how many words per day I need to write, had my plot outlined and wrote in 1-2K sprints. I got it done. 🙂 It took me longer than a month, but by setting a daily goal it works for me.

    Also, there are publishers for romance and romantic suspense who do take 50K words, which are considered short novels. We have a category in ACFW’s Genesis Writing Contest for Unpublished Writers for just that size of book. The Genesis 2014 contest opens in January. A completed full manuscript is required. It doesn’t have to be submission ready, but it does have to be completed.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      Yes, I do quite a bit of business with category novels. However, it’s true that category fiction comes with far more rules and guidelines than most genres. So for a NaNo experience to truly be a success, I feel the author must know their category guidelines inside and out. Unfortunately, the nature of Nano encourages writers to throw rules and guidelines to the wind. For the author who goes into NaNo, fully understanding their category, they’ll probably have a great time of it. But I don’t think most writers are quite there yet.

  • Genny Heikka says:

    Amanda – I love how whether or not writers agree, there’s always a common thread of encouragement. (I like the idea of the after-NaNoWriMo support group, and Ron’s idea of NaNoPlotMo on his blog!)

    I’ve never joined in on NaNoWriMo, but I know they have their “What Now” months coming up in Jan/Feb, focused on next steps for people who joined in on NaNo, if anyone’s interested. Snippet is also having SnippoWriMo in January, where they’re inviting writers to join in and write a Snippet in a month. Much easier, since it’s shorter! (I’m joining in and am looking forward to it.)

    I enjoy your posts every Thursday! You always have such great info!

  • Hi Amanda!
    I certainly understand where you are coming from. Last year I tried to participate in NaNoWriMo and even managed to get up to about 20,000 words with my YA fantasy novel but I was ill equipped to handle the extra stress of blindly pumping out about 2000 words a day just for the sake of saying I put words on paper. I wonder if the thousands of writers who abandoned the challenge last year or even this year will ever look at what they’ve written without feeling a sense of failure as you say? And how many will actually even attempt to complete those novels AFTER December 1st rolls around? For myself I have challenged myself to do two things this year where NaNoWriMo is concerned…
    1. Never officially sign up any more for the NaNo event but dedicate some time during November to continue to work on the novel I started last year. I LOVE the story…now to complete it at MY pace, not when someone else is cracking the writing whip over my shoulder…;~)
    2. Honor the spirit of NaNoWriMo which is to continuously write each day by making sure I complete a writing task every day in the month of November. I also participate in PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month) in November where all I have to do is come up with 30 story IDEAS…not actual STORIES…during this month and THAT is a far easier task than coming up with 50,000 words by the end of the month. Even if I don’t accomplish the goal of all 30 ideas, I still feel like such a winner because any one of those ideas I DID manage to write down can turn into a lovely story during the long winter months and that warms my writer’s heart!
    Great post as always.
    Take care,
    Donna L Martin

  • Lara Van Hulzen says:

    I can’t say thank you enough for writing this. I have a love/hate relationship with NaNoWriMo myself. I’ve done it twice, once in November and once during June when they did Camp NaNoWriMo. (Which was actually a cool setup where you were with other writers in your genre in a “cabin” together where you could encourage one another.)

    What I appreciate about it is it taught me that I’m capable of writing much more in a day than I ever thought I could. What I DON’T like about it is the guilt, shame, etc. that you talk about. I got halfway through the summer one and broke down crying. I was forcing my writing and I knew it. I hated it. I hated the story and where it was going. But I was determined to get a word count accomplished. The fact that they were crappy words started to not matter – not a good thing. I personally have trouble following authors on Facebook and Twitter because it seems like the trend is to shame one another with how many words a day one has achieved. It’s stressful. I’ve actually blogged about the subject: twice.

    Writing is such a strange animal and all of us approach it in such different ways. What works for one person doesn’t work for another.

    I’m sure NaNoWriMo is great for some, but I agree with you. It’s not for me. And sadly, I think authors are asked to pump out too many books to fast and the writing suffers.

    Isn’t that a Chip line? Good is better than fast. 🙂

  • Patricia Bradley says:

    There are some things I like about NaNo, and things I don’t. I like that so many focus on writing for a month and the support that is available. I don’t like it that it happens in November. Next to December, November is super crazy. I’ve signed up for NaNo a couple of times but never finished because November is so crazy for me. But I don’t see myself as a failure because I don’t finish NaNo.
    I do my own version of NaNo when I’m ready to write my next book–that’s after all of my prewriting and planning. I turn off my internal editor then I set goals of 10K a week and in 5 weeks I have 50,000 words.
    Love all the talk this post has generated.

  • Laura Droege says:

    Amanda, thank you. I’ve always wondered how agents felt about NaNo. Now I know how ONE feels! I’ve never tried NaNo, and I don’t intend to ever do so. I don’t handle stress well, for one thing; I already feel like a failure as a writer, for another, so I don’t need some competition/contest/group-dynamic-thing telling me that I’ve failed. If I write every day, keeping my writing schedule as best I can, forgive myself for taking time off on those days when I’m not doing well with my depression, and work hard at developing my craft, and finally have a novel (published or not) to show for my years of work, then I’m doing really well.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      You know, I don’t know of any agents who love NaNo. I know of some who don’t really like it, and a few who seem impartial. But I’d say agents are much more interested in a writer who is committed year-round than one who commits for a month…though I agree that if this is how you get your start, then it’s worth it. 🙂 For you, trying to write every day is really the best goal you can set.

  • Ninie Hammon says:

    That beep, beep, beep you hear is the backing-up-forklift sound of my mind in reverse. It’s the reason I won’t complete NaNo this year. I assumed signing up for NaNo meant I was to write 50,000 of a WIP, a manuscript that would be complete at 110,000 to 120,000 words–after six to eight drafts. (Not the same thing at all as writing a complete novel in a month–the structure, the pace, the story arc all worked out in 30 days!) Since I happened to start my eighth novel the first of this month, I considered myself a no-tee-shirt NaNo participant. Like the Boston Marathon–if you’re not signed up, even if you finish you don’t get a shirt. I was doing well until about 40,000 words where I stopped cold. Elements weren’t working. The CFD (Crappy First Draft) contains the essential story engine that propels my novel and I couldn’t just forge ahead and ignore what clearly needed fixing. So I stood on the side of the road with the hood up while the other NaNo writers raced by. And it occurred to me that there must be a huge number of NaNo writers who ignore serious knocks, clunks and pings in their stories just so they can make it across the finish line. That’s a good way to blow an engine.

  • Gina Conroy says:

    I am with you, Amanda! I failed NaNo once and never signed up again! For one thing, the thought of writing a horribly messy first draft stresses me out. I can’t work like that (and can barely write 50,000 in a year) and wouldn’t know what to do with the mess when it was finished. Plus, I’d rather use my word count on my WIP. So every year I say NO to NaNo and have no regrets! 🙂

  • I never thought of NaNoWriMo in these terms, so this was very interesting to read. I failed my first year, but it only made me more excited to try it again the next year. Now I’m on my seventh year, and whether I fail or “win”, NaNOWriMo has become MY FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR. It inspires such a creative rush! I think a lot of people who don’t complete it still get to enjoy that creative rush. I honestly haven’t heard of anyone being demoralized by NaNoWriMo, but granted my corner of the world is very small 🙂 Also, I think NaNo does a good job of communicating to people that 50k isn’t a complete novel and that it certainly won’t be publishable until it’s been heavily revised.

  • I did not sign up this year, but last year I managed to write the 50,000 words – not a novel, but page after page of dialogue. I was stuck in my memoir about how to present a portion of it. By writing dialogues that occurred during that time period, I now have fodder to draw from. So it helped me last year. Still, you are right it does set authors up to fail, and not only that, but I wonder how many manuscripts are written speedily and sent in unedited.

  • Mona Karel says:

    I’m using NaNo this year, to get me back into the rhythm of writing. I’d fallen off that turnip truck a while back and was floundering around. In the past I’d start a book with a germ of an idea, get somewhere into it and get lost. For this NaNo I prepared with a boot camp, polished up my synopsis, created a beat sheet, and am working for the first time with a planned structure. Which feels strange but great fun. The NaNo book is mostly dialogue with notes on description, which is how I like to write, and the next pass will take those 50 or so thousand words and flesh them out. Comparing NaNo to a crash diet is a good analogy, and I’m comparing my effort to a gift certificate for a month in the gym. I wrote before NaNo and after the month I’ll still be writing, but I’ve reminded myself I CAN write.

  • Tell us what you REALLY think, Amanda ;o).

    Actually, I feel much the same as you do … or at least that’s
    how NaNo feels to ME. I need time to marinate in ideas for them to take a
    coherent shape before I put them on the page. However, I realize not everyone
    is like me and maybe NaNo can work for them. I think everyone needs to look at
    what methods get them started and use that method. If they find NaNo doesn’t, I
    hope they don’t assume total failure. It may just be a matter of style.

  • Heather Day Gilbert says:

    I do support NaNo because in that huge group of people who poop out, there are inevitably some authors who are born. They never realized they could finish an entire book in a month (albeit a too-short one), and then WHAM–they did it. I was one of those authors…and it truly brought me to a new level in my writing dreams. It finally showed me, a stay-at-home mom with nothing but an ages-old dream, that I COULD do it, if I was willing to work for it. And WORK it is. That might be the best lesson of NaNo–realizing you can perform for a deadline and you can perform well. It’s something crucial for authors to know how to do.

    But not everyone is as goal-oriented and wired the same way I am. I thrived on the challenge. For many, it could definitely be a constant disappointment (and WHY on earth is it in NOVEMBER, of all months!? THANKGIVING! CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!?). I did NaNo in January and I’m sure that’s part of why I was able to succeed.

    Interesting thoughts today, Amanda. And I’m glad you pointed out that 50K is really short for a completed novel. My first agent did query my 50K NaNo novel around and suffice it to say, it never had a chance. I will come back and revise it someday, though. That story had a lot of power and it FLOWED so well–one benefit of writing every single day.

    • Sharyn Kopf says:

      Heather, January would be a great month for something like NaNo! You’re in a “let’s accomplish something this year” mode, you’re coming down from the Holiday High, & you need something to combat the idea that you have 3 more months of winter ahead. And, of course, January does have an extra day. 🙂

  • carlagade says:

    I’ve never don NaNoWiMo. Did you ever notice there is a big fat “No” in the middle of it. It just doesn’t work for me, and why they ever picked November…we have Thanksgiving and two birthdays this month (one of them is mine!).

    But the real problem is that writing fast does not hone your craft. It just teaches you to repeatedly write incorrectly, unless you happen to be a super amazing, need no revisions, kind of writer. Is there one out there? I learned to write chapter by chapter and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Write, revise, write, revise, etc. until its all done. Every chapter I write, I do a little better. It works for me anyway and I know rushing through it would be the worst thing I could do. I see too many impulsive writers, slow down friends! 🙂

  • :Donna Marie says:

    Amanda, I couldn’t agree more! I’ve never done it and never intend to. First—my life would absolutely never allow for it. I’ve had enough pressure-filled years and don’t feel the need to do that to myself. It’s not that NO manuscripts have risen above the first-draft quality of NaNoWriMo (I know a bestseller that was originally a NaNoWriMo), but this is not what it should take to motivate people to write. I know of several (and couldn’t believe it when I heard it) who whipped it out in about 24 hours! This, in my opinion, is insanity. Do this? Why?! So you can brag for the rest of your life that you could type 50,000 words in a day?

    I also think it’s poor planning to have all these writing events in November. For ANYone celebrating holidays, this couldn’t possibly be a worst month to do this! Why not in the dead of winter when nothing big is typically going on? Even if done by a person with nothing else to do—no other demands—I find it to be a bit much.

    Anyway, if there are writers who enjoy it, good for them, but it’s definitely not the way I choose to work. What kind of enjoyment is in it? It’s simply unreasonable.

  • Jane Gaugler Daly says:

    THANK YOU for this post. I started strong, but by week two I realized this NaNo thing wasn’t working for me. I knew I was writing drivel, but felt compelled to continue to get my word count done.
    My style of writing is to read what I wrote the previous day, then spend time delving into the next chapter, usually 1200 – 1500 words of good writing. After the novel is finished, I go back and do re-writes and edits.
    Since I also work full time, some days I just can’t come home and get the required number of words done. Thanks again for relieving me of my guilt.

  • Shaun Ryan says:

    I much prefer No-Wri-Its-Mo. Novel Writes Itself Month.

    As my reason I give you Cormac McCarthy’s response when asked how long it took him to write No Country For Old Men:

    “Four weeks. But I thought about it for years.”


    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      That’s a strategy I could get behind.

    • Lee Thompson says:

      Amen from me too, Shaun. I’m behind McCarthy’s way of thinking! A great novel takes an incredible amount of serious thought and craft. I’m indifferent to Nano, but mostly because I don’t need a certain month of the year to give it my all.

      Discipline doesn’t come by gearing up for a one month sprint every year, it comes from making the commitment every day, and learning what we can to improve the stories we have to tell, and by tackling the issues that matter to us.

  • Laura K. Cowan says:

    I can totally understand what you’re saying, and it’s nice to hear that you primarily dislike NaNo because of how it discourages writers, and not more whining about the low quality mss it produces. For me, NaNo was actually not a way of proving I could write 50k in one month, as I had done that completely by accident on my own several months before I did my first NaNo. For me, NaNo helped me discover that I could ALWAYS write that quickly, with just some months more for editing and publishing and other tasks (resting? lol) in between, but that it was completely sustainable and even preferable as a professional pace for me. Without NaNo, I might still be trying to slow myself down to match the pace of other writers, which believe it or not took a lot of energy to do. I know that the most important thing is quality, not speed, but NaNo helped me discover that I write BETTER at that pace, and this year as a NaNo Rebel I discovered that after several novels I can now edit at that pace as well. I know lots of writers write complete shit at this pace and then don’t have the heart to go and rework it and it makes a mess for agents and publishers and for the writers themselves, but NaNo is about giving yourself permission to write a rough draft and get out of your own way, and as someone who was convinced for years she couldn’t give herself permission to write until she crapped out the Great American Novel in one draft, it has been a lovely experience of being encouraged and encouraging others who are teetering on that edge of giving themselves permission to write. All else falls away (into your slush pile, though: sorry you have to deal with that!). The ones who are here to write and write until they die stick with it, and I think the industry should be grateful that they do, as very little else out there is encouraging them to give their dreams a chance, and let’s face it. SOME of them are brilliant, and we’re better off for their voices… though, you can bet I’ll never tell an agent or editor “I’ve got my NaNo novel in the drawer I can show you!” 🙂

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      Seems you have a healthy relationship with NaNoWriMo. I honestly couldn’t ask for more. And I suppose I should add that while I really dislike NaNo, I in no way discourage my authors from participating. That’s their decision…and if they try it and it doesn’t work, I trust them to not go back the next year expecting different results. But if it does work, then great! No complaints here.

  • Kerrie Strong says:

    I completely get what you’re saying. But for someone like me, it works well. I can find myself caught in the endless loop of researching, learning about the craft, plotting, tweeting and reading articles about writing– anything BUT writing. And yet, I *know* the only way I’m going to improve my writing is to churn out words. My writing has improved significantly in the last year since I participated in–and didn’t win–NaNo. But last year I didn’t “fail”, despite not winning. And I won’t “fail” this year even if I don’t hit 50K. Because for me it’s about getting those words out, about playing with my characters, experimenting with techniques…and just churning out words. Putting all the technical stuff aside and *writing*.

  • Kevin B Parsons says:

    Write on, Amanda! It’s no different than the hordes of people lined up in the fitness centers after 1/1. By 2/1 they are gone and reverting to their old habits. It’s also like running a marathon without proper training. Slow and steady wins the race.

    • Mona Karel says:

      And the people who regularly write high volume, then brag on their NaNo numbers are like those in the gym who run backwards circles around the newbies, which has a lot to do with gym dropouts. Some do stay, and do learn new lifestyle habits.

    • So who’s at fault if/when they quit. The gym? Or the person?

  • Susan May Warren says:

    Great Points, Amanda! I love your stuff. I think, however, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree this time. (But just this time. ;))

    Think of it this way: For most aspiring writers, creating the time to pursue something considered a “hobby” (at this point), especially something that is so singular, that doesn’t involve family, can be seen as selfish. But, for one month, a person can say, “I’m going to push hard and accomplish this.” They can plan ahead, cook meals and inform the people they love that, for a short period of time, they are unavailable.

    The fact is, with a little preplanning and encouragement, 50K is possible, and yes, while I agree serious writers should be writing every day, this is sort of like an Iron Man for writers. I am NOT a fan of SOTP writing – you have to go into it with a plan, so that when you get into week 3, you don’t stop. (I address that on my blog this week). But it’s like dieting for a wedding – you go hard and then hopefully develop good habits that continue long after the big day.

    (We believe so strongly in the power of NaNo to stir up the excitement for writing – and for seeing yourself accomplish something – that we have a WriMo program at My Book Therapy to help prepare and support writers all month, including prep classes and encouragement and scene spark emails).

    Of course the book will have to be rewritten – frankly, EVERY book should have a rewrite. But the point is to stand at the other side and say…”Hey! I wrote 50K in a month. Maybe I have it in me to write more!” We can’t be afraid to set out to do something just because we might fail.

    As for whether the book is sellable at 50K – well, most NaNo projects are a shell of what they should be when they are publishable. Most don’t include enough storyworld, or they’re missing key scenes, or they need to rewrite the ending, and in all likelihood every scene could probably use more depth and layering. So, it’s completely reasonable that in the rewrite they’ll add 30-40K words. So yes, I can see why an agent might go cold with fear when a prospective client suddenly starts pitching their NaNo project. (LOL!) NaNo projects are not sellable novels. They are just the serious jumpstart into a dream that could become a reality.

    Great post, as always, Amanda!

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      I LOVE the idea of a MBT NaNo support group!! And I get what you’re saying about how this gives writers the excuse they need to be “selfish” with their time (which, UGH, how annoying that that’s even an issue).

    • Susan May Warren says:

      Agreed! I mean, no one says, “Hey, you’re running – you’re wasting your time!” (as a missionary, I was reprimanded once for “wasting” my supporters money by “my writing hobby.”)

    • The hair on the nape of my neck bristles whenever I hear people referring to my writing as a hobby. If we don’t take our writing seriously, no one else will. I love what Steven James once wrote: “I love that when God became man and set out to transform the world, he didn’t do it as a seminary professor, a philosopher, a politician, a doctor, a lawyer, or a sports superstar, but as a storyteller” (Intro to Astonishing Tales). (I certainly don’t intend to demean these honorable professions; I intend only to make a point). Mark 4:33 says, “He [Jesus] did not say anything to them without using a parable”. Who would dare say Jesus was a hobbyist? 🙂

    • Anna Labno says:

      Well, that depends how supportive your family really is. My husband isn’t supportive at all. And I can’t afford to take a full month off my work. And I can’t say NO to children. I can’t. I failed this year, but now I don’t think I did. Who are we pleasing? People, ourselves, or God?

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      Question for you…what about the published or agented authors who rely on NaNo because they haven’t developed their own schedule? I think part of my post was directed at them (and my frustration!). I wonder, now, about a clear post-NaNoWriMo strategy? Do you know if one is out there? Basically a “how-to maintain your momentum when November is over.”

    • Susan May Warren says:

      I don’t know of any apps or anything to keep people going. BUT, we (MBT) do offer a free webinar after NaNo every year on what to do next, and a sort of editing/rewriting game plan. (not that I’m promoting our webinar, but rather, that is the next step). I think you’re right – people need to view NaNo as a jumpstart, not rely on it as a final product. And if they can start that thinking and come up with a game plan for the next 3-6 months on revamping their novel (at a normal pace), then NaNo becomes a useful tool.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      Ooooh, emailing you about this.

    • I’m interested in knowing more about your webinar. I’m 4250 words away from completing my first NaNoWriMo. I’ve been wanting to start this project for *years*. NaNo was just the jump start I needed. And I know that I have merely started this novel. However, it has great potential and I’m looking forward to continuing on in my writing career. NaNo was just the push I needed to get started.

    • Mona Karel says:

      For one, Savvy Authors on line group has a pre and post NaNo Boot Camp. Huge help year round as well

  • Nancy S. Goodman says:

    I did it this year and I agree. I hate it. I had a great idea and I pounded out the story. But I hate it. No POV not time to get into the meat and it isn’t complete. So I stopped the Nano and went back to my story because I really do love the idea and am revising it. I won’t be doing it again. Great post.

  • Rachel Leigh Smith says:

    I have a published friend who does it every year, but she writes a lot of Heartsongs so it actually works great for her. I have another friend who’s already topped 50K and is still going.

    Me? I’ve never done it. Don’t plan to. I’m hard at work on novel #5, without the “help” of NaNo to get me going. I don’t care how many words I can write in a month. I know I’m capable of starting, and finishing, a 95K+ novel. That’s all I need. In the end that’s all that matters. I’ve proven to myself and anyone who asks that I don’t just play at this. I finish what I start, and if it’s not working I’ve proven to myself I can scrap 30K and start over.

    I’m such a pantser the idea of all the prep needed for a successful NaNo is enough to make me run screaming.

  • keylocke says:

    I respectfully disagree. I have participated in NaNo for multiple years and while I agree with the attitudes some writers take are extreme, I find it to be a time of community. I attend write ins to meet other writers, create critique groups, and teach. Everyone seems to want to write so it is a time to make the attempt. I’ve always said, win or lose, you will still have more words at the end of November than you did if you haven’t attempted NaNo.

    My personal word count goal every day of the year is 1,500 words so 1,666 is a drop in the bucket. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t make goal every day but I do use the month of November to explore new territories, instead of taking my writing so serious as I do every other month of the year.

    I have met some people who think their novels are destined for publication or the movie screen by December 1st. But if those people aren’t the same ones I meet at conferences, in continuing education classes, or in critique groups, I know they aren’t serious about creating a career. And many of the writers I have met in November are NOT interested in a career in publishing. They love to write and geek out with other writers. And NaNo is perfect for them.

    Without NaNo, I don’t think I would have adopted the habit of writing 1,500 words a day, which takes me less than an hour and half. That leaves several other hours a day for editing and platform building, even with a job.

    And if anything my writing journey has taught me is that there is no ONE correct way to write a novel. Nothing I’ve written in November has been publishable, but I have met some wonderful people and excavated huge clumps of raw clay that I can mold every other month of the year.

    • Amanda Luedeke says:

      I’m glad NaNo has helped you. Sadly, I know quite a few authors (agented authors…published authors) who don’t have a consistent writing schedule or goal. So NaNo frustrates me, because I want them to be super productive year-round…not just every November. Hopefully some of your tendencies will rub off on those that you help through NaNo 🙂

  • Karen deBlieck says:

    Great post Amanda! I have a love/hate relationship with Nano. I hate the pressure and feeling like I have to miss out on things to succeed. On the other hand, I love the challenge. For me, I probably won’t get to the 50k words this year but I don’t tend to be upset if I don’t. Living a life is important to me so I don’t worry about reaching the lofty goal. As well, I just assumed that most people knew that a) 50,000 words isn’t a novel and b) if you are writing from the seat of your pants there is going to be A LOT of rehashing and editing. If writers do not know this then perhaps there should be some sort of disclaimer:

    Writers should use Nano at their own risk.

    Side effects may include: coffee tremors, depression, self loathing, lack of Thanksgiving thankfulness, lack of interest from agents/publishers, and a general avoidance of writing ever, EVER again.

    All in all, I think I’m fine with Nano as long as writers don’t take it too seriously. However, in the long term, ROW80 is a much better idea for setting goals with a group of writers.

  • Peggotty says:

    Thank you! Thank you! My instincts were correct. I think the literary world would be far better off if writers spent that month day-dreaming or traveling, or both.

  • Ron Estrada says:

    Thank you. While I won’t go far to say that I hate NaNo, I simply cannot understand why so many who would like to be professional writers eat up an entire month on what is essentially free-writing. I have a method. I plot, research, adjust the plot, create my beat sheet and cards, then I’m ready to write. I interrupt that and nonsense will emerge. Even pantsters need time to evaluate what they’ve written. 50,000 words is a bit deep into the novel to make a course correction. Can’t we just celebrate authors without the pressure on newbies to hit a word count? I started NaNoPlotMo on my blog in October. I’m hoping it takes off.

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