Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

For Whom Is NaNo Not?


The title of this entry was supposed to be “Who is NaNo Not For?” but I figured in a post directed at writers, somebody would be bound to ding me for ending a sentence with a preposition. Either way you state it, it’s an awkward, unwieldy sentence. But as I’m nine days and about 15,000 words into this year’s NaNoWriMo, I have paused to listen to the voice of writers who aren’t doing NaNo and wondered about why it works, and for whom.

What got me started thinking was this post from my friend Patty, who never does NaNo but cheers on those who do. Then I watched a video where John Green was talking about NaNoWriMo, which he attempted once, but said didn’t really fit his writing style. And I read a NaNo pep talk by Erin Morgenstern, whose highly successful novel The Night Circus (which I just read and loved) started life as a NaNovel (actually, originally as a tangent from another NaNovel) but who hasn’t done NaNo  since. And it slowly dawned on me that most of the people who don’t find NaNoWriMo helpful are … gasp! wait for it! … FULL TIME WRITERS.

I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before. I was chatting on Facebook with Patty about her non-NaNo-ing. She’s a very prolific writer who has just gotten a contract with a much-desired publisher (after publishing several print and e-books with smaller presses) and I pointed out that she probably writes 50,000 words most months anyway. And writing is her primary job. Well, along with raising a preschooler. That’s a full-time job in and of itself, but her only paying job is as a writer, so when she does get breaks from caring for her child the time goes to writing. I don’t know what most other “full-time writers” do in terms of childcare (those who have children, obviously), but I do think that the people most likely to benefit from doing NaNoWriMo are:

-people who’ve always wanted to write a novel but have never gotten up the courage to try,

-people who try to write but find they are so self-critical they keep going back and revising everything and never make progress, or

-writers who squeeze writing in around other committments, like a full-time job or being a full-time student, sometimes in addition to childcare, volunteer work and/or other committments.

Obviously, I fall into the last category. For me, the benefit of NaNo is that it’s an artificial, self-structured challenge that gives me permission to prioritize writing over all the other things in my life, which I too often don’t do. It also helps me move forward when I’m in a “stuck place,” as I’ve been for some time now.

There are many reasons why doing NaNoWriMo might NOT be helpful for a writer, two of the biggest being that you’re a naturally slow but productive writer, or that you don’t react well to the pressure of deadlines. But another reason, if you’ve managed to arrange your life in such a way that writing is your primary gig, might be that you’re already doing it — you’ve already attained what the rest of us are hoping to achieve.

(There are exceptions, of course: I know some full-time writers, including friends of mine, who find it useful to add the NaNo challenge to their already full writing and parenting schedules: Tina Chaulk, Karen Collum, Katrina Stonoff, Christine Hennebury: I salute you!)

Frankly, at this stage in my life, I don’t want to be a full-time writer. I don’t think I have the focus or discipline, and I love my job and would really miss it if, say, I won the lottery or one of my books became a bestseller with a multi-million dollar movie deal and I decided to stay home. So I’m not aspiring after that lifestyle at this point — but I do aspire, every day, to prioritize my writing and make it one of the most important things in my day. Not, perhaps, more important than teaching my students, or helping my kids with their homework, but more important than playing Lexulous, checking Facebook, or any one of a zillion other time wasters than can seep in and fill up my limited spare time.

If you’re a writer, do whatever you need to do to make time and space for your writing. If aiming for 50,000 words in November helps you do that, great. If it doesn’t, that’s great too. If you’re already prioritizing your writing, good for you! You have my admiration.

If you’re not a writer, ask yourself: Is there something in my life — something that nourishes me creatively, that moves me towards my ultimate life goals — that I should be making time for, but I’m not right now? Maybe you can take a month and make it your own NaWhateverMo … set some goals that will help you prioritize the thing you need to prioritize.

OK, gotta stop; I’m sounding like a columnist for -the-Oprah-magazine. Which would be a sweet gig, come to think of it … maybe I’ll have to add that to my ambition list!


4 thoughts on “For Whom Is NaNo Not?

  1. Writing for O WOULD be a sweet gig! Thanks for thinking of me in your post today! 🙂 Yes, for me, I’m already writing full time and balancing a few projects. If I added in NaNo, I think I might just cry. LOL!

    • Well, as I said, you’re basically achieving what NaNo is set out to achieve anyway — except that November happens to be an editing rather than a writing month for you right now, so it’d just be silly to take on another writing project! But even without NaNo you are my inspiration!!

  2. I’m totally not an exception. I fall solidly into category #2: “people who try to write but find they are so self-critical they keep going back and revising everything and never make progress.”

    • If that’s your category, then I can see why NaNo is helpful for you! I was just thinking of you being an exception in the sense that you already have taken the bold step of making writing your “day job,” (of course now you’re homeschooling too which is another whole day job!). But even full-time writers who have dedicated the time may still need the motivation that NaNo provides to push forward and just get words on the page. Crush the inner editor!!

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