Why I Don't NaNo

Posted by Jason McIntire | Dec 01, 2015

I've waited until the end of November to publish this post, because I have no desire to pour cold water on the hot enthusiasm of others. That only produces steam, which tends to burn the person pouring the water. Am I taking this metephor too far? Okay, moving on....

If you do NaNoWriMo and enjoy it, more power to you. I understand that some really good books have come out of the exercise. I've even been tempted to try it myself. Technically, in fact, you could say that I did once - though unintentionally and in the wrong month. I wrote The Sparrow Found A House in a NaNo-like period of about 30 days at the beginning of 2013.

My problem with NaNo centers around two words that are all-important to the event: "word count." Word count (usually 50,000 words) is the singular goal of NaNo, based on the apparent philosophy that writing a lot of words initially is the hardest and most important part of writing a novel. And maybe it is, for some. But focusing too much on word count can also encourage "padding" and destroy quality, a fact masterfully illustrated in the web series Month Of The Novel. (Wait! Don't click that link until you finish my article. You will never return.)

In my opinion, brevity is a very important element of good writing. By brevity, I don't mean writing short books. I mean saying everything you want to say in as few words - not as many - as possible. My all-time favorite writing quote (unattributed) is one short sentence: "Omit needless words."

Think about that quote for a second. Could you rephrase it more tersely - by even one syllable - without losing any of the meaning? I try to apply that same standard, if a bit less radically, to my own work.

Just in case you're not convinced by the views of some guy named Jason (backed up with an unattributed quote), let me cite a source that most readers of this blog will agree on. Ready?

"He who has knowledge spares his words." - Prov. 17:27

When writing, whether doing NaNo or not, it's important to keep your eyes on the prize. Just remember: The prize is a good book, not necessarily a long one.

Comments (6)

  1. Eliza Noel:
    Dec 01, 2015 at 11:05 PM

    I didn't do NaNoWriMo this year but I did last year. It was really good that I did because I finally completed a first draft of my novel. Before I had barely made it through the first quarter or less although I had been writing it for 2 or 3 years. I agree that sometimes it messes up the quality of the story but I think if people participate in NaNoWriMo they should plan on if not completely rewriting doing a lot of editing. For me, I feel like because of NaNoWriMo I'm a lot closer to publishing a novel than I was before that November in 2014 :)

  2. Jason McIntire:
    Dec 02, 2015 at 09:35 AM

    It's true that NaNo is a good kickstarter for those (especially first-timers) whose main challenge is getting to "The End" without quitting. Personally, though, I have to edit myself while writing. If I don't, the accumulation of drivel gets so depressing that I reach a point where I just can't make myself put down another word without going back to fix it.

  3. Kaitlyn Deann:
    Jan 25, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    Wonderful point, Jason. I have never had the opportunity to participate in NaNoWriMo due to life always getting in the way and/or nursing school (this last year, 2015, and yes, I'm a nurse now *grins excitedly*). I really am hoping to be able to this year. Here's the thing: I don't do it for the word count (like you said, though in shorter words, quality over quantity), I do it for the community of writers. I absolutely LOVE interacting with other writers, published or unpublished, because we can do together what we love. It's like in November, writing is hyped up on drugs or something! Also, I think writing the first draft is the easiest part, not hardest, BUT it can be the hardest and *longest* thing to finish if you procrastinate (sometimes like me). Setting daily word goals help me finish my first draft. I have no problem with NaNoWriMo, as long as afterwards, it's combed through with a VERY, VERY fine-toothed comb. :)
    I subscribed to your blogs, Jason! Loving what I've read so far.

    God Bless,
    Kaitlyn Deann

    Blog: authorkaitlyndeann.wordpress.com

  4. Jason McIntire:
    Jan 25, 2016 at 07:52 PM

    Kayla, thanks for reading, commenting, and subscribing. The first draft is definitely the longest and hardest for me too, but for a different reason: in substance, it's really the only draft. That's the terrible and wonderful thing about editing in process: you may never finish, but if you do, you'll likely be finished - not starting on the first of five or six draft iterations.

  5. Ellie Jackson:
    Feb 03, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    I agree with and appreciate your post....even though I have won NaNoWriMo a total of 6 times. For me it wasn't about coming up with a good story so much as having fun and getting excited about writing and competing against friends. But the last two times I've tried to do NaNoWriMo, I haven't been able to finish, because now I care too much about writing a good story, and my favorite stories are those in which every word is meaningful and purposeful.
    In defense of NaNoWriMo, the intention is to fix up your draft once the month is done. Once a first draft, with all the ideas and descriptions you can think of pounded out, it gives you something to work with, something to edit, something to fix up and make better. Even so, it doesn't work for me anymore.

  6. Jason McIntire:
    Feb 03, 2016 at 09:28 PM

    Sounds like you and are pretty much at the same place. I can see where NaNo helps the very inexperienced, who need to know what it feels like to finish something, and the dedicated post-editors who don't mind going through six drafts. I'm neither. :-)

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