Why I Backed Out Of NanoWriMo

NanoWriMo, short for  “National Novel Writing Month” is a popular novel writing contest which takes place each November. The goal of the organization is to encourage writers to complete a solid first draft of a novel within 30 days. The mission behind the organization which started this contest was to encourage writers to just get anything down on the page, without thinking how good it is. In short, write now, edit later. The spirit of the contest is to encourage writing, and while I think that’s a wonderful goal, I ultimately backed out.


1. Writing Just to Write.

I really believe that just to get something down on paper is not necessarily a very good thing. While the concept of writing a novel in a month is a trendy idea and makes for a good challenge, it doesn’t necessarily result in the best quality. What NanoWriMo is unintentionally advocating for is speed over initial quality. It is encouraging people to just write something, never mind what that something actually says or means, or whatever. You work those details out later — and on that, I couldn’t disagree more. So while it says “write a novel in a month,” what they really are saying is “write a first draft in a month,” and a rushed one at that.

2. Structuring Story in a Month?

Ultimately whether you are writing a script, a novel, short story or whatever, it must have a prevailing structure. The novel I had planned to write for NanoWriMo was being worked from a script I wrote last year. While I have long advertised writing a solid draft of that script in a month, the total process was actually longer than that. I first came up with the idea in December 2012 and spent many weeks writing the entire structure of that script (treatment and outline) by hand as I felt I could more naturally control my thoughts. The final first draft was sent to a producer who offered to read it in February of 2013. If I were to just write that script flat out with limited outlines, it would have been a mess. Every scene has purpose, the same can be said of points in a novel. These beats will often be missed later on and it is very hard to revisit this after you’ve just written something for the sake of writing. It may not be the case with everyone, but I would say it is the case with many.

3. No, Not Everyone Can Write.

NanoWriMo exists to encourage people to write. The problem is, not everyone is a “writer” in the sense that that word comes to suggest. Sure you can speak, read and use a computer, but please do not think that because you can do all of this you can also write. Writing a story does not qualify you as a writer any more than doing a math equation qualifies you as a mathematician. Yet our society thinks that anyone could become a writer, while becoming a mathematician somehow requires greater skill. Both require great skill. Becoming a writer requires a lot more than just putting a story on paper. It requires skillfully doing so in a matter of professional quality.

4. It’s not the Time in Quantity but the Time in Terms of Quality.

Malcom Gladwell refers to 10,000 hours as a hypothetical average to which persons achieve mastery in a given subject. It takes many, many years of crafting and honing skill to become an expert in something. It takes many years to become a “writer” in the sense that that word comes to suggest (as previously alluded to). And Gladwell notes that it very much matters how those 10,000 hours are spent. Just churning out sentences and words in a given period of time may eventually add to “10,000 hours” but it won’t make you a master in the subject of writing. Constantly honing and crafting your skill in the process of 10,000 hours is how you become a master.

And so NanoWriMo seems more concerned with just getting it out there than worrying about quality. This is a misguided approach. We should always be concerned with quality. NanoWriMo is a fun challenge for writers both new and old to quickly conceptualize an idea, but it should really be taken lightly. It is a challenge, not a serious way to improve your actual writing skills. The best way to conceptualize an idea is to work in a time frame that works for you in terms of maintaining quality. And so could I write my script ‘Liberation’ as a novel in one month? Yes, I could. Do I want to? No, I do not. And the reason that is, is because I believe in quality over quantity and one month is simply not going to result in a good product for any writer at any level of skill. You may take my opinion with a grain of salt, and to those who are participating, I hope you still may get something out of it.


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