On Friday, I will be starting my 8th NaNoWriMo * novel. On Twitter, I’m seeing lots of people debating — Should I? Shouldn’t I? — and I decided I should examine my own reasons for taking the challenge yet again. You could argue that I already have seven novel drafts to play with and don’t need any fresh material (although only four of them are worth editing), but I have seven good reasons for diving in, one for each of my previous NaNoWriMo novels.
1) A word count goal plus a crazy deadline means you value quantity over quality, something many writers blast NaNoWriMo for. However, it has been shown that focusing on quantity can lead to higher quality with time. A great story in Art & Fear** illustrates this point perfectly. At their first class, a ceramics teacher told his students that half of the group would be graded strictly on the mass of their output (50 lbs or more earned an A) while the other half would be graded solely on the quality of the work they produced. In the end, the best quality work was produced by those being graded for quantity. In their anxious push to do enough, they made lots of pots and learned from their mistakes. Those who knew they would be graded on quality were paralyzed by perfectionism. They spent more time thinking than throwing. Result: their work was far from great, and there wasn’t much of it, either. NaNoWriMo is an exercise in quantity that has improved my writing quality as well.
2) I need a change of pace. I spend most of my writing time working on a single project, and since it’s a novel that requires a lot of research, it’s taking me a long time to complete. I deserve a break but I hate to abandon writing for any length of time. So I let myself switch to writing a jet-propelled three-ring-circus draft and by the end of the month, I’m ready to go back to plodding along with my “serious” project, rejuvenated by my busman’s holiday.
3) It’s hard. I like to get to the end of the month and say, “Hey! I did it!” about this crazy goal. As I’ve noted, I’m intrigued by the audacious nature of the challenge and have to really push myself because I am not normally a write-every-day sort of person. I have to be disciplined enough to keep writing nearly daily even while living away from home and spending the holidays with family.
4) It’s an educational crucible. Concentrated writing at top speed condenses my creative process, making it much easier for me to recognize my own patterns. I know now that my process is cyclical and includes lots of standing on the edge of the cliff and wondering what’s next. Fortunately, I’ve also learned that as soon as I show up and write, no matter how lost I think I am, I will find my story again.
5) It’s a muse magnet. Even when I had lost all faith in myself as a writer, all I had to do was cut myself some slack and sign on for NaNoWriMo. My muse came running, her arms full of wonderful gifts.
6) You may not buy the idea it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. You may scoff at the writer rule of thumb that you have to write 1,000,000 words to find your voice or become a great writer. But skills improve with practice, and this is a great chance to hone your fast writing skills as well as your ability to think creatively on your feet.
7) Last and by far the most important reason: it’s fun. Letting myself write a silly story as fast as I can with my only goal to be at 50,000 words by November 30th has given me all sorts of pleasure. And if we aren’t enjoying ourselves at least some of the time, then what in the heck are we here for?
How about you? Will you be tackling NaNoWriMo this year? If so, be my writing buddy! I’m dappled_pony on the NaNoWriMo site.
*National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I’ve “won” seven times so far.
** by David Bayles and Ted Orland, p. 29.