The Joy of Taking it Slow! Or why I’ll never do NaNoWriMo #AmWriting #WWWBlogs

nano-buzz-and-woody

Every November, Twitter, Facebook and blogs are full of tales from the front line of NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month. The aim is to write 50,000 words during November and it does seem to galvanize writers everywhere into action.

But while I agree that it is good to sometimes have deadlines and targets, the thought of NaNoWriMo makes me shudder. Can it be good to put so much pressure on yourself?

Writers are terribly insecure beings on the whole. And we’re also our own worst critics. We set ourselves up, a lot of the time, for failure by putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves when we don’t really need to. And I can’t help feeling that for me, and possibly for a lot of other writers, NaNoWriMo could pile on that pressure and add to writers’ guilt.

You know what that is – berating yourself because you haven’t met an artificially imposed target; stressing out because you didn’t manage to write enough this week, or today, or in the last half hour; feeling terrible because you spent half an hour reading the comments on a Guardian article instead of writing (I just can’t help torturing myself at the moment). We all do it. We all think everyone else is writing for three hours before breakfast and then doing a full day’s work (I’m talking here about those of us who have other paid work in addition to our writing). We all secretly suspect that everyone else is up until the small hours, pounding away at the laptop while we, lazy losers that we are, are terrible enough to sleep.

We’ve all read those articles in the back pages of writing magazines – ‘My Writing Day’ or ‘My Bloody Perfect Life’. You know the ones. ‘I get up at seven and drink lemon juice and water. Then I write for three hours solid before taking the dogs for a long, refreshing walk in the acres of woodland just outside my cottage, before coming home to a healthy salad for lunch and an afternoon of editing.’

I don’t know about you, but my reality consists of squeezing in some writing amongst the paid work, and sorting out the kids and the dogs and the house and the cooking and the shopping and the hundred other things that have to take priority. Sometimes it’s genuinely impossible to write. That often makes me feel really bad. I don’t need NaNoWriMo to make me feel worse.

And you know, there’s nothing wrong with taking your time over your writing. Sometimes the reasons we don’t write are genuine reasons and not excuses. If you have family or a mortgage to pay or an elderly relative dependant on you, or the washing machine packs up, or the dog needs taking to the vet, then writing, rightly, takes a back seat. And you shouldn’t beat yourself up about that.

And there’s also more to writing than the actual writing. Sometimes you need time to think about your work. This can be just as important as getting the words down themselves. Sometimes you need some time away to sort out your ideas or to work through a tricky plot point. Deadlines that really don’t matter aren’t going to help with that.

I’ve worked as an editor with a lot of authors who get themselves in a pickle because they have become obsessed with a self-imposed deadline that they just have to meet. Their work suffers. I know the idea of NaNoWriMo is to get your writing going, and I know that for some writers it might well help. But, knowing as many writers as I do, and knowing how they punish themselves when they miss deadlines or aren’t as productive as they feel they should be, then I personally think that NaNoWriMo isn’t helpful.

Modern life is horribly stressful. It’s busy and demanding. Shouldn’t your writing be the opposite of that? When I have a whole afternoon free to write, with no pressure, no stress, no word count in mind, it feels wonderful. I don’t want to turn that into a chore, another task to tick off a list. And I don’t want to feel like a failure if I don’t write enough. So if it works for you, then go for it. But I won’t be joining in.

 

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40 comments

  1. Great post, Alison. I’m taking part in NaNo for the fourth time this year but instead of stressing (which I have done the last three years!) I’m being quite relaxed – not sure what has changed for me this year? It could be down to the fact that I’m only at 30k with seven days to go! ‘It aint’ gonna happen’ springs to mind, so I’m just enjoying adding a few hundred words every day. On November 30th I’ll have 30,000 words that I didn’t have thirty days ago so it’s not all bad ha ha. I totally agree about the added stress though, perhaps that is what’s clicked for me this time around – enjoy it but don’t stress about it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Could have written this! Never understand why people put themselves through the stress of nanomimo or whatever it is.. I GET that it motivates some; I GERT that some achieve a whole book. But…….why bother? Writing takes time…lots of time, interspersed by cake and shopping….

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  3. What a wonderfully refreshing post to read Alison, thanks. I did do Nano a couple of years ago to make me crack on with the second book, and it did the job because I was very sure of the plot so it was easy to just throw the words down – to be sorted out at leisure later on. It would never have worked with my current work as it’s needed a lot more thought as I’ve gone along.

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  4. A great reminder, Alison.
    Am away with my family after son’s wedding and have just found an old Guardian booklet in my husband’s bag: ‘Make the most of your time’.
    It brought me up short.
    It says (among many other things!) ‘remember to pause’ ‘focus on the now’ and ’embrace distraction’ and recommends bringing yourself back to the now, rather than constantly trying to push ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you June – those words sum it up exactly. I think the way the world works now makes us think that everything needs to be hurried or we’re failing somehow. Stepping back can be so important, and very productive too in the long run.

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  5. I signed up for it, but there is no way I’m going to meet the deadline, and I can’t say I’m bothered about that. I’ve written about 23,000 words, and I’m quite pleased with that, but I have to agree that NaNo for me is now too stressful and I need that “thinking time”. I’ve already decided to take my time, forget all about NaNo-ing, and remember to enjoy the writing process again.

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  6. Great post. I know all about the stress of self-imposed deadlines and the feelings of failure and guilt when I don’t meet them. It’s strange because as a journalist I’m comfortable working to a publication’s deadline. I have tried Nanowrimo a couple of times but it really isn’t for me although I know some people do enjoy it and have 50,000 words of a new book drafted by the end of the month.

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  7. My own books take a long time to write. As you say, there is not just the writing, but that sometimes you need to think about your work. Even when you do not add words, progress is being made on the storyline, or at least that is how it is for me.

    And besides, I wonder about Nano. Do good stories come out of it? The couple of stories I have read that have been Nano efforts are far below the usual standards of their authors. I guess some people might write a brilliant book in the space of a month…

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    1. I can see that it could work for some writers as a first step – but should only be a first step. There must be masses of re-writing and editing to go through on those initial 50,000 words. I like to edit as I go along too, so I know it’s just not right for me.

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    2. There are several bestselling novels that started life as a NaNo. Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” spings to mind, as well as Marissa Meyer’s “Cinder”. However, the operative word here is “started” – the authors in question wrote their *first draft* during Nanowrimo, and then, presumably, went through multiple rewrites and edits etc to get their books to a bestseller-worthy state.

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      1. Thanks for your comment. I do appreciate that it’s only meant to be for ‘first draft’ stage, and hopefully the majority of writers do go on to extensively re-draft and edit. Which is why it won’t work for a lot of writers who don’t work that way. I write, and then the next time I pick up the manuscript I re-read and go over everything I wrote previously, and sometimes I even go right back to the beginning and re-write and edit and check again before adding anything. So some weeks I don’t increase the word count, and it may even end up shorter, but the novel is still progressing. Having a proscribed word count just wouldn’t work for me and I know that NaNoWriMo would make me feel stressed and demotivated. It may work for some writers but it’s just not for me 🙂

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      2. Yes, I do too to some extent, which is why I find NaNo activities such as competitive word sprints totally useless for me. Some folks thrive on them; but not me.

        If you’re going back and editing as you write, you obviously have your “inner editor” on a tight leash. For a lot of writers, that inner voice can be crippling, always telling them that what they’re writing is horrible, so they go back and edit and re-edit and re-edit and never make any progress. Nano is for those people – it gives them permission to lock up the inner editor, throw away the key for the month of November, and just write. For others, like yourself, that high-pressure stress of a set word count is equally crippling, so they need to keep away from it.

        It’s all about balance, isn’t it.

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  8. I’ve never seen the point of it, either.

    My initial reaction to it: You either want to write or you don’t, and if you do, you’ll do it anyway, and if you don’t, joining some daft club isn’t going to make you do any more than chuck out 50K words that may never be worked on again. It’s for amateurs.

    After a bit of thought and reading that people like Georgia and Shelley, who aren’t amateur at all, have done it, this is what I think: I can see it can work if you’re a person who needs to be GIVEN a structure to get something done, as opposed to being able to work out your own. Some people work best when they feel answerable to someone, have a deadline, even if it’s only the spectre of NaNoWriMo. Also, if you are inclined to procrastinate or read the comments on Guardian articles (I do it too!) and write blog posts about The Walking Dead or stuff that annoys you (that’ll be me, then), instead of getting on with it, the discipline is good.

    I’d never do it, though. If only because it’s got such a stupid name.

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    1. What is with that name? I always have to double check that I’ve written it right! With my writing hat on – I know that I couldn’t manage to write that much in a month and so I won’t put myself under that much pressure just to end up making myself feel bad. It just makes writing into another chore instead of the pleasure that it should be.

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  9. Hi Alison, So interesting to read your article on the NaNo. I love your style.

    I’m a sort of ‘wannabe’, with no particular talent for writing, except a few articles I’ve written in the past and a couple of short stories. I am subscribed to I don’t know how many blogs and newsletters all about how to become a writer, but I would hardly ever actually write. I thought I had to read about writing until I thoroughly understood the process.

    And I’m loving it! The web-site is actually very impressive, with all sorts of information, statistics and ‘help’ in all shapes and forms.

    The main thing is that I’m learning so much about the writing process that I think would have taken me years to glean (and there’s not enough time left for me to take it slow!) I’m getting to know whether I am any good, and understanding what serious writing is.

    I heartily agree with Terry Tyler in a previous comment…that it can give structure and a bit of discipline if you haven’t got any (that’s me) and also, the NaNoWriMo acronym is at best very irritating.
    I don’t know if I would do it again. I have to keep reminding myself there is actually nothing to ‘win’ and that it’s just for me, to get a draft onto paper.
    Thanks again for a good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marie, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I do appreciate that there are benefits for lots of writers and I’m impressed that you are taking your time to learn the craft of writing; so many would-be writers don’t. I just know that NaNoWriMo would be awful for me 🙂

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  10. I’m doing it for the second time and I love it!

    The first time I did it, I had a story quite well planned and did about 40,000 words during the month. It was a kids’ book so that was most of the story written. I then spent a while editing it and redrafting it. However, five years later, I still haven’t finished it and got it back to Alison for a final edit. I need a deadline!

    This time, I’m at 27,000 words and I’m determined to finish. It’s great for getting writers writing. And I agree that there’s a lot of help on the website – I had a plot problem completely solved on the Plot Doctoring forum!

    Anyway, must rush – 1,600 words to knock out tonight…

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  11. I decided to try Nano this year as I’ve always thought that I couldn’t write fiction. I didn’t stress about totals but found the writing was flowing until November 15th when I suddenly realised it all needed to be in the first person, not the third person, so I stopped. I will return to it one day rehashing from the beginning but I am glad to get back to my research and writing short non-fiction articles again!

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  12. If it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t be a writer. Six years ago I sat down in November and decided to just try if I could write 50,000 words in a month, and have fun telling myself a story in the process – no thought to having any semblance of a “good” novel at the end of it whatsoever (I didn’t think I had “novel writing” in me). To my great surprise, I ended up with something that I, and others I gave it to, actually liked – something that was a *novel*. And I haven’t looked back since.

    NaNoWriMo, for me, is as much about the community of writers that springs up every November around this crazy endeavour as it is about getting a first draft of a novel down. Through it, I’ve made writer friends who’ve become the mainstay of my creative endeavours.

    However, that’s not to say that everyone, or indeed anyone, “should” join NaNoWriMo.
    I think doing NaNoWriMo is not unlike running a marathon. Personally, I shudder at the idea of running at all, let alone for 42km – why would anyone do that to themselves? But I have a friend who’s been doing it for years, and while it’s extremely strenuous and, dare I say, stressful, it also gives him great pleasure and an enormous sense of personal accomplishment.

    So let’s cheer each other on, in *whatever* style we choose to pursue our writing. I think it’s great you’re taking it slow, and that’s just what I’m going to do – after November.

    (PS: Have you seen the book “The Art of Slow Writing”? Can’t think of the author at the moment, but it’s much along the same lines as what you’re saying here. Excellent read.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really glad that it worked for you. And I’m all for cheering everyone on 🙂 But I do often work with writers that get very stressed and very frazzled because of the pressure they feel to meet non-obligatory deadlines and all the pleasure they take in writing seeps away. I do think that there is an aspect of NaNoWriMo that can add to that. There’s enough pressure in life. If you thrive under it that’s great, but I just want writers to remember that there are other ways to make writing work. Good luck with your writing this month (and beyond!).

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  13. I had a great laugh at the description of the Writing Day article. I’ve read so many of these. All my books have taken years and included end-of-life care for my father and two in-laws. I’m lucky that I don’t depend on writing for an income, so that family, garden and DIY get their share… mind you I am dreaming of a return to fiction, after years of WWII research, in 2017

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  14. Well I have never been tempted by it! Not just because of the unnecessary stress, but because when you are desperately chasing word count, it’s not conducive to quality writing. I’ve tried writing sprints, and from what I can see it just leads you into a mess of typos, poor grammar etc which then takes forever to sort out. But I am a very slow writer, and I need to edit as I go… I think we all need to find what works best for ourselves individually, but I do think Nano forces people into word count and speed writing obbsessions.

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