NaNo yes – or NaNo NO!

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that NaNoWriMo would have critics. I personally saw it as a challenge, something I could get my teeth into – and most of all, bit of fun.   Okay – many might query my definition of fun, but I’d rather write 50,000 words than knit a jumper for example – or go potholing. But I certainly wouldn’t scorn those who do like a bit of knit one, purl one – or indeed like to risk life and limb in deep, dark, confined spaces.

NaNo is, after all, a purely voluntary affair. You can choose to spend November applying your bum to a seat and getting 50,000 words committed to paper or keyboard – or you can choose not to. Plain and simple.

You can even start to do it, then change your mind after one word or 49,999 words – it’s entirely up to you.  No-one’s going to come round to your house in the middle of the night to berate you. Likewise, you won’t find the streets lined with cheering crowds and tickertape raining down on you like confetti if you do reach the 50k. You’ll just get to feel a wee bit smug, that’s all. Until…

Until…someone comes along with a sharp little needle, all ready to make your balloon go pop. The carping comes in various guises:

There’s the highbrow, high-minded writer who likes to sweat blood for a fortnight over a single sentence and thinks NaNo could spell the end of civilisation as we know it – or at least the literary part of it.

Then there are the Agents and Publishers who apparently spend December cringing in dark corners, just waiting to disappear under a deluge of ill-written codswallop churned out in the name of NaNo, because obviously everyone who did it will be foolish enough to think they now automatically have a bestseller.

And of course there are those who consider the whole thing simply too too ghastly for words.  They are often – but not always – professional writers, who seem to feel they have a monopoly on the written word and aren’t best pleased when greasy-pawed oiks come barging in to their territory.

Maybe my view on life is too simplistic.  When people say things like ‘I’d rather pull all my own teeth out with pincers than watch a single second of X-Factor’ – or ‘I’d rather poke my own eyes out than read a Chick-Lit book’ – I have this overwhelming urge to ask why they have to be so damn dramatic about it.

You don’t like X-Factor? Well leave it to those who do.

You don’t like Chick-Lit? Well leave it to those who do.

You don’t like NaNoWriMo? Well leave it…okay, you’re getting my drift.

Having said all that however – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with constructive criticism. Today I read a perfectly fair blog entry by Linda Gillard, a writer whose work I both enjoy and admire.  In the post, she says…

NaNoWriMo is brilliant as an inspiring, sociable and creative exercise. It’s great for producing a very rough draft of the novel you’ve been brewing up for months or years. But it worries me the way NaNo has “failure” built in for so many participants – and not just failure to achieve the 50,000 word count. Last year during NaNo month I read many complaints on Facebook from writers suffering RSI-related pain, yet their well-meaning fellow participants encouraged them to push on through the pain, thereby risking the possibility of serious damage to the delicate tendons of the hand. This isn’t writing, it’s masochism! Producing a novel is a test of stamina. It shouldn’t be a test of endurance.

Linda goes on to say…

If you didn’t finish NaNo this year, don’t be too despondent and please don’t think you “failed”. Maybe you weren’t ready to write. Writing is the end product of a process of thinking and feeling. Maybe you had more thinking to do. Maybe you just aren’t a fast writer. I’m a professional and I failed to produce 50,000 words in thirty days – or rather, I decided that to do so would be counter-creative, because for me it’s not about the word count, it’s about how much my words count.

Absolutely fair comments and I wouldn’t take issue with anything there. But to be fair to NaNo itself – while they act as cheerleaders and heartily applaud those who do reach the 50k finishing line – they don’t in any way belittle those who don’t.  Some of the NaNo organisers themselves don’t even succeed – and they’re cheerfully philosophical about it.

More than 250,000 people took up the challenge this year – and 37,000-ish made it to 50k to become winners – that’s roughly 14 per cent.  But I bet a far, far higher percent of those participating still consider themselves winners because of all they achieved during the month. And so they damn well should!

If you’d like to read the rest of Linda’s extremely interesting and thought-provoking post – she was actually doing a guest spot on but she also has her own website at where you can find out about her books – which I heartily recommend.



6 thoughts on “NaNo yes – or NaNo NO!

  1. Thanks for the mention, Gilly. I’m relieved you thought my blog post was fair. I knew it would be a little contentious, but just as some people are advocates of “slow food”, I suppose I’m an advocate of “slow writing” – not for everyone and not all the time, just when that seems an appropriate and creative way to work. Over the years I’ve realised that finding time to write is difficult, especially if you have a day-job and/or a family., but I think it’s even harder to find the time to *think*, to enter that daydreaming state in which characters and plots can develop.

  2. Pingback: Post NaNo Blogging « My Two Cents

  3. Hi Linda – It’s really nice to welcome you to my blog – so thanks for visiting.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong in being a little contentious – especially if it sparks off an interesting debate. My personal gripe is with people who just condemn outright, and think their view is the ONLY view. That’s certainly not true of you – and it’s not true of your NaNo post.

    I’ve been disgustingly smug and self-congratulatory about being a NaNo winner – and I have to hope this hasn’t annoyed anyone – but frankly I can’t apologise for it. I’m very familiar with the feeling of not succeeding (note – I didn’t use the word failure…) so when I do triumph – I’m going to rejoice. Usually in a haze of incredulity!

  4. Well said Gilly (and Linda)! I was really surprised at the detractors as well and wondered if they had even researched what NaNoWriMo is all about. Some of their judgements seem ill-informed. The lovely people at The Office of Letters and Light are the first to tell you that it’s one tool in a writer’s arsenal, completely voluntary and no matter what your end wordcount, you have achieved.

  5. Hi, Gilly! Thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving your kind words – I am enjoying your entries as well, reading about your 2011 in review, your goals and plans for 2012, and your NaNoWriMo retrospective. I was among those that didn’t quite hit the 50,000 words…I still believe in my story idea and the characters, but a couple weeks in I realized the story needed more thought and attention I would give it in 30 days. Some years I hit it, some I don’t. If it ever gets to the point where it’s more stress than fun, I’ll stop.

    Linda, I loved and agreed with your thoughts on NaNo as well and tell the folks in my writers’ group when they try NaNo for the first time that even it they don’t reach 50K, they are X number of words closer to a book than when they started – and that’s certainly worth singing about.


    • I think you hit the nail on the head Elizabeth: “If it ever gets to the point where it’s more stress than fun, I’ll stop.” I think this is probably true of all writing. What’s the point of doing something that’s such hard work and so appallingly paid if it isn’t – at some level – hugely enjoyable? 😉

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