Despite its benefits to some, it can also be incredibly counterproductive. Is NaNoWriMo for you?

Every year when NaNoWriMo rolls around, I start seeing writers hyping themselves up for this mammoth task.

Then come the writing groups and sprints, where people mostly express the guilt they feel for not having completed their word count for the day.

And even when the groups celebrate the ones who do manage to hammer out the target word count, that leaves all the people who didn’t manage it in silent shame.

Every year I see people sacrificing sleep, time with family and self-care in favour of achieving these arbitrary goals.

The problem with NaNoWriMo is that it can easily give you a false sense of ability and identity: but churning out 50k words in that one month out of the year, doesn’t even give you good writer’s habits.

What it does is take that toxic culture where we focus on increasing productivity via hacks because the output is praised regardless of quality.

Being able to type out 50k words makes you a typist, not a storyteller. And if you want to write novels, tell any kind of story, you need to first and foremost work on your storytelling skills.

Yes, habituating yourself to writing is important, but not in a toxic way.

Because, believe me, cramming out 50k words in one month only to find that you’ve got the fundamentals wrong is a harsh lesson.

And sure, you can use NaNoWriMo to train things like speed or self-discipline in writing, but don’t expect to walk into December with a finished story.

You may end up with a very rough first draft if you’ve done a lot of the plotting beforehand and already know what scenes you need to write up. But most people come out of it with something that’s more of a mess than a real story and is going to require a lot of work in editing.

When you want to become a writer, the most important thing is to write.

It doesn’t matter how much you write, but you need to become used to the work itself. As with anything else, the idea of writing a novel is exhilarating but getting down to the actual work is just that: a lot of work.

Reading and re-reading a lot of your own text, going over it, again and again, to ensure you’ve got all the throughlines ironed out and character development where it needs to be in order to make a captivating story that people are going to want to read.

Most of your story development is done elsewhere, not in your writing.

Because story development is thinking work.

Writing scenes is writing work. Editing is writing work.

So, when you’re writing a story, you need to factor in the thinking work first. Once you’ve got the thinking far enough, then you can start writing out the scenes.

And even when you’re writing out scenes, remember that time is one of the most important ingredients of the creative process.

If it feels like you’re just grinding your gears and not getting anywhere; take a break.

Go do something else, read a book, watch a movie, go for a walk – anything that gets you away from the cognitive work of writing that one story.

With some fresh air blowing away the cobwebs you’ll eventually be inspired by something completely unrelated. Then you’ll find that going back is easy because you know exactly what it is that you want to say.

When you do creative work, such as creative writing, the most important skill you can develop is protecting and feeding your own creativity.

Because without it, you’ve got nothing.

So, it’s important to learn how to nurture your creativity, build it up and make it stronger, rather than wring every little last drop out of it simply because the interwebs set a deadline.

When you write for a living, it’s not about how many words you push out per day.

It’s about that you show up every day and do the work.

And here’s something that doesn’t get said nearly enough: if you don’t enjoy writing it, other people won’t enjoy reading it.

So, make sure that what you’re writing is exciting for you. Or you’re just wasting your time with something that will be forgotten as soon as it’s read (that is if your readers don’t just DNF it because they find it so unengaging).

Does this mean I hate NaNoWriMo? No.

It just means I don’t participate because I simply can’t work at the pace that it demands.

Creativity isn’t linear and you shouldn’t set an expectation for yourself where it is.