Why NaNoWriMo Is Like A Crash Diet

I have seen a LOT of NaNo excitement and a lot of NaNo invective being tossed around on Twitter the last week or so.  I think a lot of anti-NaNo folks feel about NaNo the way I feel about election years–SHADDUP ABOUT IT ALREADY.  Because, yes, for the month of November social channels are COVERED with talk of NaNo.  Word count updates.  #amwriting updates.  Excitement.  Bitching.

I have a love/hate relationship with National Novel Writing Month. I love the idea of something to motivate lots of people to sit their butts in their chairs, hands on keyboard, and write, no holds barred, no excuses.  I’m a fan of almost all challenges that do this, because I think having some form of accountability and enthusiasm makes this prospect easier in an otherwise lonely and sometimes difficult profession. Though I really miss the 70 Days of Sweat challenge because that was a far more manageable and personalizeable challenge.

For NaNo you’re supposed to spew, turn off your inner editor and just write.  The focus is on word count, with the assumption being that you can’t edit a blank page and that anything written can be fixed.  I happen to disagree with that, actually.  There’s a tendency to cling to bad prose because it’s something rather than nothing, but often only a wholesale rewrite is the only thing that will fix it. And when you’re hearing advice like “don’t use contractions and describe everything in the room…it gives you more words!” that’s missing the entire point of writing a story.

But NaNo helps you figure out the story! Yeah, so does plotting and thinking about all that stuff ahead of time. But I’m not here to start a pantser/plotter argument.

I hate it because it’s November.  This is not a good month for me.  Classes are coming to an end.  I’ve got extra grading to do.  Thanksgiving holidays to manage.  Christmas shopping to do.

I hate it because it’s a month and with all my assorted duties and responsibilities, 1667 words a day simply is not feasible. It really discriminates against people who can’t just shove life, family, and work away to write.  I know that the point is to help you make the time, but really NaNo is like a crash diet for writing. It’s this extreme challenge, like getting rid of a food group–hello, Atkins anyone?  The first week you’re all excited and het up and you stick with it.  And then you start to realize that this is not a sustainable thing.  And then people are dropping like flies, so that by the third week pep talk, the majority of folks have already dropped out, if they ever even updated their word counts to begin with.

This is why crash diets should give way to lifestyle changes.  It’s all about sustainable change.  And the thing that I hope folks walk away from NaNo with is the notion that you should sit down and write something every day.  Whatever that amount is.  Make writing a priority.  Make a lifestyle change.

14 thoughts on “Why NaNoWriMo Is Like A Crash Diet

  1. I’m not a fan of crash diets. Can’t do Atkins to save my soul. Within about three days I want bread so much, I’m ready to kill to get it.

    And I completely get what you’re saying, cause November is a very sucky month for me to try this. But I am trying to keep up with #Nano. I’m just not worried if I don’t, as long as I’m writing something. Every day.

    • Kait Nolan

      Yeah I totally never do it with the expectation or intention of “winning”. I just like the energy. And my experience with Atkins was that in 3 weeks, my husband lost 22 pounds. I lost 2. He went out, bought a loaf of bread and shoved it at me “EAT!” I was not a happy Kait…

  2. This is my first year doing it and while I’m dedicated to getting some word count in every day, I’m not trying to win or reach a daily word count goal. I’m using it, like you said, to make writing a priority, because I’m not a write every day kind of writer. I’ve also discovered that turning off my internal editor is something I don’t want to do. I erased half my word count yesterday and did rewrites. I actually need to produce something that can be published in January, so just writing whatever was not working for me.

    • Kait Nolan

      It seems like everybody I know has really lost their momentum on whatever project that they were working on and I keep hoping that NaNo will help give it back…

    • Turning off the internal editor is something I’m truly liking, and I’m thankful NaNo has given me the courage to do it. I want something publishable, but the way I’ve been going the last year hasn’t been working for me.

      I wrote Shadow Cat without knowing anything about writing. I just had a story idea I wanted to get on paper. It took me 2 1/2 months to complete (80k words). Afterward, I got into some writing groups, and the folks drilled me with guidelines, show versus tell, and a host of other things. Good stuff. 🙂 The tools I’ve gathered go a long way in the editing phase, not so much in the production stage.

      Now, I find I get so caught up in perfecting a scene, I can’t move on to the next. Do I really have to decide if a touch is soft, feathery, light, whatever on the spot? Why can’t I use a less active verb, then come back later once the story is written to spruce things up?

      I doubt my NaNo novel will be ready for publication a few months after I finish. 🙂 I’ve done at least 5 editing passes on Shadow Cat, and only now feel comfortable enough to say it’s pretty much there. 🙂 Maybe just one more pass.

      I would love to have another novel complete 2 1/2 months from now and ready for edits. And since I’ve learned quite a bit about style, I doubt it’ll take me 5+ passes to the manuscript up to par. One thing about NaNo, it has brought me back to my Shadow Cat days where the words flowed. No apologies for it not being in tiptop shape when I reached The End.

  3. Andrew Mocete

    At the end of doing NaNo last year I had a really, really long outline. I don’t write well that fast, but I learned a great lesson about the importance of a deadline. I’ll put a more reasonable one on myself for the next story, otherwise I’ll never finish.

  4. November is a hard month for me too. Especially this November, when it seems that in my senior year of college, my classes are throwing more work at me than usual. Still, I’m going to do my best. Throw in the holidays, and November becomes even tougher still.

    But for people who simply can’t carve out the time in November, there is a similar challenge in the summer. OK, so it’s the exact same challenge, just run by different people. It’s JulNoWriMo — and let me tell you, though their website isn’t as extensive as the NaNo site, July is a much easier month to crank out a novel.

    http://julnowrimo.com/

    • Kait Nolan

      This is why I miss the 70 days of sweat challenge. They used to do it about 3 times a year, and it was much more feasible. There’s not a single month in my year that’s a GOOD month for something like this.

  5. I’ll be honest. Other than watching my son, I don’t have a day job. I doubt I’d be able to do NaNo if I did. I started writing when I was between jobs. As soon as I landed one, I put my writing aside and didn’t pick it up again until I was out of work. 🙂

    As a stay at home writer (can we get a new acronym going? SAHW?), I try to complete my NaNo work before my husband gets home. When I even hinted at devoting evening time to writing, my husband got the wide-eyed demon look, and his brows turned into angry slashes. “So you’re going to lock yourself in the room for a month?”

    Guess fad diet is out for me. But like you said, I do see it as a lifestyle change. I’ve gone to writing maybe 2k a month to writing 2k+ a day. As a SAHW, I have the time and believe it’s something I can keep up with. More than that, I feel as if I should because it’s ridiculous to let the writing time go to waste. And though I tell my husband watching our son all day is difficult, it really isn’t. 🙂 But don’t tell him that.

  6. Sometimes I need something like NaNo to kick my butt. I’m a terrible procrastinator, not just about writing, but about everything. But I also hate to lose. So that’s why I keep up with word count as best I can. If I have to skip a day for some reason, I write extra for several days until I catch up. Doing NaNo last year has actually made some money for me. I did two novellas instead of one novel, and I’ve sold enough copies to put a little money aside. And I love the excitement surrounding NaNo.

    I’ve found that the best time to write is 10:00 at night when my husband leaves for work. There are a couple of reasons for that. One, I can turn the TV off. Two, I get to sit in his recliner and that’s the most comfortable seat in the house for writing. I can get more words written in that chair than anywhere else. :0)

    I do agree that a different month might be a little easier on most people.

  7. I used to like Nano, (It’s how I got the rough draft of Save My Soul written) but I hate it now.

    Mainly because I “usually” write a novel in a month now. I write and edit full time so the concept of sitting down and just “doing my job” and getting a gold star for it, is mildly irritating. Also, Nano NEVER falls right for me.

    Like I’m not writing a novel this month. Why? Because I’m doing final edits and releasing my indie author help guide, and I’m doing edits for Save My Soul and another book. It’s not “writing time” on the schedule, and I’m not about to shuffle around my entire existence just to jump on the bandwagon to do what everybody else is doing this month.

    The other reason I hate Nano is because the truth is… some people just shouldn’t write books. Nano encourages a bunch of people who can’t write but think they are superstars just because they “won” nano, to turn out novels in a month. Many of these people will turn right around and self-publish their unedited creations.

    So on some level Nano feels bad for indie authorship because it just creates a bigger pile of drek the rest of us have to “prove we aren’t a part of.”

    I don’t think I’ll ever do nano again to be honest.

  8. NaNoMo is very much like a crash diet for writers. The only reasons I decided to do NaNoMo this year is that: 1) I was already going to be writing my novel this month, 2) Smashwords had a promotional for NaNoMo where they have a special catalog for NaNoMo drafts for people to read, and 3) I need the excuse to just write, people don’t really expect to hear from you this month if you’re a writer.

  9. Becca Cougill

    I do Nanowrimo as a birthday present to myself and my family. Believe it or not, I do character sketches and plot outlines. My wall beside my desk is covered in post it notes with things I need to go back and change. But, I am about writing the way I am about cleaning or almost anything really. It’s probably a form of ADD.

    To clean my house, I work 15 minutes at a time. I stop anytime I get the urge to do something else and write it down on the dry erase board on my fridge otherwise I would be off doing something else. I am the mother of 6. It’s easy to get distracted.

    During November I give myself permission to write because, it calms the insanity that follows me. No my story isn’t perfect. No, it isn’t going to be worth letting anyone read. But, this year I am determined to keep going past November. I am going to write a million words this year.

    I know what your thinking, why in the world. I didn’t say I was going to make them all in different stories. Every month, I am going to rewrite the same story. I hate editing. Tell me I have to edit and I will cry. But, writing the same story again, and again was how I got through high school. I didn’t edit my papers or short stories. I just rewrote them. The third draft was always worthy of being turned in. I usually got at least a B if not an A. So I am applying that to my writing this year.

    No excuses allowed. This is a good story plan. It needs work. I have a hard time picking up details the first time I tell a story. The second time, I remember to mention the wood floors or the green drapes. The third time, I remember to plug all the plot holes and the polish is good enough I can let someone I trust read it.

    Who knows this story might take twenty different drafts. But, its the fun of writing it. The dream of one day getting published and the one time a year when I get to visit with people who are as crazy as I am. Normally, outside of family, it’s just me trying to plug along with no motivation to do so other than if I don’t you can’t live with me.

    One day, I will get a story right enough, that it will be worth publishing. Until then, I will do Nanowrimo. Afterwards, I will still do Nanowrimo.

    • Interesting method of writing. It’s amazing the ways people go about accomplishing tasks. Much success to you. 🙂

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