What National Novel Writing Month Can Teach You About Your Writing

What National Novel Writing Month Can Teach You About Your Writing

What National Novel Writing Month Can Teach You About Your Writing
Photo by Jody Calkins

What National Novel Writing Month Can Teach You About Your Writing

There is great controversy over the effectiveness of Chris Baty's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Some say writing a book in 30 days will lead to a lot of bad writing. Others say that it's a way to finally write that book they've always wanted to write.

The trouble with the first opinion is that, if we believe that we can't write a decent novel in 30 days so why bother trying, we likely won't even attempt to write one at all. Some excuse always pops up…

  • I'm too busy…

  • I don't have the energy to write…

  • I don't know how to divide a story into chapters…

The whole point behind NaNoWriMo is to write a book. Many of us gain a lot of pleasure from having written a complete first draft of a novel. It is a grueling process, but so is writing a book without a deadline. We'll make excuses and before we know it, three months have gone by and we still haven't had a chance to sit down to write. The stars haven't yet aligned just right. We're always busy on the weekends and we're too tired during the week to work on what we love.

NaNoWriMo will help you with that.

But NaNoWriMo isn't just about writing a book. It's about learning the process of writing a book, and understanding all those things that you need in order to write one.

Writing a book is not a piece of cake. In fact, writers struggle with their inner editors, with storytelling techniques, and with setting and meeting their own deadlines. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to write a book. If you've never written a book before (and even if you have), NaNoWriMo is a great way to understand the process and figure out what you need to get started and to keep moving forward toward your writing goals.

When you focus on writing a book in 30 days, you'll begin to understand what you need based on your current writing skills. Do you need more details to keep your story going? Does your plot need to be fleshed out more? Do you need to develop more plot points and red herrings? Does your character need a bigger background?

Writing a book in 30 days will also help you determine what your weaknesses are. Without knowing what our weaknesses are, we aren't able to improve. Getting through the entire process of writing a first draft will give you great insight into your current writing skills as well as areas that need improvement. Do you struggle with dividing the story into chapters? Do you use too much dialogue or too much description? Are your paragraphs too long?

Breaking down your word count goal can get you a completed first draft of your novel. It's good practice to write with a goal in mind. When we think about writing a book, we think that it is a daunting task. Fifty thousand plus words is a lot, as a whole.

But broken down, we begin to see that writing just 1,700 words a day is a way to stair-step our way to getting a first rough draft in our hands. The daily word count is doable. If you don't have more than one job, meeting that goal should be easy, as long as you keep up with it. You'll get familiar with being and staying behind if you don't keep up with your writing goal on a daily basis.

Writing daily during NaNoWriMo also helps you develop a writing habit. However, if you get behind and you end up having to spend all your weekends getting caught up, you'll get exhausted by the end of the month and you'll want to take a break from writing for an indefinite amount of time.

So, while writing a book in 30 days may yield some bad writing, you'll have a much better idea of what you need going into your next book. Most writers write multiple books before even attempting to submit one to an editor. What have you got to lose by practicing during your writing month? If you want to be successful as a writer, then you must start meeting some goals and deadlines. And you must start writing (and finishing) that book you've been thinking about all this time.

Without a major project and deadline, you'll continue to put it off. Until the day you finally decide to do something with those ideas or give it up altogether. Don't let the latter happen. With just a little time each day, you could be well on your way to completing a rough draft of your next novel.

Oh, and your writing month doesn't have to be November. If it's April and you want to write, start it right away. Don't wait. Any 30-day time frame will work!  

What part of the writing process do you struggle with the most?

Jody Calkins
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