J.G. Walker – NaNoWriMo 2013: A Restrospective

With the recent passing of NaNoWriMo 2013, I thought I’d put together a few thoughts on my experience this year.

This one was good for me. Did I reach fifty-thousand words? Nope. Did I get close? Well, that depends on your definition of “close.” I did, however, end up closer to fifty-thousand than zero, so that was a win. Will I publish the story I wrote? Who knows? Who cares? Okay, I care, but it’s not the foremost thing on my mind. Still, NaNoWriMo 2013 was overwhelmingly positive.

There’s a lot of NaNoWriMo criticism bubbling up out there on a number of websites, which isn’t surprising, really. Some of it is no doubt designed to gain readers, and on top of that, if you looked hard enough, you could probably find someone who would gleefully criticize cute fuzzy puppies—you know, if that person had no soul.  But the main criticism I’ve seen is along the lines of “People are going to write fifty-thousand words worth of crapola and think they have a viable novel on their hands.” These naysayers might be the same ones, by the way, who complain about superhero movies convincing viewers they can pick up cars and fly. Dangerous stuff, indeed.  

Another strain of anti-NaNoWriMo protest I’ve heard recently is “Great. Now all these writers are going to be self-publishing these masterpieces.” Okay, good point there. That wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t, you know, forced to actually buy and read all those books, only to find out after we finish them that they would’ve been better left to languish in the printer tray. Yeah.

My answer to these two concerns is a question: So what?

Online Writing Workshops for Writers at All Levels

So what if people think their book is good if it’s really not? So what if people self-publish their less-than-stellar efforts? So what if NaNoWriMo creates unrealistic expectations? So what if people run around now telling everyone “I’m a writer.” Guess what? It’s true. Writers write. They write well, they write poorly, they write inflammatory things, they write baseless accusations, they write rhyming poetry, they write nasty limericks, they write haiku, all of them having one thing in common. They write.

Here are three reasons why I think NaNoWriMo is a good experience for any writer.

You Will Be Surprised

Push through, and you will come up with a thing you never would have found if you hadn’t pushed. Yes, it sounds like a cliché, and if it is one, then by Gutenberg it’s a good one and it deserves to live, thrive, and give birth to baby clichés. Will the thing be good? Who knows? The only thing we can say for sure is it will be something new. And as writers, that’s what we try to do: make something new. 

It Helps Build Good Habits

Anyone can write when they feel like it. Writing when you don’t feel like it, though, that’s the trick. In my MFA, the author Ann Patchett told us that since her husband, a doctor, doesn’t have the option of having doctor’s block, she can’t really feel good about claiming writer’s block as a valid excuse for not writing. Writing every day, especially when you don’t feel like it, builds a habit that can carry you through the lean times.

It’s a Competition, but Only with Yourself

It’s easy to become intimidated, or even a little jealous, when you see those high word counts rolling in for everyone but you. Despite the word count goal, though, the real achievement of NaNoWriMo is that, regardless of rain or shine, sleet, snow, alien invasion, Black Friday sale, or super-long A Christmas Story marathon, you meet yourself in that chair every day. Or maybe you write lying down. I’m not judging. But if you’re doing NaNoWriMo solely to prove something to someone else, maybe you need to examine your motives for writing.  


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