Monday, November 07, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Pros and Cons

National Novel Writing Month. Write 50,000 words in a month? Gah! And yet, many people tackle this incredible challenge every year. I've tried it three times so far, but only succeeded in generating the required amount of words once. That time, I worked on a novel that I knew really well. I had a detailed outline, I'd done character profiling, and I knew exactly where to take my story. So, the one time I 'won' NaNo, I cranked out 58k words in three weeks.

The other two times? I didn't know the story or the characters nearly as well, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice them just to meet my word count. So, I slowed down and did some exploring. It took much longer to finish those drafts, but when I was done, I was happy with them.

I'm not doing NaNo this year, but I have some friends who are going for it and that got me thinking about the pros and cons of this endeavor.

Pro: You get 50k words written.
Con: 50k words of what?

Pro: Even if you end up with 50k words of crap, you've at least got a solid start on your project.
Con: Yeah, unless you have to chuck it all and start over. So why do it right in the first place?

Pro: Even if you have to chuck it all, you've at least had the chance to really explore the idea and characters, and there's probably some nuggets in there that are worth keeping.
Con: But then you have to search through 50k words of crap to find a couple nuggets.

Anyone have anything else to add? :)

Clearly, NaNo has worked well for me, and it also hasn't worked at all. It all depended on the circumstances surrounding my projects. Have you done NaNo? How has it fared for you? Are you doing it now?

15 comments:

Christine Marciniak said...

NaNo has worked for me as a way of getting a first draft created. Once I have that I have a stepping off point to change and fix and adapt. In some ways the first draft serves as a sort of outline, because I'm not much of an outliner to start with.
I also like the aspect that a lot of people are doing this all at once. It's fun to have the company of others all trying to make their goals, in something that is normally as solitary as writing.

angelaquarles.com said...

I've done it twice and won twice. The first time I didn't know the rules and decided to finish an MS I was only doing in fits and starts due to fear of writing something crappy. I'd only gotten 6 chapters written in 6 months. So I started a new doc (so I'd know my word count) and picked up where I left off. It was a struggle but I made it. It taught me a ton, mainly that I needn't be afraid of setting my story down in less than sparkling prose. The important thing is to get the story down. Last year I did it again with only a concept, no character outlines, and a vague idea of the ending, and had a much easier time. I finished 2 days early. I've been revising since, but I think the meat of the story was solid and I came up with situations and characters I never would have if not under pressure.

I'm not doing it this year because I want to concentrate fully on querying this WIP. But I really recommend it for people who are paralyzed in their writing due to perfect 1st draft anxiety. No one writes a perfect first draft. Get it written then get it right, some writer said. That said, it might no be for everyone. I'm a pantser and NaNo helped me discover that...

Courtney Koschel said...

I'm doing NaNo for the first time this year. Last year I was too far into another project, and this year I wanted to give it a go. I have a detailed outline, character profiles, and my research notebook, and I'm pretty satisfied with how things are going.

Even if I don't "win" I'll be happy with the work I've produced. I love the push.

khashway said...

I agree that you can't force the words if the ideas aren't there. I've never done NaNo and the length of time it takes me to write a manuscript completely depends on the manuscript. I've taken a year at the most and 13 days at the least. There is no set pattern to follow, only what works for that particular story. A least that's what I think. :)

Tabitha said...

Chris - that's awesome. I have so much respect for those who can crank out a first draft during NaNo. The one time I did that, I'd already done months of planning, exploring, journaling, etc and knew exactly where the story was going. When I didn't know that, I failed NaNo miserably. So glad it works for you!

Angela - good for you!! That's a definite Pro for NaNo--using it to get your butt in the chair. :) And, clearly, that worked for you.

Tabitha said...

Courtney - good luck! I think going into NaNo with that kind of attitude will get you far. :)

Kelly - you and I are exactly alike in that sense. It all depends on the manuscript for me, too. It so happened that I'd spent so much time fleshing out my 'winning' ms that it worked for NaNo. But it hasn't worked since. :)

So glad to hear all these varying NaNo stories!

clairemca said...

Interesting post and comments, it's all about the journey and the learning and when it succeeds, it can be a useful tool.

I love the pressure of a word count, I picked this up from reading 'On Writing' and discovered that setting a daily target really works for me and that the first draft isn't about getting it right, it's about getting it down.

Bonne Continuation!

Logan E. Turner said...

Definitely agree with the "of what?" con. Part of the reason I've had such trouble dealing with/revising my first NaNo novel is because there's so much dreck to try and get through. It's exhausting.

I'm doing it again for the feeling of solidarity and to try and force a habit of regular writing. If I can build up the idea of scheduling time to write, then I hope it'll carry through into December and beyond. I've decided to focus on getting a basic outline down and not dwelling too much on details that can be filled in later. Hopefully that means it'll be easier to work with this year!

Shana Norris said...

NaNo works really well for me, but it fits my writing style. I really don't know my characters or my story very well until I have a first draft written and I like writing the first drafts quickly. Revision is when I actually figure out who these people are and why they do the things they do. But I can understand that process not working well for everyone. My second published book Troy High was a NaNo project back in 2006. It ended up being completely rewritten from scratch after NaNo, but I needed that month to get a basic story down so I could figure out how it all should be pieced together.

But still, NaNo is good in getting people to set goals, stop making excuses, and just write, even if they don't get the entire 50,000 words within a month. :)

angel011 said...

I have planned to do NaNo this year, but then I got this big huge translation to do and I have to finish it by December 10th -- I can barely look by the time I'm done with the translation for the day, so writing is impossible. Maybe next year.

Diane Carlisle said...

I tried it once and the most I got out of it was an interesting prologue. Then I was like, okay. Now what?

Mirka Breen said...

The idea of working towards a certain word count does not appeal to me. At one time I would have scuffed at this altogether, but I now see how it works for some.

Eve.E said...

Hey there,
I am just passing through from Alex's blog hop, and I am still working my way around all the blogs on the list. So I thought I would say a quick "hello" and I will stop by when I can. Great blog!!
Eve :)

melissa said...

I like the idea of getting 50k down, but at the same time, I'm not sure the formula works for me. I'm still working on my '09 Nano!

Mary Witzl said...

I've managed NaNo three and a half times now, and while I've never managed to generate the requisite number of words, I do have three ms completed, after a fashion. But they will need a LOT of rethinking and rewriting before they're anywhere near ready to go out.

What I'd rather spend my (very limited) writing time on is going over the ms I've finished that are more refined. I know I can complete stories; I don't need NaNo to show me that. What I really need is the patience to rewrite them, and the courage and stamina to keep sending them out.