I’m not a convert to National Novel Writing Month in the way you might think. I’ve never completed a manuscript during NaNoWriMo (and in fact have only attempted it once). My conversion has to do with the fact that I used to really sort of hate NaNoWriMo. As a writer, I felt it reduced the book-writing process to a hacky speed-typing game, and as an editor I’d shudder at the thought of thousands of novella-length rough drafts heading straight to my inbox in December. NaNoWriMo was for dilettantes, I thought.
But in time I changed my mind. Something about that surge of collective writing energy rearing up every November as the weather grew colder was—I had to admit—extremely appealing. And if any underdeveloped NaNoWriMo novel manuscripts wound up in the slush pile, I couldn’t tell them apart from the many underdeveloped novel manuscripts that were already there.
Eventually I began to just appreciate NaNo for the unique creative opportunity that it is. Because if there’s one pet peeve I’ve developed from working in this business, it’s talking to people (acquaintances, strangers on airplanes, fellow cocktail party attendees) who find out what I do and tell me they have an idea for a book, a book that they will write someday. The peevish part is that because of my vocation, these folks often expect me to help them by giving them a complete explanation of the publishing process, or my agent’s email address, or even a book deal. But honestly, when someone has just an idea for book, the only way I can help is to say, “Well, then you should write the book.”
So I’m grateful now that every November, pretty much the entire internet comes out to rally behind those words: YOU SHOULD WRITE THE BOOK. Stop talking about “someday.” WRITE THE BOOK. Look, here’s a whole month where you can WRITE THE BOOK!
I believe NaNoWriMo can be serve you beset when you approach it not as gimmicky experiment, but as a starting point. Personally I don’t think NaNo’s official word count requirement and the “don’t delete anything, ever” rule is necessarily useful for everyone—for me, for example, taking the extra step to shape a sentence from time to time helps me think. And reading about this guy’s non-NaNoWriMo experience of writing a book in two months gives me pause when he says that he “barely left the apartment” while writing 1500 words a day, making me wonder how people who work day jobs manage to produce the 1667 words/day that NaNo requires. But as Justine Larbalestier points out, taking the time to write and think and learn about what kind of a writer you are is more important than the word count.
For that matter, there’s nothing saying you can’t start NaNoWriMo now, ten days into November, if hearing about thousands of people deciding to WRITE THE BOOK inspires you to WRITE THE BOOK. Why wait until next November?