I’ve done NaNoWriMo six times now and achieved a win every time. I’ve upped the stakes and done 75 thousand words and 100 thousand words in the month (Note to self – never ever do the 100k words again. My brain was leaking from my ears by the end of that one.) I’ve edited all my NaNo novels, none of them are trunked (one came close.) And the holy grail – I sold a book that started as a NaNoWriMo novel. (I wrote Higher Ground’s first draft during NaNoWriMo 2010. )
Given all that, I have nothing left to prove. So why, when I write all year round anyway, do I still do NaNoWriMo?
The Red Mist and the NaNo Effect
I admit, I have a competitive streak a mile wide. And while NaNoWriMo isn’t technically a competition, there are competitive aspects to it if you want to find them. And people like me definitely find them. If nothing else I’ll compete with myself! This competitive urge means that during NaNoWriMo I get an extra boost to my writing motivation. I find more writing time and write more during those sessions. When doing a first draft I’d normally get around 30,000 words done in a month. NaNoWriMo makes me ramp up the pace to get to the 50,000 instead.
Since I get that effect, why not harness it? Get all or most of another draft under my belt in half the time it would usually take. And quality doesn’t suffer, as far as I can see. I always make an outline, maybe even a more detailed outline than usual, so I always have something real to write, not filler until I think of what happens next. And I can’t type any faster than my usual pace. (Which is pretty slow, by the way, maybe 25wpm.) It’s just I use the whole of my writing time more efficiently. No more “just an extra ten minutes on Twitter” during NaNo for me! Which takes me on to my other reason.
Bad habits form slowly and accumulate. Blogs I’m reading, sites I’m visiting start to add up. Having an extra ten minutes on Twitter is no big deal most of the time. But it turns into 15, 20, 30 and every day… When NaNoWriMo comes along, all such distractions must stop. I have to decide what blogs I actually need to read and which ones can go on hiatus for a month. I put games I’m playing on hold. I cut down my time on forums, Tumblr, Facebook etc. I ban myself entirely from time-sucking sites like TV Tropes and Cracked. I make similar time-efficiencies in the rest of my life, so I’m better organised there too. It all adds up help me get the full value out of my writing time for that day. NaNo gives that extra kick, because during that month, I can’t just blow it off for today if I don’t feel like it. I have to write.
At the end of the month the key is not to just go back to what I was doing before, but rather to only pick up again the things I genuinely missed. Everything else that I was doing out of habit and ritual I can forget about. This is a great way to cull blogs I’m subscribed to and not reading! This intense month of focusing on writing breaks bad habits and re-establishes good ones. It clears the clutter from life – online and offline and gives me a fresh start.
Why only November?
Why not do this all year round then? Because I don’t want to crack up. Doing it for a month is one thing. I can do anything for a month. For a year is a bit much. I have to have some balance in my life and do other things. It’s good that the rest of the time I can sometimes decide to not write that day because I don’t feel like it, or else it really does become nothing but work. (It is work, but it’s not only work.) It’s good that the rest of the year I have the time to go to a concert or exhibition or movie without thinking “I could have written 2000 words in the time I’ve been here.”) it’s good that yes, I can have that extra ten minutes on Twitter to finish up an interesting conversation with another writer.
And the biggest reason I still do it?
It’s just massive fun. Honestly, I love it. It’s a scream.