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Generally, I understand NaNoWriMo to have the goal of writing a complete novel (at least a first draft) during the month of November. To reach "novel" word count, this requires writing approximately 2000 words per day, on average, for the entire thirty days.

What I don't understand is why, if someone can write 2000 words a day, seven days a week, they need NaNoWriMo? I could do this, if I didn't have to work for a living -- but with eight hours of work and nearly two hours of commute time on weekdays, it's all I can do to get breakfast and dinner and eight hours of sleep most nights, and shorting myself on sleep (by an hour or more, at least) in order to write two thousand words is a bad idea if I have to drive almost an hour to get home.

I've heard the argument for decades about having more free time than I realize, choosing what I do with my time, etc. Yes, work plus commute plus sleep adds up to a good bit less than 24 hours -- but the unaccounted hours already go to something, much of which amounts to "upkeep". I need time after waking up to be fed, and functional enough to drive safely for an hour. I need time after work to wind down enough to fall asleep promptly (instead of losing sleep time that I need because my mind isn't ready to sleep when I hit the bed). Sure, call it "excuses" -- that's a "your fault" way to describe why things are the way they are.

I live on the schedule I do for good reasons, and it's not subject to change for anything that doesn't pay bills right now (and even then, it would require considerable thought and planning to change).

Thus, I really don't understand the point -- if I could do this, I'd be doing it already, and if I can't, I'd be better off participating in No-Shave November (I've already got a long beard, so I have a huge head start).

  • 3
    As FraEnrico notes, it's a challenge you're welcome to customise. You probably have about a month's worth of time off work per annum, depending on many factors; you could write a novel over the course of a year that way. Personally I write on my phone while commuting (I take the bus), which isn't an option for you; but everyone has their own options. Maybe you could do 15 weekends. – J.G. Oct 25 '17 at 12:20
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    I certainly wish I worked for an employer that gave me that time -- I get two weeks of paid vacation, plus six paid holidays (and five sick days, but I can't take those to write, I need them for doctor visits and actual illness). I already write two mornings every weekend, but I don't find I can hold my momentum, and I'm not willing to give up sleep or "rest" activities, for health and safety reasons. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 25 '17 at 12:39
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    We generally have more free time than we think. Even with eight hours of sleep + nine hours of work + two hours of commute + two hours for breakfast/dinner/bath, that still gives you 3 hours a day. On weekends you have more, let's say you can spare 5 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday = total 25 hours per week, 100+ per month, 1200+ per year. You do with your free time what you love. If you love writing, then you write. A friend of mine wrote everyday during commute (speech recognition), during lunch and dinner. He is a published author now. – Chaotic Oct 25 '17 at 13:40
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    "Give up everything else in your life". Only for a month, though. I think the point you’re missing is that while many of us cannot possibly give that kind of sacrifice every day of our lives, it’s a worthwhile exercise to push ourselves and make those sacrifices for just one month. Afterwards you’ll have a much better idea of how much time/energy/coffee you’re willing to give/ give up. – sudowoodo Oct 25 '17 at 14:29
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    This looks more like a rant with a ? on the end of it than an actual question, what are you actually asking here? – Benubird Oct 25 '17 at 14:34
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As a past "winner" of NaNoWriMo, I can tell you what this did for me.

  1. It set a lofty yet achievable writing goal for me to reach for
  2. It forced me to write, even when I didn't feel motivated (or when my inner-muse decided to sleep in)
  3. It put me in a community of others who were pursuing the same goal. This provided both support and encouragement.
  4. It provided me an excuse to write.
  5. It helped me as a writer, turn off my critical editor and to write, by imposing a looming deadline. Often, when writing smaller blocks, I would word-smith it to death and never finish.
  6. It lightens up the work of writing by infusing it with an air of excitement and fun.
  7. It built up my confidence by me writing that many words in such a short amount of time.

Edit

I thought of a few more.

  1. Having a defined goal made it more difficult for me to quit, especially after I told my friends I was doing it.
  2. It made it easier to take time to write away from my family because they knew it was a real thing AND that it was time-limited.
  3. It made me write past writer's block and continue to do the hard work of writing in order to make the goal.
  4. It made me become disciplined with my time in order to have time to write.
  • This is a good answer, and probably the right answer -- but every time I hear "disciplined with my time" I get an image of not having a minute I can take to relax -- shaving my morning time between rising and leaving the house down to 35 minutes and trying to find a way to save another 5, giving up things I do in the evening that are important to me (socializing with a friend who lives across the Atlantic, 1 hour 3 nights a week), and so forth. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 26 '17 at 17:35
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    Like anything in life, you have to make time for things that are important to you. What separates a writer and a wanna-be writer is actually writing. WIth me, I wrote on my lunch period, I wrote in the morning when I got up earlier than normal and set aside some time in the evening. – Andrew Neely Oct 26 '17 at 17:46
  • What's important to me is, first, my own safety (so I avoid cutting into my sleep, to prevent sleep deprivation from impairing my driving), and, second, keeping the bills paid. After that come things I love, but that don't pay the bills: photography, writing, role-playing games, guns, and model airplanes. I have to make time to ensure I get to and from work safely every day, and that comes before writing. I have no darkroom, no space to work on models, and can't afford to shoot regularly. Writing is already ahead of those things, but I can't put it ahead of life. – Zeiss Ikon Nov 2 '17 at 15:58
  • @ZeissIkon, that's why I haven't done NaNoWriMo since. I'm too busy, and I simply don't have the time. However, my point is that having a deadline helps draw a line of demarcation between excuses and rational reasons not to do something. I would suggest that if time is an issue, revamp your goal from 50,000 words to 25,000 or 10,000. What's important is to write. – Andrew Neely Nov 2 '17 at 16:46
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This is not really a question, but I'll try to address your point.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge with yourself. It is a personal commitment you take with yourself and with your idea, promising that you will work hard and focused on a project for the whole month. This can be a silly thing for a professional writer, but it is a huge effort for non professionals, amateurs, and generally speaking people who are insecure about their own capabilities in writing.

Your arguments, in all their honesty, are a typical example of "excuses":

I could do this, if I didn't have to work for a living

The point of NaNoWriMo is exactly that: being able to finish despite having to work (or taking care of kids, or being busy with any other things, or facing incidents, etc.).

I have participated my first time in 2016 and I "won", being able to reach my goal. That was my first novel ever. That experience taught me so f-ing much about myself as a writer, about the methodology and technique, about the difficulties and how to face obstacles on the way. That was the best gym for writers I've ever attended. I will try again this year, and I already see some new hurdles ahead, so it will be the chance to measure myself with a new challenge.

Again, if you are sure that you can write 2000 words per day, fine, good for you, you probably won't need it. But are you sure you can do it? Do you have experience about it? If not, then NaNoWriMo is a good way to test yourself.

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    I was doing it, when I lived two miles from work and slept five hours a night. I've got 50,000 words of a novel (that will likely run 100,000+ when completed) from that time. Maybe I should just abandon writing -- since I'm not willing to risk my life every day in order to do it. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 25 '17 at 12:35
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    @ZeissIkon that is an absolutely legitimate consideration. There is nothing "cool" or "right" about writing, not anymore than not doing it if you don't feel like. You don't "have to" do it, and you're not a lesser person for not doing it. I say this because a lot of people dread the idea of failure or of not being artists, which is absurd. Do what you feel like. – FraEnrico Oct 25 '17 at 13:16
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    @ZeissIkon, you don't have to participate in NaNoWriMo to write a novel. If you don't feel as though you can safely write during the week then don't write during the week. It sounds simple, I know, but sometimes we just can't see through a self-imposed fog. Make your own goal of writing 2000 words (or more, or less) each Saturday and Sunday. There are many more weekend days in a year than there are days in November. If you want to write, then write. If not, then don't. Again, very simple. – CramerTV Oct 25 '17 at 17:16
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What's gained from NaNoWriMo?

Obviously for some, motivation through a social event. For some, it is like running the marathon, not to come in first, and even if they come in last, they want to be able to say they did it, on that date and when everybody else was doing it and with everybody else doing it.

Would they get up and run a marathon down the highway by themselves? They could, they could time it, but that clearly would not be the same accomplishment as running a publicly touted Marathon. It isn't just about getting the exercise or proving you can do it or anything you DO get out of running 26.22 miles by yourself. Something more is gained by the social element. It is the difference between having four beers alone in your kitchen over the course of two hours, and having the same four beers over the course of a two hour party with friends: it isn't about the alcohol consumed, it is about the context in which it is consumed.

For you, probably nothing is gained. The same goes for me, I have my scheduled times to write and I write then, I don't count words, I don't worry about progress, I write, rewrite, and may even throw away what I did that day! But at that time every day I write. I don't need extra motivation, and I'm not very motivated by the right to claim "I was there" or "I did it".

But I do understand that others do find meaning in having been present or a participant in such things, so the context provides them with motivation to meet the rules of the game, and write their ass off. For such people what is gained is 50,000 words written that, otherwise, quite possibly would not have been written at all. And perhaps some fun and a pleasant experience, like playing any other kind of game.

9

I suppose the question of "what's gained" for participating in NaNoWriMo is quite subjective, but I always felt it was good particularly for 3 reasons:

  1. Being in November, which has 30 days, it allows anyone participating to have a short-term goal that is easily digestible. Writing 50,000 words sounds daunting, but writing 1667 doesn't seem so bad. It just encourages you to do that each day for a finite period of time.

  2. You become part of a community that consists of people all trying to achieve the same goal, and going through the same ordeal as you are. Writing is a lonely business, which usually cannot be shared with anyone until it's completed. Taking part in NaNoWriMo can give you more of a morale boost knowing that you're not totally alone, as you can actively participate in something alongside others doing the same thing, even if you've never met them.

  3. A lot of writers say that the most difficult part of writing is just writing, finding time to get words onto a page and continuing with it until it's done. NaNoWriMo forces you to find the time to complete this task every day, and even missing a single day sets you back immensely. However, pursuing this habit for 30 days straight helps to develop it into a habit that can continue after November is over. This is particularly useful as the novel will still need to be edited, but if you found the time before, you know you will still have it.

If you're personally struggling to find the time to commit to NaNoWriMo, some of these suggestions might be helpful (they were for me).

And at the end of the day the only reward that you get by "winning" is that you've achieved a personal goal, and more of your book is written at the end of November than it was at the start. Nothing more is gained by participating, and there are no penalties for losing.

  • I would also point out that 1500 is a better estimate of the daily work load, as this accounts for days you have plenty of time (or the novel is really fun to write right now) and days where it isn't. Typically I try to break it into 500 words in the morning, 500 during my lunch break, and 500 in the evening. This amounts to about 3 pages a day, which isn't a lot. – hszmv Oct 25 '17 at 17:51
  • @hszmv I write in an antiquated manuscript format and get about 350 words on a page, so that'd be about 4-5 pages for me -- but I see what you're talking about. This issue is, until I get momentum up, that's still 2-3 hours of writing time for me. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 25 '17 at 18:37
6

I've never personally participated in NaNoWriMo --like you, I don't find it of personal benefit --but it has been immensely helpful to many people.

It's essentially a (voluntary) psychological tool to help people overcome writer's block, fear of inadequacy, the intimidation of tackling a full-length work, the tendency to let writing be prioritized right our of our lives, and a host of other mental obstacles. If those aren't problems for you, or if you're already writing at your own peak efficiency, NaNoWriMo probably won't add anything to your life.

For many people, the concrete realization that they can produce a novel's worth of writing in a finite span of time is liberating and existentially empowering. It also gives an achievable goal outside of publication, which can be very important. If it does not work for you, there's no stigma attached to not participating. But your list of reasons for not participating actually reads to me as like a list of reasons this might actually be helpful to you --if writing is in fact something you are deeply committed to. But, to echo FraEnrico, and many other writers throughout time, if you don't feel driven to write, don't do it. Most writers are people who can't help but write.

  • Well, see, that's the problem. I've "quit" writing four or five times in the past forty years. It never sticks. But there are still bills to be paid, and writing (so far) doesn't pay enough to buy me lunch out once a year for the FORTY YEARS I haven't been able to quit. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 25 '17 at 14:47
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    @ZeissIkon Same here, but call it 30 years for me. :) However, for what it's worth, I'm writing more now, with a full time job, young children, and volunteer commitments, than ever before in my life. And I got here without NaNoWriMo (but not without making a similar commitment to productivity no matter what). – Chris Sunami Oct 25 '17 at 14:50
3

People are motivated by competition. We can do more, often much more, when we have others to compare ourselves against. In the Tour de France, riders ride in teams. Each lead rider has a team of ten or so teammates to set the pace for them. In any competition, athletes do better when competing against the best opposition. If you think you are running as fast as you can and someone passes you, you may find that you actually can run faster, but you never would have done without the competition to motivate you and show you it is possible.

A big part of NANOWRIMO (as I understand from friends that have done it) is comparing your pace against others. You probably can't churn out 50000 words of fiction in 30 days working in isolation, but if you see the person next to you is two thousand words ahead of you, you dig deeper and find the extra energy to churn out an extra 600 words a day, or whatever it takes.

This kind of competition naturally requires defined parameters. All the runners have to start the race at the same time and compete over the same distance. So NANOWRIMO establishes the course to be run and the start time and provides a way of telling how you are doing against the other runners. It creates the environment in which you can push yourself to greater achievement.

That, I think, is the main reason for it. It's not a case of "why, if someone can write 2000 words a day, seven days a week, they need NaNoWriMo?" It is a case of creating the conditions under which a person who cannot write 2000 words a day in isolation can be spurred on to do so by competition from other writers.

Now personally I think this is mostly bosh. The challenge is not to churn out 2000 words a day, which is really not all that many. The challenge is to generate that many ideas to write about. Perhaps, to some extent, the pressure to get out the words pushes the mind to invent the ideas, but it is obviously the course of least resistance to push out verbose descriptions of lame and derivative ideas, and no doubt that is what 99.9 percent of all NANOWRIMO writing is. I suspect that the people who have been successful with it, and there have been some, started with a good worked out idea in mind on November 1.

Nor am I persuaded much by the argument that people just need a spur to actually write. If you don't feel compelled to write, don't write. There are better, more lucrative, and more socially useful ways to spend your time. Not being motivated to write is a blessing, not a curse. Embrace it. No commodity in the world is in a greater state of oversupply these days than fiction manuscripts. Not writing them is a boon to humanity.

  • Ideas are not the problem (for me). I have the beginnings of six novels, four of them shelved so I have time to work on the ones I have a chance of finishing within the next year. I get ideas that could become novels frequently. And as noted in other comments, I can't "stay quit" -- I keep reading a book and thinking "I can write better than this". – Zeiss Ikon Oct 25 '17 at 17:59
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    I don't know about you particularly, of course, but I have met a lot of people who said they had many ideas for novels but could not get them written. It turned out that what they had were ideas of plots, or for plot devices, but that they did not actually have a story idea to go with those devices. (Actually, I have a couple of these myself.) I think a plot idea is something that could be written (though it needs a story to animate it) but that a story is something that has to be written (though it needs a plot to shape it). – user16226 Oct 25 '17 at 19:12
  • That's a completely separate question. The novels I'm actively working on at present have both plot and story. – Zeiss Ikon Oct 25 '17 at 19:27
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"why, if someone can write 2000 words a day, seven days a week, they need NaNoWriMo?"

NaNoWriMo does not give someone something they don't already have, you're right, other than a specific motivation. It's an arbitrary (why November? Why a month? Why 50,000 words? Why a novel at all?) agreement among a community of writers that it's a good idea to structure a self-imposed challenge.

It doesn't make them able to do something they're not already able to do. It may motivate them to put effort into becoming able to do it.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, or really any writing at all any time ever, then, you have made it very clear that you must re-organize your life and re-prioritize things. NaNoWriMo doesn't seem to have anything whatsoever to do with that, other than having given you a reason.

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