November is my favorite month of the year for one BIG reason: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve never heard of NaNo and you want a unique motivational writing experience, you should check it out. It’s one of the most intense, community-focused writing events I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of.
People have all sorts of positions and opinions about NaNo. Some people think that the word-count oriented, fast writing that NaNo encourages leads to sloppy writing. And they’re technically not wrong. When you’re pushing yourself and letting the words flow through you uninhibited, you’re probably going to end up with something of a mess by the end of it. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
It’s like Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
The camp I fall into sees NaNo as a way to silence your inner critic and get the hard part of writing (the drafting) out of the way. The only way to improve at something is to practice it. And NaNo, for a lot of people, is a really intense form of practice. It’s a way to push your comfort zone and see what you’re really capable of. It’s a way to get your words out onto the page so that you can craft them into the story they’re meant to be.
Here are five ways NaNoWriMo makes you a better writer.
1) You practice working with deadlines.
Maybe you’re like me and you need a little extra accountability in your life to get you motivated. NaNo offers you a solid deadline (50,000 words in 30 days) as well as mini-deadlines (1,667 words per day) to help keep you on track. Nothing explodes and no one will shame you if you ultimately don’t make your deadline, but the public commitment to your writing adds a layer of accountability. Seeing a project through, and not giving yourself an excuse to be late with it, will help you be more successful in the writing world.
2) You push your limits.
Because the goal is so lofty, you’ll have to push yourself to write, even when you don’t really feel like it, even when the muse isn’t ready and waiting. You’ll have to plan some, and wing it on the days when the plan goes horribly wrong. Dedication and versatility are essential skills in your writer’s toolkit. Building those skills can be stressful and scary, but it can also be exhilarating and rewarding. You’ll be afraid you can’t make it and you’ll want to give up, but once you push past the initial fear you’ll find you can do more than you thought you were capable of.
3) You collect data on your writing process for 30 days.
Thirty days can seem like a long time, but it’s really not. You know how most people give up on New Year’s Resolutions before the year is half-over? NaNo offers you a shorter timeline for a reason. It’s not about permanently changing your habits, it’s about trying something radical for 30 days and finding out what you learn by the end of it. During those 30 days, experiment with writing in the morning or at night, in private or in a public place like a café, with music or without. The possibilities are endless! And by the end, you should know what makes you the most successful and productive version of your writerly self.
4) You shut out your inner critic.
No, you have to shut out your inner critic. When you’re writing 1,667 words a day, especially if you have a day job, you have a limited amount of time to spend getting the words on the page. You have no time for your inner critic to worry about whether the quality of your writing is up to par or whether that plot point is cheesy. In NaNo there’s no deleting. So if you read what you wrote the day before and hate it, that’s ok. The words are written. They still count. You can work on them in December. There’s a time and a place to critique and edit your work, but not in the drafting phase, especially if it keeps you from making solid progress.
5) You become fluent in your story’s world.
The best way to become fluent in a foreign language is to immerse yourself in it. When you have no other options for communication, you learn more quickly how to convey your meaning and your ideas to those around you in the language that they speak. Well consider NaNoWriMo your immersion into the world of your story. For thirty days you can eat, breathe, sleep, dream your story and the characters that inhabit it. By the end of thirty days, you will know your story and characters inside and out. You’ll probably have tried a few things that didn’t work, but you’ll also have tried some things that did. You learn how to communicate for your characters, to tell their story, understand it, and even enjoy it.
At the end of 30 days, you’ll have a giant pile of 50,000 words (or more!) to show for your effort. Sure, it’s probably not perfect, but that was never the point of NaNo. You’ll have proved to yourself and your inner critic that you can do this thing called ‘novel writing’. And you’ll have honed your skills as a writer. You’ll know your writerly sweet spots (how many words per minute/hour/day/week you can do comfortably, what time of day you write best, etc.). Most importantly, you’ll know your story better than you ever did before.
Elisabeth Kauffman is a freelance editor in California. Her favorite genres are YA fantasy, sci-fi, and romance. She regularly obsesses over board games, Doctor Who, and Harry Potter. Come share your ideas with her on Facebook and Twitter and on the web at www.writingrefinery.com. Also, check out her author website and her author page on Facebook.