#5onFri: Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo

by Laura Highcove
published in Writing

It’s October once again, and a familiar question is floating around: Should I do NaNoWriMo? For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. In a nutshell, it is a writing challenge that takes place every November where the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That comes out to about 1667 words per day for the entire month.

Sound intimidating? Over 300,000 people have participated in the past several years and the average percentage of winners lingers in the mid-teens. Now that you know the details, let’s get back to that question for a moment: Should I do NaNoWriMo? Well let’s break this down:

The Pros of NaNoWriMo

1) The community

I have been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2008. One of the main things that keeps me coming back is the huge community that surrounds this challenge. The NaNoWriMo website has forums where you can connect with other writers participating in NaNoWriMo, as well as get inspiration and encouragement during the month itself. You can find and join your local region that will connect you with your municipal liaisons (ML) who is in charge of meet-up events in your local area. The website itself also has a ton of other goodies, including creating your own profile and becoming friends with other writers so you can all keep an eye on each other’s word counts. There are also daily emails from published authors that are encouraging and inspirational (and often funny). And really, I always personally find it rather mind-blowing to know I’m writing alongside ~300,000 other people.

2) The rules

Every writer knows that sometimes it’s hard to actually make time to sit down and write. What’s great about NaNoWriMo is that it sets November aside for writing. This keeps you from being what they call the ‘one day’ writer, (“Oh, I’ll get around to writing, one day.”) and basically tells you to get your butt in the chair and write some words.

Not only that, but it gives you some rules so you have structure around how you’re writing. (Oddly enough when I went to look for the rules they weren’t super easy to find on the website I had to google. So here’s a link.)

Basically, write 50k words into a novel form between Nov 1-30 all by yourself. (Notes and character descriptions count). It’s also perfectly fine to skirt the rules a bit too. Most years I start writing before November, but I only validate the 50k (or so) words that I write during the event. It can often times be easier to write when you give yourself some structure and NaNoWriMo takes care of that for you.

3) The challenge

Part of doing a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo is just that: the challenge of it. You may succeed, you may fail, but I bet you learn something about your writing during this time. You could learn that with a little structure you can really crank out the words. You might also learn that writing that much every day is way too draining. Both outcomes are great, because it’s better than looking at this challenge and deciding you can’t do it before you even try. Either way, you will have more words by the end of the month than you had at the beginning AND you will have learned something about who you are as a writer.

The Cons of NaNoWriMo

1) The rules

Yes, that’s right. I put the rules on the pros list and the con list. Some writers will lose the excitement of a new project if they have to wait until November to start. Some writers have current projects they’re working on that they don’t want to, or can’t stop working on. And let’s not forget the little niggling fact that 50k words does not a novel make. So in some cases the rules actually will hold you back. This is generally only an issue if you already have a developed writing habit, though.

2) NaNoWriMo is not for everyone

A lot of people get super excited about NaNoWriMo. You may have friends who are encouraging you to participate. You may want to try it because you’ve never written that many words on one story before. What happens if you give it a try and you fail? Does that mean you’re not a writer? No.

There are as many types of writers out there as there are stars in the sky, and some people do not mesh well with the ‘write every day’ writing style. That doesn’t mean you’re not a writer, it means you’re not that type of writer.

So …should I do NaNoWriMo?

I’m going to be completely straight with you. If you’ve never done NaNoWriMo before, then do it. Throw yourself at it and try your absolute best to win. Then, when the month is over, sit back and evaluate how it went for you.

If you have done NaNoWriMo before, then your question should be closer to: ‘Did this style of writing work for me?’ and that is not a question I can answer for you. If you can’t remember it being terrible, then give it another go. If it feels more like an interrupt to what you’re already doing, then keep up with your current writing habit. Or shift the rules so it works for the writing habit you have, which is basically what I do every year.

On the path to becoming a better writer, you’re going to find just as many (if not more) ways of writing that don’t work for you as do. The way you reach mastery in anything is to continually challenge yourself and then evaluate how it worked and how it didn’t. Then you keep the things that worked and discard the things that didn’t. Over time, this is how you will develop your writing process. So get started with NaNoWriMo.

I’d love to hear about your experiences, good or bad, with NaNoWriMo and what you’ve learned about yourself as a writer as a result.


Laura Highcove has a degree in computer science, which is obviously why she is a fantasy writer. She has been influenced by anime, table-top gaming, and Norse mythology, in no particular order. When she’s not writing she enjoys spending time with horses, playing video games, and looking at pretty men (both real and imaginary). Her psychic abilities have not yet developed, but she remains hopeful. Visit her website or follow her on Facebook to learn more.

  • Jon Rutherford

    Good, sound advice free of the hysteria that dilutes the value of some similar pages elsewhere. I’ve won NaNoWriMo twice, failed twice (I think…) and doubt that I’ll do it again. But it was worthwhile. If nothing else, I found that it’s not as hard as “most people” would think to write 50,000 words in a month — words that hang together, more or less, to tell a story. I’m just not a socially-oriented person, so perhaps not ideally suited to the community aspect of the project. But I’m glad it exists and with the same reservations expressed in this article I’d recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who already enjoys fiction writing.

Enjoyed this article?

Spread the word: