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NaNoWriMo Can Kill A Writer

Novel writers, your creative health is on life support.

By Kris LelielPublished about a year ago 10 min read
NaNoWriMo Can Kill A Writer
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

NaNoWriMo, the non-profit organization and the challenge, will cross paths with many aspiring writers nowadays. For some it’s motivating and for others, daunting. This year, I took it seriously then stopped after writing every day for 15 days. Following the strict daily word count quota inspired me to write about the pros and cons every aspiring novelist should consider before taking on this challenge; otherwise, NaNoWriMo can kill you as a writer.

Yes, it’s a bit dramatic, but hear me out…

Hyped or Hopeless

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PRO: NaNoWriMo makes November a “hype” month for writers. The dedication we bind ourselves to strikes the thrill that makes our first few days start off strong. Then, a few imperfect and unpredictable days come out of nowhere, but it’s not enough to scratch the itch we have now and it kicks in like clockwork during a particular time of day. This is one of the biggest pros of the challenge. The writing habit and routine becomes established and you’re finally hit with the reality that “writer’s block” is an illusion (I said what I said. Writer’s block isn’t real.).

CON: November started strong until we’re feeling the pressure of missing a day…or two…or three. Everything starts to suck because this challenge was supposed to get rid of our worst habit: neglecting our story. Maybe you haven’t missed a single day because you’re an overachiever determined to succeed, your normal day-to-day schedule be damned. I experienced both this year...and disrupting my work and sleep schedule was added to my long list of idiotic life choices. I love challenges and I love writing. Sometimes when I start, I don’t want to stop. I tried to counter the habit with Pomodoro alarms and the passive-aggressive activity reminders on my Apple watch and I’d still end up writing from 9pm to 4am. Was it fun? Hell yeah! Is it healthy? No, obviously.

The Demands of Practicality

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PRO: If you have the talent for establishing and maintaining a solid schedule then you’ll see there’s more to your writing process than you knew. Life doesn’t care about our schedules, so we’re going to have days where we’re not in the mood to write. This is a good thing. We’re offered the chance to reflect on our workflow. Do I work better in the morning, afternoon, evening, night, or around midnight (Don’t write until 4am)? On bad days, what reminds me why I write? What does my desk/workspace need to look or feel like before I start? These questions are reminders that we’re not machines. Instead, we're very capable writers who learn that knowing ourselves will better refine our craft.

CON: Yeah, so about that “we’re not machines” thing I just said. Are you up for writing over 1600-2000 words a day? NaNoWriMo is all about word count; 1,667 words per day are expected, which is 11,700 words per week and if you plan on taking the Thanksgiving week off, you’re expected to do 2,000 words per day to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month (Glatch, 2022). If we’ve taken the earlier pro to heart and better understand our productivity as writers, we need to ask ourselves if we’re the kind of writers who can work daily. I don’t care if you pump out novels for a living, blog or write articles frequently, or work freelance style and grind for the hustle; some of us will never have the mindset to write everyday or 30 days straight. I’m a write-holic myself who takes on novels, short stories, poetry, articles with and without copy or affiliate marketing, essays, and songwriting. You can judge me and say I have too much on my plate and my project management skills suck, but I do this because I love writing. Writing every day isn’t really a problem for me. So since I can write everyday, does that mean I should? Is it worth ruining my sleep schedule, my social life, and my mental health? If my fundamental needs are neglected, then so is my writing career. Write-aholic or not, you need to ask yourself whether daily writing with a word count quota is really for you.

Consider Your Novel’s Genre

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PRO: NaNoWriMo can inspire us to outline our plots before November, depending on your plotting method (plotter, a pantser, or a plantser–Definitely Google these terms if you don’t know what they are. You’ll feel less alone.) This works for stories that don't need much world building or extensive research for their work. Fiction/Drama writers are the most profitable here since their work is usually more character driven. Unless the setting of the work overlaps certain subgenres, like historical, mystery/crime, and horror (sometimes romance too, but it’s more formulaic than research heavy), the research can boil down to just references for particular personality traits, occupations, and otherwise. The fiction writer doesn’t need to worry so much about a few hiccups in their plot overall and of course this is the first draft so perfection shouldn’t be the goal. However, the biggest “pro” about NaNoWriMo is facing the reality of how developed your characters really are and how believable the story really is. This may feel like a slap in the face at first, but you’ll be so grateful in the long run.

CON: Are you really trying to write the first novel out of a series of a sci fi epic in a month? Writing the first draft of a novel belonging to genres that are heavy in worldbuilding, research, and meticulous plotting is ridiculous. I’m brave enough to say even half of a first draft is ridiculous. Even if you do perceive the writing challenge as a way to get you to just sit down and write rather than reorganize the governing system of your MC’s country, you can’t overlook the consequences of ambiguity if you’re creating a setting or world that’s rich in imaginative detail. I’m not trying to micromanage how you write, but how do you write 50k words of something scifi, fantasy, or horror (with scifi and fantasy elements) in a month WITHOUT going, “What was the name of that town? What is that tool called again? Does that power work according to the magic laws I set? Is that a copout or a loophole?” If you feel like you can push out a draft that’s sloppy as hell and bounce back from it, then more power to you. There’s no need to be a “clean” writer with these genres, but as a dark fantasy writer myself, ambiguity drowns context and theme, which will inevitably lead to revising your plans for your plots and characters over and over again. “Isn’t that just writing?” Yes, but I don’t want to keep redesigning my characters and story from scratch; I want to expand upon my original idea with adaptability AND focus. Writing in these genres can be a wonderful nightmare, so how is the pressure of writing 50k words in a month supposed to be helpful?

The Breaks We NEED versus The Breaks We Think We Deserve

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PRO: A great tip from Sean Glatch, who wrote a list of wonderful tips NaNoWriMo challengers should consider, is creating a reward system for yourself after you reach your daily word count. I think this not only helps reinforce your writing habit, but also encourages you to embrace how proud you are of being a writer. It’s exciting to see how much you wrote in a month and how you pushed yourself past your doubts and worries about your writing potential. You get to reflect on your style, your strengths and weaknesses, and realize that any other project you have on the backburner can be brought to life. You deserve and NEED to reward and honor your efforts as a writer because no one else will. Even if you’re part of a writing group, writing can get lonely, so consider this benefit as a NaNoWriMo challenger as a kind of writer’s “self-care”.

CON: This challenge can and most likely will lead to burnout. Sometimes reaching the word count goal is a struggle in itself, even if you’re having a good day. Sometimes you’ll dread wanting to sit in your usual spot and push yourself. You might make your procrastination habits worse than usual. Maybe the imposter syndrome and persecuting perfectionist reared their ugly heads via anxiety. Lastly, you could be a writer-holic who doesn’t know how to stop when they start and didn’t think you’d be out of gas the next day because you really believed your mountain of tasks could reasonably be done in a day. If you’re wondering why the previous statement is a little too specific, please read the “Con” for “How Quickly The Challenge Gets In Your Head”. NaNoWriMo will reveal how kind you really are towards yourself when you work. Writing can be a lonely task, so it is your responsibility to be your own good company. If you’re not sure how to do that, then this writing challenge isn’t for you.

The Brain on Writing

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Here's my biggest issue with NaNoWriMo. I don't think anyone could be an everyday writer, even if you love it. Whether we consider ourselves neurotypical or not, we all function differently when approaching certain tasks. Writing is thrilling, and perhaps addicting, for me. It's stimulating, but is it healthy? After years of academia and enjoying the process of writing about liberal studies topics, writing for hours upon hours with tight deadlines looming over me is normal. So why take breaks? Why stand up and move around for my physical well-being? Why eat when I could write? Can't the bathroom wait?

The same goes for those who like writing, but can't bring themselves to do it. Don't confuse my addictive writing behavior as pure confidence or humble bragging. Reading my work, sharing my work online, and even thinking about it being sent to a publisher is still terrifying. I know that same terror happens to those who rest their fingers on the keyboard for a few minutes then find any excuse to stay away from it again for a few days. Our minds have a natural aversion to threats, even the abstract ones of our own making. Facing your fears for self-development is one thing; forcing yourself to do something painful when there's no real benefit on the other side of it is just torture. Is NaNoWriMo the path of self-development or torture for you?

Reset Days Are In Demand

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No matter how you answered the previous question, I highly recommend you approach NaNoWriMo with a practical amount of reset days for each week. Not a single day. DAYS. Be real with yourself. How many days need away from your work until you feel refreshed? I thought one or two days was fine for me until recently. My introverted butt needed about three or more days spread throughout the week and I made sure a part of one of those days goes towards socializing with close friends and family. To my extroverts, you need the opposite; at least a part of one of your days should be completely by yourself. These reset days refuel our inspiration and our creative health. We don't get our inspiration from sitting in front of a screen or a journal for hours every day. Our inspiration comes from life and living. If our creative health is fueled by life, then we shouldn't be writing while running on "E" as burnt out hermits who pushed themselves too far or paralyzed themselves. That's why it baffles me that we took on a challenge that has no reset days or only a week in the midst of three weeks of no resets. In several respects, it's self-sabotage. 

Overall, my point is if NaNoWriMo makes the cons outweigh the pros with your workflow, you're at risk of dying as a writer because your creative health is on life support. Our creative health is a glass canon, not a punching bag.

If you think I'm being dramatic, well I don't care! NaNoWriMo just gave me a near death experience and ironically inspired me to write this rather than my novel. Have some sympathy. ;)


About the Creator

Kris Leliel

Kris Leliel is a strange writer who posts about the occult and spirituality, goth stuff, horror, creative writing, mental health, and her own creative ventures. She has a Masters in Liberal Studies and a BA in English & Psychology.

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