November is not a good month for NaNoWriMo

This is my NaNoNoWriMo update. Before I get into explaining why November was just a bad choice on the part of the creators (of the traditional NaNo, not my version), let me recap what I’ve shared with you so far, and a little bit that is more recent, to get you up to date.

Although I was really excited about the project I chose to begin with and I started out pretty well in terms of keeping to the word count, it turned out the stories I was working on were not developed enough in my head to make it to the paper. As I’ve said to every person I’ve talked to about writing lately, that particular project needs more time to gestate. That sail lost wind and I couldn’t get it back. I felt that I would be able to get more done if I reopened my Sleeping Beauty retelling, of which I had already written about 18,000 words last year (and even earlier, probably). I dug up that file and started tacking words on to the end. I think it would have been better to re-read the beginning first, but I didn’t have time. I haven’t written much more yet, but I can at least see that story in my mind, so the switch was a good choice. I might actually be able to finish a reasonable word count.

If you have been here before, you may have seen that my goal is 30k for the month. I am doubting now that I’ll be able to make it, but 20k or even 25 seems reasonable. My new goal is a minimum of 20k  words, and with any luck as close to 30k as I can manage.

Fairly recently I reblogged a post about why NaNoWriMo doesn’t work. For me, the most important point is that most novels are longer than 50,000 words, many are well over twice that much, and some are that number many times over. So, the claim is that you can write a novel in a month, yet the word goal will not allow you to finish your story. My Sleeping Beauty novel (which does not yet have a title) is now around 20,000 words, and I’ve barely made it out of exposition. Granted a fair bit of that might be cut out later, but that only adds to my point–most novels get substantial chunks cut out of their first, very rough, drafts, because it’s good for the writer to write out every single scene and details, but it might not be good for the finished book to keep those pieces. So a novel that is 100,000 words in its final version might even be 200,000 in its first, full-bodied, uncut draft.

Of course, anyone who goes into NaNoWriMo expecting to have a perfectly packaged finished product by the end of the month is, at the very least, kidding themselves.

This argument is why NaNoWriMo as a concept is kind of flawed–as are most things in this world–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. If I get enough momentum in my novel to keep writing it into December, January, February, until it’s finished, because of this month, that’s a good thing.

But November is such a bad time to have a goal like this. I don’t understand the logic of placing it at this time of year. Much of this I’m sure will just be my experience, but there must be some people who can relate. Let’s commiserate, shall we?   

First of all, why are we doing this in a month that has 30 days, and not 31? Didn’t they think that extra day would be useful? One might argue that 30 is a nice even number, but it doesn’t go into 50,000 evenly, so who cares? If being even is the argument, why not choose February? It has exactly four weeks. And then on leap years, you get an extra day to write. Sounds great to me. But no, actually, it sounds awful. It makes the most sense, all things considered, to choose one of the longest months.

My next argument might only apply to Americans–I don’t know if there are any other cultural holidays, or important religious ones, that would take up substantial time. It does bear mentioning, though, because I am American, so this is an important consideration: Thanksgiving. I was under the impression that NaNoWriMo’s creators were American, but I don’t know if I’m correct. (In fact, it might have just been one person. I really should get better about research.) If they are, though, how could they not consider Thanksgiving? Do they not celebrate it? Are they people who just show up to dinner, only having to travel about an hour or two at most, with no obligation to help with the meal, so they somehow have plenty of time to write on Thanksgiving day? 

To plenty of people, Thanksgiving isn’t really that big a deal. But to plenty more, it’s a significant family gathering. For young, unmarried adults like myself, it might actually be a time to return to the family hometown(s) for the whole weekend, and if there are a lot of people to see, good luck getting in even 300 words a day. If you happen to be hosting, heaven forbid, you’ve got the enormous time-suck of planning a big meal, which will likely mean multiple grocery trips, recipe searches, and advance food preparation. In addition to the usual cooking and shopping etc. that you’d have to do. Even more frustrating, some people’s jobs will get very stressful as they’re working extra hard to make sure that all their projects get done before Thanksgiving, if, like this year, it does in fact fall at the very end of the month. I know I’ve been stressing about that.

Then, there is the simple reality of life, that things will come up that cut into the time you would have available to write. With the holidays coming up, maybe you had to take a second job, or you’ve started working an extra hour every day because you want to get ahead at the office. You’re spending precious minutes thinking about what you can get people for Christmas, if in fact you have the budget for it at all, and somehow there’s always an extra bill that you forgot about. It’s getting colder and Daylight Savings Time means it suddenly starts getting dark before you can leave work, both of which cause a very strong urge to hibernate for a while. Hibernation is not a time for being productive. It’s a time to sit on the couch with a mug of hot something and cozy up to your laptop, possibly with a cat next to you.

And yes, sudden, unexpected things can come up at any time of the year, but I always find that November is one of the worst offenders. I don’t know why; maybe it’s just me.

January would be a far better month for the event. It’s 31 days long, and there are no major holidays. It’s too cold to be outside–yes, I know, only in some parts of the world–so having NaNoWriMo as a pastime would be beneficial for many. Considering the tradition of the New Year’s resolution, a lot of people could conceivably join in with the claim that they’re killing two glass houses with one stone… or something like that. A lot of people even have New Year’s Day off, so there would be ample time on the first of the month to get the story going, and maybe even to get ahead on the word count. Sure, there are likely to be quite a few nursing hangovers, but they would probably be doing so in front of the computer anyway.

I’m actually thinking I might try it–NaNoWriMo in January, not the hangover thing.

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9 thoughts on “November is not a good month for NaNoWriMo

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  4. I honestly think they picked it for the alliteration. It is odd to me, too. It started out as a sort of small thing, but as it grew, it would be nice if it had been placed in another month – and one that doesn’t crash into holiday season. My biggest issue isn’t just that it’s in November, but how on Earth are you supposed to keep writing in December? I never have, despite my best efforts. Totally agree with you on the January thing – maybe I’ll give that a try next year! (My NaNo novel collapsed into dust around me this Nov) Talk about a good New Year’s resolution!

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  6. The only good thing about November for Nano is using all the leftover candy from Halloween for that needed boost of energy in the beginning. January is much better though because there’s the promise of possibly being snowed in. I’ve even done a Nano in January with just a few friends. It’s much easier without Thanksgiving in there to mess things up.

  7. I completely agree that January is a better month. Longer, colder outside, January is when I’m looking to get things done. August would also be a good month in my opinion. I have my own gripe about NaNo, mainly that the emphasis on writing without editing, is a very bad thing and encourages terrible habits. I edit what I previously wrote as I go along. I often spend half my time tweaking it and seeing where it’s going so I don’t just fly off the handle. I also can’t believe that people would think that 50k is a book. My rough draft of my first novel is 110k (the crappy predecessor that I won’t ever release was 150k). And that’s after editing it down for it to sit on the shelf for a while. The one I’m currently working on will probably be 150k.

    Also reading blogs at the beginning of November revealed a strange habit. People don’t have their books worked out and they just plunge into it. I’m not against organic writing, but it’s good to know what you want to say and then be surprised when you say more.

    I don’t like it. I guess that’s what it boils down to. Writing a book is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

    • I agree, I think that approaching writing this way often doesn’t work. I think NaNoWriMo can be a tool to motivate oneself, but is not actually going to produce a novel on those goals alone.

      I generally edit to some degree as I write. Sometimes, it’s because I’ve realized I need to change something about the story, or it develops a bit more as I’m writing it, and I know that if I wait, I’ll forget and the whole thing will be awful.

      Thanks for reading!

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