Why NaNoWriMo was a No No for me – quality, not quantity is my writing goal

NaNoWriMo is a fantastic concept for the budding novelist – the National Novel Writing Month which takes place annually in November saw more than 300,000 budding writers take up the challenge of writing a 50,000 novel in 30 days for the 2013 contest.

I signed up in 2013, like so many others thinking this would be a great vehicle, tool and inspiration to knock out my début novel, which has been kicking around in my head and on Word documents and spreadsheets, scattered and unfinished.  I made a valiant effort, but I failed miserably, and that failure took a while to overcome – what had meant to be a boost to my writing brought it to a temporary, but ignominious halt.

We often refer at work to the Five P’s of success: corny but accurate:

“Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance”

My initial white-hot frenzy of creativity lasted until I reached the part of my novel beyond which I hadn’t planned (not very far indeed as it turned out). I have written quickly and with a very sketchy plan before, but mainly for non-fiction articles, and writing fiction is a very different proposition indeed. My imagination floundered because I couldn’t see where the story was taking me and I had no idea how the novel would end. Unlike non-fiction, I couldn’t Google or Wiki myself out of this writing corner. I had set out with those same disjointed notes and ideas; what I needed wasn’t word count targets, but a well planned novel outline, plot and fleshed out characters with the end in sight, if only viewed from afar!

In this respect NaNoWriMo was very useful for me, although initially dispiriting. I still hadn’t progressed my novel, but I had learned that, just like at work, if I wanted to deliver a quality project, I had to prepare, research, plan and then and only then, deliver.

Throughout 2014 I pondered on my story, trying out different outcomes and story arcs, until towards the end of the year I had my initial plan, which I’ve since fleshed out into a comprehensive outline; more importantly I’ve started to knit together and write-up all those observations, character quirks and beautiful snippets of text, easier now because I have some bones on which to hang the words and ideas. My novel is now progressing at a steady pace, the early chapters captured and ready for beta readers very shortly!

It’s purely a personal preference but the NaNoWriMo experience for me was unpleasantly reminiscent of my cramming for my MBA; something I had to achieve, but with little enthusiasm and little heart; rather it was a memory and speed exercise. Writing is an entirely different activity, and I knew that the output I had from NaNoWriMo was little better than my exam cramming notes. I discarded what I had written, although I cherished the idea and vowed to devote to it the time it deserved.

I have carried a story within me that I must tell, and it deserved my best attention and efforts to help it be born, live and reach a wider audience, and to be the very best I could make it. Another work saying is apposite here – I often say, when asked to produce work to an unrealistic deadline (and what is more unrealistic than a quality novel of 50,000 words in 30 days?) “How would you like this to be done – quickly, or correctly?!”

If like me you struggled with NaNoWriMo, use it as a useful experience on your path to becoming a published author. I am sure that there are some writers out there who can produce a quality 50,000 word draft in a month, but many cannot, and how many of the classics were written to such a deadline? We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and I took from NaNo a very useful lesson; that style of writing is not for me; more importantly it gave me some insight on what my style was. I’m not going to be a sausage machine writer, but with hard work, diligence, planning and commitment to my work I can produce the best work I have it in me to create.

I’d be very interested to hear your experiences of NaNoWriMo, good and bad, in the comments!

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