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From the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website:

2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners
2006: 79,000 participants and 13,000 winners
2007: 101,510 participants and 15,333 winners

A “winner” is one who actually completes the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

Not a great success rate.

Last year, I gave serious consideration to participating. But I don’t write fiction and when it came time to think of a plot, premise, characters . . . let’s just say that my mind was the proverbial blank slate. And somebody stole the chalk.

The “why” of this exercise continues to intrigue me. The organizers describe the program’s purpose this way:

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.

But that artsy drama window is woefully short. The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

It still doesn’t resonate with me.

The real reason might be that I am all too familiar with “the magical power of deadlines.” As a litigator, I live and breathe deadlines all day, every day. It is my job to meet deadlines or my clients suffer the consequences in the form of rights lost, claims abandoned, damages forever unrecoverable. To be totally honest, there is a big part of me that instinctively rebels. “Another deadline? Fuhgetaboutit.”

I’m all in favor of “big, messy art,” but I’m not convinced that it has to be created in 30 days. I’m also not sold on the idea that writing 1,667 words per day just to say that you wrote something is the most productive way to approach novel-writing. Or any form of writing, for that matter. So that’s the third reason I won’t be participating. For me, having to comply with the word requirement and 30-day deadline would eliminate any possibility of writing with the “gleeful, anything-goes approach” the organizers describe. On the contrary, I would feel pressured, constrained, and compelled to finish. Those emotions would squelch my creative energy.

The fourth and final reason I won’t be participating is that I simply do not have the time. I have too many professional commitments, including a lot of business travel, scheduled for November. I also have personal endeavors that I am not willing to give up in order to devote time to this activity.

That so few people are actually “winners” is, at least at first glance, troubling. I wonder how many of those who did not write the requisite number of words kept working on their novel and finished later. I wonder how many decided that the time constraint simply did not work for them, but kept writing in their own time. I wonder how many gave up within the first few days, finding that writing an average of 1,667 words per day was simply too overwhelming.

NaNoWriMo is an empowering, inspirting, and motivating program that benefits a lot of people. Instead of saying, “Someday I’m going to write a novel,” the organizers believe that “[t]he structure of NaNoWriMo forces you to put away all those self-defeating worries and START.” It’s just not right for me.

I will be cheering on those bloggers who opt in and hope that the program has a higher completion rate this year than in years past.

Have you participated in the past? Are you participating this year? What are your thoughts on the number of winners vs. participants? Why do you think that so few people actually reach the goal? To those of you who plan to paricipate, what obstacles will you have to overcome to be a winner?

1 Comment

  1. I’ve written a novel each Nanowrimo November for the last three years. My main character seems to be ready to roll again although she hasn’t told me where she’s going. I’ll be surprised, I’m sure.
    The local group of writers are young fantasy writers and they never fail to finish. Several other people I know made the attempt but dropped out about half-way through the month.
    I can understand that your life is too busy to commit to a month of hairpulling and coffee!

    Tumblewords´s most recent post: Suss and Tell

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