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Monday, October 31

5 Reasons Not to Participate in NaNoWriMo

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

With the mad dash to 50,000 words starting tomorrow, many writers are spending today’s writing session doing last-minute prep work for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWiNo).

But some of you might still be deciding if you want to do NaNo at all. With so many “Planning for NaNo” articles out there (some written by me), I thought it might be nice to play Devil’s Advocate and share some reasons why it might not be a good idea to do NaNo.


1. A daily word count goal stresses you out.


If the thought of forcing yourself to write 1,667 words every single day no matter what causes you to break out in a cold sweat, NaNo might be a little much for you to handle. It’s a lot of pressure, especially for those who don’t usually hit a four-digit daily word count. Even worse, missing one day means there are that many more words to add to the next day’s goal, so hitting the target gets even harder, until it’s insurmountable and you just give up.

If just reading that sentence twists your stomach in knots, there are much better ways to motivate yourself to write that don’t cause undue stress.

2. Competition brings out the worst in you.


Let’s be honest here—we’re not all good winners. Some of us thrive a little too much on competition and we can’t help but rub our writer friends’ noses in our daily word counts (5678 words, take THAT FunkyWriterGuy29!). Competition makes us crazy and all we care about is the number of words, not the quality of those words. Winning is what matters, not the opportunity to get a solid chunk of writing done on a story we want to tell.

If NaNo will cause you to lose friends and drive your family nuts, maybe it’s not such a good idea.

3. Not hitting a goal makes you feel like a failure.


NaNo can be tough and not every one “wins.” If you’re already feeling negative about your writing or writing career, and you’re doing NaNo in the hopes that it will “fix” something, and then you don’t reach 50,000 words…that could send some writers into a blue funk that stops them from writing at all. Instead of rejoicing at whatever words they did write, they focus on the “loss” and how that means they’re not a “real writer” at all. (And we ALL know this is nonsense—a real writer is someone who writes. Period.)

Don’t let an event designed to motivate and encourage writers be the thing that makes you give up writing.

4. Pressure kills your creativity.


Some writers thrive under pressure and live for deadlines, but others feel it wrap its icy fingers around their throats and squeeze the motivation right out of them. Being creative on demand doesn’t work for them at all and forcing it does nothing but make them stare in terror at a blank screen. If the words do come, they’re terrible words, which only adds more pressure and sends the muse running.

Be kind to your muse. Don’t throw her under the bus for no reason.

5. You just don’t have the time.


Then there are the writers who are perfectly capable of doing NaNo, but family is coming in for the holidays, they have a huge presentation or report due, the kids need a lot of help this month—whatever the reason, there’s just not enough time to deal with a speed run on a novel. And they feel guilty, because thousands of other writers with busy months are doing it and managing just fine, thank you very much. Even if they want to do it, they know it’s just too much and will only lead to heartache.

You know your life and what it needs, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you skip this year’s NaNo. There’s always next year, or any of the Boot Camps throughout the year.

The Compromise


If you’re still on the fence, you can compromise. Enjoy the fun of NaNo, but choose a word count goal that’s manageable for you. Is 10,000 words more your speed? Go for it! Maybe do half and aim for 25,000 words. Maybe forget the words altogether and decide your NaNo goal is to write for at least one hour every day. Whatever you choose to motivate yourself is okay.

There’s nothing wrong with sitting NaNo out if you want (or need) to. That doesn’t make you any less of a writer, and shouldn’t make you feel bad about not participating. Remember, more writers don’t do NaNo than do it, so it isn’t as if you have to spend your November stuck to the keyboard.

After all, the leaves are starting to change and it’s beautiful outside. Who can blame you for enjoying that?

Who’s not doing NaNo this year? Is your reason on this list?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).


A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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45 comments:

  1. I've been on the fence, but decided not to after looking at my crazy to-do list for November. Instead of setting a stressful word count goal, I'm going to set aside an hour or two, and force myself to write something during that time. :) That will help me get back into writing regularly after the last few months of other work and deadlines.

    Thanks so much for this post. It helped me not beat myself up for not participating this year.

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    1. Your comment alone made it worth it :) I'd wanted to do NaNo this year myself, but I know it'll last a week, then I'll be yanked away with other obligations. Next year for both of us!

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  2. I disagree with the reasons for not participating. Doing it motivates one to produce 1600 or so words a day. A good habit to acquire for a writer. %0,000 words aren't so hard if a writer applies themselves. But I'd rather do your short story a day!

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    1. Doing it CAN motivate people. For others it's an unnecessary stress that can cause them to give up entirely. They don't need that pressure. So I totally agree with that as a reason to NOT do NaNo. Heck, competition brings out the best in me, but others will freeze up. That's why I say I'm shooting for 500,000 words, and PLEASE don't try to beat me or race me if that's not your thing. Different strokes for different folks.

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    2. And that's fine for you, but not all writers are at the same stage in their careers. And even if they can produce 5K words a day, they might not want to be pressured into doing NaNo.

      I encourage writers to try NaNo for the very reason you mentioned, but I don't ever want anyone to feel they HAVE to do it to "be a real writer."

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  3. I'm not doing Nano because I'm in the middle of revisions on the novel I started during Nano 2014 and dont want to change direction to start something new.

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    1. Me too! Exactly! And it will be published in Mid-February. Yay! It's the first of my NaNo novels to be published.

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  4. I will not be participating in the "traditional" NaNo experience this year due to work deadlines. Instead I will make the effort to write for at least one hour a day for the entire month of November. Anything I do beyond an hour is icing on the cake. My goal is to get to the end of my novel from the point I'm at now. Wish me luck! AND GOOD LUCK TO YOU ALL!

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    1. Great goal, and a great way to make NaNo work for you.

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  5. I do the compromise. I don't officially join, but I commit to writing daily and increasing my word count each day--even if it is only a little.

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    1. That's great. You get all the motivation and none of the pressure.

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  6. I used NANOWRIMO time to add to a story that came out of my as yet unpublished historical novel. It had only historical characters who actually lived and breathed in the 19th Century with one exception -- a vignette in which one of my principal characters encountered a very old Sheepeater (Tukudeka, a branch of the Shoshone Nation) woman crawling to medicine waters (an actual hot springs)where she wanted to die. I liked this fictional character so much her life story captured my creative urge. Resting her bones in the medicine waters, her dream takes her back to her life as a young girl, and the story goes on from there. The plot is a sort of mirror image or negative of the historical novel in that this fictional character interacts with well-known historical figures throughout her life story, and the interactions are entirely plausible.

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  7. This year for NaNo, I'm rewriting a Frankendraft. I spent October untangling my timeline, filling in plot holes, researching extra details, and ironing out characterization. It's my NaNo and I'll rewrite if I want to.

    Cheers to everyone participating, no matter what form that participation takes. Enjoy the creative process!

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    1. ...continued: I never reached the 50,000 word goal in NANOWRI, but I added to it each November and now the total exceeds that goal. I really must finish it and get it published.

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    2. Best of luck to you! Frankendrafts can be a pain, but it sounds like you've gotten it under control.

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  9. I love nano, but I accept that not everyone does. If it makes you sick or guilty or a crazy person, that's a perfectly valid reason not to do it! For a lot of years, I wanted to do it but just couldn't. I'm happy that I was able to get into it in 2011, and have really enjoyed it every year.

    Nano is great if it works for you. If it doesn't, I give you permission to beg off!

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    1. I do, too, though I haven't been able to participate the last few years. Hopefully we'll both be able to next year :)

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  10. I definitely am a #4 person, so it would not work for me. However I will motivate myself to deliver that first full revision of the manuscript I've been working on for over a year, no cutting corners, rewriting all that needs to be rewritten and cutting all the unnecessary bits - and then I'll finally print it and give it to someone to read ;-)

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    1. Good for you! Sending goo writing vibes your way :)

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  11. I won't be commiting to NaNo this year as I have 2 young children (one turns one this month, the other is 6), and a husband who works 12hr days, but who will actually be out of town for half of November, so I'll be solo. As well as that, I'm looking to pick up a job to help us survive financially.
    I commit to my writing everyday, even if it's only a 5 minute block, but there's no way I can commit to 50000 words. Believe me, I wish I could! The stories are there!

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    1. I'm inspired that you push yourself to do something you love for five minutes each day. The great thing is, is that those little ones grow up! It gets easier, hang in there!

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    2. Wow, with your schedule, getting any writing done at all is a huge accomplishment. Kudos for you for doing even a little every day :)

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  12. I started last year but didn't finish. A good friend advised me that I didn't need it as I am disciplined as it is but this year is a different story but I also have a finished manuscript that needs revising after an editor's run through. I don't feel that I am accomplishing anything unless I am working on a new manuscript of which I have several story ideas. I am in such a quandry. I must say I appreciate everyone's comments! Inspiring.....I need to be more disciplined about writing everyday and I guess that is why Nano is so attractive to me. Make sense?

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    1. Yes. If it helps, I'm not a "write every day" writer, and don't feel anyone needs to be. I write on weekdays and leave my weekends for other things. As long as you have a process and schedule that works for you, it can be every day or one day a week.

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  13. hi,
    I'm just planning to do it (first time) to get me motivated, unstuck, etc. have half my new mystery (hopefully first in a new series) done, more or less..... not worrying about word count, etc, just hoping to try to get writing every day.

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    1. A great way to use it. Having that extra push can be all you need to stay focused.

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  14. I broke my arm two weeks ago. I feel happy to cheer from the sidelines. I have done it before and never reach the target but get more done than I normally would have.

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    1. Sorry to hear that and hope you get well soon. You have a perfect excuse to skip :)

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  15. I'm ready to begin, and see where I get to. My record is mixed. While I'm not going to avail myself. I reblogged this at www.tonylavely.com
    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Can I as for a brief window to edit these fool mistakes? Of course, the period following 'myself' s/b a comma!

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    2. No worries, I speak fluent typo.

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  16. I AM doing NaNo and probably shouldn't be. Oh well, I'm addicted so can't stop myself!

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    1. Nothing wrong with that unless it makes you unhappy. If it starts, then stop! (grin).

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  17. Nice write up.

    I tell every new writer I meet NaNo is terrible, but they should try it to see for themselves. I did it in 2014 and won, but it was awful. I write every day already so all NaNo did was add the pressure of a looming "fail" date. I've taken to writing a yearly tongue-in-cheek blog post on how to cheat at NaNo to keep you stress level down :)

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    1. Sounds like a good post. It has it's pros and cons, but it's not good for everyone. Nice to have some con posts out there to balance the pros :)

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  18. I've done NANO several times and fashioned two books out of what I did. Last year I used it to rewrite a novel that (sadly) is still unfinished.

    This year I decided to do something altogether different. Use the time to work on a series of children's stories. I never thought of doing children's books until I started doing some short stories in my writing club. - Who knew? I probably won't reach the goal but that seems secondary to just getting the work done. Good luck to all who are participating.

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    1. Good luck to you! I'm not sure what age your books are, but there's a picture book version of NaNo. I don't remember the details, but it's like, a PB a day or something crazy.

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  19. I would actually argue that all the reasons listed here, with perhaps the exception of the competitive one, are great reasons why someone SHOULD participate in NaNoWriMo.

    Everything you mention is something that writers have to deal with anyway. Regular writing sessions and the results of missing one; keeping and missing goals; the pressure of deadlines; lack of time. These are all common problems that writers deal with anyway.

    NaNoWriMo is really the safest environment to experience them in, because it ultimately doesn't matter. There are no real consequences to failing NaNo. You won't lose your book deal if you're still working passed December. You won't have an agent breathing down your neck because you're behind pace.

    What you WILL have is a phenomenal learning experience from which you can start building up valuable skills that will benefit future projects. That alone makes it worthwhile.

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    1. And for some writers, I agree with you. But I've met plenty who could do all of this if it wasn't for the pressure of having "NaNo" hanging over their heads.

      In general, I think NaNo is a great way to practice for being a professional writer. But if you're not ready for that, I don;t think anyone should be forced into it.

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  20. I'm using the framework of NaNo to work on revising my manuscript. I had a starting word count and I'm going to track how many words I add each day. The word count is not the goal, though, so much as trying to work on it every day.

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    1. Sounds great! Best of luck to you :)

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  21. When I write that fast, I write messy, and any time I gained in writing at speed gets lost because I have to spend so much time in revising and rewriting. I don't enjoy writing under that kind of pressure.

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