Three pros and three cons of Nanowrimo


National Novel Writing Month – or Nanowrimo – is a yearly event in November, where writers from around the globe try to write a 50,000 word novel. Yes, one month, 50,000 words.

We’re already halfway through this year’s edition. It’s overshadowed a bit by the US elections, I think, but it is still happening. Nanowrimo has some advantages, but also some drawbacks. I’ve found it’s really not my thing.

Pro#1 It pushes you to write

Nanowrimo is a community of people pushing each other to finish those 50,000 words in one month. If you feel like you have a novel in you, but you never find the time to write it, then Nanowrimo could be for you. Getting cheered on with daily messages of encouragement can really help you to focus.

When you get down to it, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1,667 words a day. That’s a doable amount, even if you have a steady job or other things vying for your attention – like a baby. If you sit down for that one month and just write, you could finally have that novel.

Pro#2 It prevents you editing endlessly

By pushing for almost 1,700 words a day, you won’t have a lot of time for editing. I’ve known writers who get stuck in the first two chapters of a story. Endlessly editing those chapters until they give up and move on to the next project.

One of the important things I’ve had to learn over the years was when to edit and when not to. You don’t want to edit on the word-level and sentence level until the story is finished. You might decide to throw out whole chapters or paragraphs after finishing your story. Then all editing done to those sections has been wasted.

Pushing past that and just finishing your work serves a dual purpose: you finally finish something, and you learn things about writing you wouldn’t otherwise. If you only ever write a few scenes or chapters, you’ll never get any experience in plot arcs and character arcs, for example.

Pro#3 If you succeed, you have completed a novel

Let’s not forget this one. If you manage to actually finish that story in a month, you will have written a novel. That’s an achievement that 99% of people never manage in their entire lifetime. That’s actually, that number could be even higher. It’s on the same level as running a marathon or climbing a mountain, maybe even better.

When you actually finish a novel, you should be proud of yourself.

Con #1 It can push you to finish a broken novel

Not all stories are meant to be written. My first attempt at my second novel, Aperture, was a complete failure. After about thirty-thousand words, I came to the conclusion that the story would never work. The character arcs were wrong and there were several insurmountable plot holes in the story. After a break from writing, I decided to scrap most of the story and start again. I kept the universe, but completely re-wrote the plot and characters. The result is a – in my opinion – much better novel.

During Nanowrimo, such a restart is just not possible. You have to continue to the end if you are to make it work. This might lead you to finish a novel that is inherently bad. If I’d pushed on with my original idea for Aperture, the story would have been terrible, and I would probably have abandoned that whole universe. Now, with only a little more work, I have a good novel. Nanowrimo can actually work against you in those cases.

Nanowrimo pushes you to write a lot, not to write it well.

Con #2 It doesn’t teach you discipline

Nanowrimo lasts one month. Thirty days that you might push yourself to write. Then, you’re done with the first draft of your story. You might be that rare writer who can write a great story in one pass. If not, you’re actually only halfway. Can you make the time to actually do the editing? And when that is done, can you force yourself to keep writing?

This doesn’t really matter if you don’t want to be published. If you just want to see if you can do it, you’re fine. If you also want your novel to be published, Nanowrimo is not going to cut it. You need to find a place for your writing every month.

Nanowrimo pushes for 1,667 words per day. I only average less than a quarter of that. However, I average that all the time. I can write an 80,000 word novel in a year, and about 50,000 words in blog posts on top of that. And I also edit that novel through five drafts or so.

Nanowrimo helps you to write a novel, but not necessarily to become an author.

Con #3 It could kill your drive to write

If you succeed at Nanowrimo, you’ve got your novel. But what if you fail? A friend of mine once started, armed with a stack of cue cards filled with plot points and characters. He got to about 5,000 words, I think, before he was too far behind to make it. He gave up, and he’s hardly written anything since.

Nanowrimo works for a specific type of person, with a specific kind of problem. My writing process does not mesh well with Nanowrimo. I don’t have the time to write a lot in one month. I don’t have a problem with staying the course on a project, just with making the time.

My first novel took several years to finish, because other things just kept getting in the way. My solution was changing priorities, not doing a Nanowrimo.


Nanowrimo is great, it’s just not for everyone.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands