Yes, November is National Novel Writing Month. The whole idea is that anyone who’s interested can use this month as an excuse to either get started on, or, if they’re very ambitious, finish a novel. Then they can talk all about it online.

Giving that I’m generally a contrarian by inclination, I think this all a bit silly. But I think I’m actually on solid ground with this one, so here are my specific reasons why I don’t think anyone should be taking this too seriously:

– If you’re truly a writer, like, deep down in the cockles of your cockles, you don’t need a gimmick like this to get motivated. If you’re truly a writer, you go to sleep at night thinking of your characters, you eat breakfast the next morning thinking of your characters, and your characters doing stuff in your head is so overpowering you have to write it down to avoid going crazy.

– You will never, ever, ever, write a decent novel in a month. If you believe you will, you’re deluding yourself. Might you get a decent start on a first draft? Sure. Might you even finish an entire first draft? Perhaps, if you’re a savant. But that draft is going to need many other drafts and extensive revisions before it’s ready to go anyway, so why bother killing yourself over it in such a short amount of time? Which leads to the most important point …

– A daily word count is an unnecessary and, I believe, damaging, artificial constraint. The number of words you write in a day is irrelevant; it’s the quality of those words and your thinking about the book that matters. I’ve always found the best way to write is to set a specific time during the day, and always write during that time, no matter what. So for me, I would always get up at 7:00 am and start writing. How much I wrote was beside the point – some days I might be on fire, some days I might do hardly anything, and it’s not important because writing a novel is not a race. What was important was that I was sitting there thinking only about my book. I might not write much on a certain day, but what if that’s the day I figure out something important about the plot or my characters? Just as important. My first draft took about 7 months.

So, again, trying to sandwich a whole novel into a month just seems counterproductive to me. It could also be very counterproductive based on something that Hemingway once said about writing:

“Stop when you know what you’re going to say next.”

What he basically meant was ‘don’t write yourself into a corner.’ Don’t spend hours speeding through ‘that big scene’ you’ve gotten to, only to attempt starting up again the next day and not knowing where to go next. Stop writing at a point where you already know where to start again the next day – makes it a whole lot easier to get going.

So. I realize some people might be doing this for the social aspect of it, and that’s cool, but I don’t think anyone should be taking it too seriously. Don’t think your worth as a writer is based on how many words you do a day this month. If you do, then I think you don’t quite understand the process.


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