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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Macfarlane

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo

Written by Author, Leigh Macfarlane

November is National Novel Writing Month. Founder, Chris Baty, says he 'accidentally' founded NaNoWriMo in 1991 with 21 friends. This is remarkable for a couple of reasons. I mean, what introverted writer do you know who has that many friendships in their lives? No wonder he needed a motivational tool to get him writing! Okay, kidding -- kind of of. Either way, NaNoWriMo caught on. Now, NaNo has over 300,000 members in 90 countries -- and honestly, it probably has more participants than


The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a complete, 50,000-word novel from start to finish in the month of November. To the first-timer, this sounds daunting, but it turns out that with the right preparation, it is actually doable. There are, however, pros and cons to participating in NaNoWriMo.

The first time I participated in NaNo, I completed my 50,000 words in 21 days. The novel itself came in at 61,000 words and was completed before November was over. It was published the following year. That book was Rock Bottom Ranch, and in consideration of the speed that was going to be required in the writing, I set it on a real-life ranch where I had worked in my late teens. I also had it plotted meticulously prior to November. By the time NaNo started, I was completely ready to just tell the story. Still, as a first-timer with a day job, I was not at all certain that I could write this many words this quickly. It was incredibly empowering to realize that I had the ability to turn out a novel that quickly -- and, it turned out, it was a pretty good book.

NaNo calls completing the goal being a "Winner," and they offer certificates and social media badges that declare your book a NaNo winner -- which is fun. For me, though, the true win was that inner knowledge of my true abilities as a writer.

I have gone on to complete NaNo several times since then, and have learned a few pros and cons about this power month.

  1. NaNoWriMo now offers a website where you can find tools to help you stay on track. This includes badges you can claim in certain circumstances, for example, if you write a certain number of days in a row, or if you sneakily write part of your work at your day job.

  2. NaNo website offers a word tracker. This allows you to track the number of words you write per day, your average daily word count, and how long it will take you to reach 50,000 words based on that word count average. This can be extremely helpful and encouraging. It allows you to adjust the amount of writing you do daily, or to adjust your expectations as to how long it will take you to complete the book. That is not only encouraging, it can also be habit-forming, which, as a writer, is what you want.

  3. NaNo also has gotten big enough that it now offers community groups in various areas globally. These groups offer assistance, motivation, leadership, and group write-ins. For many people, this community aspect of writing can be very motivating. Even if you do not participate in these in-person sessions, you can be part of the community of NaNoWriMo writers online, and if you are a person who finds writing an isolating activity, this community feature could really meet your social needs.

There are also downsides to NaNo.

1. First, the obvious. For most of us, writing 50,000 words in one month doesn't leave room for much else. It's not really the healthiest lifestyle to sit down and write to the exclusion of all else. If you are looking for a balanced life, NaNoWriMo is probably not for you.

2. As well, while successful NaNo completion is exciting and affirming, consider what happens if you fail to complete... the exact opposite. You can feel like a failure and be demotivated to write in the future -- all over some arbitrary deadline that doesn't matter in any true sense. I mean, what difference does it really make how quickly you complete the novel you are working on? What matters is that you are writing, at all.

3. Even more than these two issues, though, my personal experiences with NaNoWriMo have taught me one other thing. While I can write a full novel in one month, I lose something in the process. I lose my connection to what I am writing. I lose the enjoyment of the process. And I lose my sense of the quality of the story I am telling. With each of the books I wrote over NaNoWriMo, I had no idea upon completion if anything I'd just written was any good. Taking a bit more time when writing a novel, for me, just makes the process more enjoyable.

And I, for one, want to love my work.

Previous NaNoWriMo winners by Author, Leigh Macfarlane

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