No-No to NaNo

Thousands of writers, and would-be writers, get seduced each year by NaNoWriMo. November 1 brings the opening day of National Novel Writing Month, in which writers are challenged to complete a 50,000-page novel in 30 days. Committing to writing an average of 1667 words per day over the course of the month, so the theory goes, overcomes that chronic enemy of many writers: procrastination. This year, I heard NaNoWriMo’s siren song, but successfully resisted the lure.

NaNoWriMo began in July 1999 with twenty-one writers in the San Francisco Bay area. The following year, founder Chris Baty moved the event to November, and set up a website. Of the 140 participants in 2000, 29 of them completed a novel in 30 days. Participation, fueled by blog posts and media coverage, exploded to 5000 in 2001 and reached over 300,000 in 2013. Although NaNoWriMo is called “National,” participants are welcome from any area of the globe.

Writers are encouraged to begin with a fresh novel. “No plot? No problem!” says some of NaNoWriMo’s merchandise. There are a few pre-November activities to allow writers to warm up in advance of the big day November 1. During the month itself, registered participants can login to to update their wordcount, track their progress, and win badges for incremental milestones. Participants can connect with other writers online or at one of the scheduled NaNoWriMo events.

Sounds so easy! I’ve got a premise for a novel. I’ve even got a brilliant title. And I can write 1667 words a day?although I seldom do. But, and here’s a big one, I haven’t spent much time writing fiction. My writing is predominantly non-fiction. And while any kind of writing is good practice for any other kind of writing, I think fiction takes writing muscles I’ve yet to flex. For me, diving into a novel without some warm-up writing seems kinda like running a marathon without having first tried running around the block.

While I’d like to expand my writing to include fiction as well as non-fiction, a reality check is needed here. If I want to write a novel, I need to prepare my fiction-writing muscles. I need to stretch my setting skills, tone my character development, and hone my dialogue. I need to run around the fiction block and prove I can write 1667 words of fiction in one day. I need to have realistic expectations?and realistic goals.

NaNoWriMo, to me, isn’t just about motivation. It’s about putting forth a reasonable effort in order to achieve a reasonable result. Putting 50,000 unrefined words together, for this writer, is just filling blank pages. The last thing I need is to spend well over a hundred hours of valuable time just so I can have an amateurish novel occupying space on my hard drive.

NaNoWriMo says It’s “for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.” And That’s fine. But I think NaNoWriMo is best left for those writers who’ve been practicing their craft and just need that kick-in-the-pants challenge to make them dedicate themselves to their novel. I’ll be cheering all of those writers on, but I won’t be joining them?this year.

If I want to write a novel during NaNoWriMo, I need to start limbering up now to prepare for November 2015. For this year, I’ll say “no-no” to NaNoWriMo

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Tell The Voice Magazine how It’s going for you by e-mailing

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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