Why I am Not Doing NaNoWriMo

This year unlike the previous two years I am not taking park in NaNoWriMo. This isn’t because I think that the exercise is a bad or worthless one, I don’t. But I also don’t think that it is the right exercise to encourage the habit of writing in everyone, and that some of NaNoWriMo’s flaws are serious if you hold a specific philosophy towards writing. The reason why I am not doing NaNoWriMo is that it makes me by week two terribly unhappy and depressed.

This is because of my own individual approach to writing. I will illustrate this with a wonky, imprecise extended climbing metaphor. You have been warned. Bouldering is a discipline of rock climbing dedicated to the act of climbing short, but technically hard “problems.” Sport climbing is a form of free climbing that can vary in length but uses fixed bolts in the rock for the climber to clip their rope to so they don’t, er, die. As in bouldering the expectation is to generally be climbing on the edge of one’s ability, but falling off, failure, is OK because you can keep working a problem/route until you have climbed it.

This is perfectionist climbing, and I think quite a fitting analogy to the process of writing short fiction which is my current interest. Write a bit, evaluate it, rewrite it until I’m happy with it.

What then is NaNoWriMo using this climbing metaphor? Well, let’s say that NaNoWriMo to me feels like a long walk up a flight of stairs with a lot of company. This hike is fifty thousand steps long and it doesn’t matter if you walk in full strikes or tired, weary dragging of the feet. It doesn’t matter, just as long as you climb the flight of stairs in a month. Yes, this is a much less poetic description than the camp I rest in, but, eh, that’s how it feels to me and it just doesn’t appeal or get me writing.

Just writing fifty-thousand words doesn’t make a novel. While E.M. Forster’s definition of a novel as being any text over fifty-thousand words is generally pretty sound, it does come with a couple of implicit assumptions about dramatic structure and the overall shape of the text. Most texts written during NaNoWriMo aren’t likely to be the first draft of a novel, let alone a good or bad one. Maybe draft 0.5. This comes back to my preoccupation of writing as a highly technical exercise, like climbing, where the individual moves and the overall sequence of moves matter. So while everything I write doesn’t have to be perfect I do like to revise and rework as I go. I like to fall off, have another look and a think and then try again repeatedly until it is right.

NaNoWriMo isn’t for me. It isn’t a problem of discipline (I write most days all year round) just of attitude and temperament.

I must add that I do deeply approve of the social side of NaNoWriMo, even if the exercise doesn’t work for me, and that I am typing and rewriting this from my composition book during the local area write-in for NaNoWriMo.

Will Ellwood
Coffee Republic, Leicester
Sunday, 7th November

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