NaNoWriMo, obligation, and me

I’ve been hibernating for the past few months, thanks mostly due to a string of awful, seemingly never-ending migraines and the depression and hopelessness that always come along with them. But I am feeling better, and happy to get back to my normal routines and activities.

Maybe this will sound familiar:

It’s October. That means NaNoWriMo is around the corner. I don’t feel like killing myself to write a novel, but how can I call myself a writer if I can’t do it? All those other people can.

Let me rephrase that:

Does writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days make me a “real” writer?

The answer is, “No.” Writing makes you a real writer. It doesn’t matter how or when or why you do that writing, as long as you do it (semi) consistently.

NaNoWriMo is an incredible event in many ways. The community support is fantastic, and I know for sure that thousands of people who may never have written otherwise have produced multiple novels.

Feeling guilty about not writing 50k in 30 days is definitely NOT in the spirit of the event, by the way. So if you feel bad because you consistently burn out around November 15 (I’m looking at you, self), STOP.

If you’re using NaNoWriMo to help you develop a daily writing practice, try something more achievable for your situation. There’s 750words.com as well as Debbi Ridpath Ohi’s customizable daily word count challenge.

If you already have a daily (or at least consistent) writing practice, why do you feel bad? You’re already putting in the time and the words year-round.

I’ve proven to myself time and again that word count goals just do not work for me. When I set time goals for myself, such as write for a half hour each day, I knock it out of the park. Sure, I have bad days and migraine days and days where the words just won’t come. But I show up pretty much every day, and that adds up.

Maybe you I feel obligated to participate in NaNoWriMo because “everyone” is doing it.

And there is real value in participating. When I was in undergrad, NaNoWriMo helped me prove to myself that I could not only write one novel, but multiple novels. And that’s huge.

Every November I make a half-hearted attempt at NaNoWriMo, and every year I feel guilty for not hitting 50k, or because I’m working on the same novel I was working on four years ago (albeit vastly evolved). I do get something out of the event: usually the burst of writing and energy I put into my project at the beginning of the month helps me figure out my character and plot.

But for actually writing the damn thing? I’m slow. I work in small chunks, and then ponder. Then I do some more work. Then I ponder some more. NaNoWriMo does not leave room for this process to run its course.

And that’s okay, because that’s not what NaNo is about. The NaNo way works for a lot of people and facilitates a ton of novels every year, and that is totally awesome.

But it’s probably time for me to admit that NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for me anymore, at least not in the way it’s really meant to. I just need someone to remind me of this come October 2016.

Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Does it work for you?

What do you think?