We’ve now officially passed the middle of what all writers (and exasperated spouses/family of writers) know as National Novel Writing Month. And I have come not to praise this obnoxious exercise in virtual participatory nonsense, but to kill it, burn it, gather the ashes in a bucket and bury them. In a deep, deep hole.

But what is NaNoWriMo, as it is so frequently described and hashtagged by those writers the rest of us just want to punch in the throat? It is a challenge, issued to writers annually by, to pound out 50,000 words of a novel during November.

So, let’s do the math. There are 30 days in November, and dividing that into 50,000 gives us a writing requirement of … what the hell … 1,666 words a day, every day! No breaks on the weekends. No letting up. No slacking. And … GO!

Is it a coincidence that the required number of words ends in a particularly Satanic number? I say, “No.” Because for me, NaNoWriMo is little more than the devil’s work.

I say this as someone who has published a novel far in excess of 50,000 words. It took me 20 years to make those words the right words. My hope is that my second novel will not take nearly as long, but I in no way delude myself into thinking that I can crank out half of it in the course of a month. Why? Let’s go down the list:

  • 24 hours in a day
  • Full-time career as a freelance writer (in which I already produce between hundreds and thousands of words a day)
  • Two children
  • One wife
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Choosing not to be an awful, selfish person who will drive his children into therapy and his wife into the arms of another man

The limits on a day’s length I can’t really do much about. The rest, however, I value considerably. And while writing my second novel is important to me, it’s not something I’m eager able to commit a minimum of four hours from an already full schedule to do. Do I write every day? Mostly. But cranking out nearly 1,700 words a day for a month straight is … um … expecting a lot without a $625,000 MacArthur Genius Grant, a good nanny and an even better marriage counselor.

And that’s not even taking into consideration that November is possibly the worst time of the year to consider urging people to break off from their friends, family and jobs to write. Think about the calendar. Significant holidays for the United States and nearly every major belief system fall – or can fall – during November. So we’re just expected to collectively blow off celebrating or preparing for Thanksgiving, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Diwali or Christmas? Screw you, NaNoWriMo. Writing’s hard, and we need our midwinter festivals and family celebrations to keep us from, among other things, sinking into a whirling maelstrom of despair because we don’t feel like we’re doing enough writing.

NaNoWriMo guys! You want a tip to make me even consider participating? Move it from November to February. People will be happy to have an excuse to blow off Valentine’s Day, and particularly for those of us in the colder states, we’re all going to be basically trapped in our houses anyway.

I honestly don’t know how most people who do participate in NaNoWriMo make it work. Are they all single and jobless, willing to live in their own filth and eat nothing but take-out for a month while they crank out a rushed, ill-conceived draft of something that they’ve felt an irrational compulsion to complete in 30 days?

And if not, who the hell are they married to? My wife loves me dearly and is proud of every word I produce, but she works her own challenging, rewarding full-time job and would have zero patience for me announcing, in my finest Yul Brenner-as-Pharoah voice – “I will be sequestering myself to write for the entire month of November, leaving all the parenting and household tasks to you, faithful woman! SO LET IT BE WRITTEN! SO LET IT BE DONE!”

I’m convinced that for those who do participate, it becomes one of two things: either the chance to brag about how they DO have the unlimited time/resources/spousal acquiescence to allow them to participate, or just an exercise in one-upsmanship and the opportunity to post self-serving tweets and Facebook updates on how so very productive they are.

Like so much in our socially networked world, personal accomplishments turn into an opportunity to toot ones own horn a little too loudly. NaNoWriMo tweets and updates turn into the Twitter and Facebook versions of those beach boardwalk t-shirts that announce triumphantly, “I POOPED TODAY!”

An example:

From @RomanceChicky: *
“A great start to my day – 8 am, fair-trade coffee, the loons calling over a still New England lake & 3000 words under my belt. #amwriting #NaNoWriMo”

Yeah. How about #NaNoWriMo #KissMyAss, @RomanceChicky.

Want more realistic? Here you go.

From @FantasyScribe: *
“Wife left last night with the kids – said something about lawyers and child support and my filthy stink. Whiskey & Vivarin depleted, but #amwriting. #NaNoWriMo”

My point? Writing is hard enough, and sometimes finding time to write is the most challenging thing of all. So do we really need a movement that makes it “fun” to try to jam what for many would be a year’s worth of writing into 1/12 of that space? Isn’t it enough to say to yourself – whenever it happens to be – “I’m going to write that book.” And whether you manage to carve out an hour a day, or 20 minutes a day, or a couple of hours every week, what really matters is that you said you were going to do it and YOU ARE DOING IT.

Does it really have to be turned into a competition, even if that competition is wrapped up in rah-rah, supportive, feel-good language? The founders of NaNoWriMo claim on their website that it’s an opportunity for writers to work together while still separate, a chance to offer each other support and encouragement as they slog through the literary quest they’ve put themselves on.

Here’s my advice: Forget the forced virtual camaraderie and subtle slacker-shaming of NaNoWriMo and make every month one in which you’re writing. Writing on any schedule is hard enough, so give yourself and those around you a break by embracing life – rather than stepping away from it – as you move to the novel writing finish line in your own good time.

* Totally a made up tweet






  1. I agree completely–down with word count at any time of the year! (When I thought that the “No” in NaNoWriMo stood for “November,” I was going to complain that your suggestion for a move to another month would make it into “NaFeWriMo” which is hard to pronounce.)

  2. Wholeheartedly appreciate the honesty of this post. I’ve decided to embark on a NaNoWriMo journey this year because I am one of the lucky ones – in that I have too much free time and too many ideas that I need to get out. However, it’s only mid-September and who knows how my life is going to change from now until November 1st.
    Maybe I’ll come back and let you know!

  3. Let’s hope that those who do crank out the requisite number of words are looking at it as a very very rough draft. Also, I would just like to add that I am bitterly disappointed that the tweet is made up–I was ready to follow @RomanceChicky just to see what other nausea-inducing thoughts (s)he had posted.

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