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National Novel Writing Month (affectionately shortened to NaNoWriMo) made an appearance on the WordPress.com blog recently in conjunction with an invitation to warm up for the November project by participating in the PostADay challenge.

I attempted NaNoWriMo once in earnest and began preparing for it another time but decided in the end not to participate. I have really mixed feelings about the project, since I know that its participants produce a lot of really bad writing. That’s even somewhat by design, as the organizers emphasize word volume over word quality. And I see the point — better to have a rough stone you can polish into a fine surface than no stone at all. Still, when it comes down to just spilling a bunch of dreck onto the page, I have a really hard time. In my attempt in earnest, I wrote about 30,000 words of mostly awful prose before I could make myself do no more. I suspect that if you produce too big a pile of junk, the editing process becomes oppressive and the exercise futile.

The NaNoWriMo mentality strikes me as a somewhat bloggish mentality. That is, I think the two sometimes share the impulse to set the bar a bit lower for the sake of  getting words on the screen. My tendency to prefer writing thoughtful, well-edited pieces is often to the detriment of documenting my life. How many posts I should have written about my children and didn’t because I didn’t feel like I had the time to do the posts their proper justice I can’t count. I would almost certainly benefit from  approaching my blogging with a more NaNoWriMo-like mentality.

How about you? Do you leave things unwritten because you don’t feel like you have the time to perfect them? Would you consider setting up a private blog (perhaps using the p2 theme, which is great for quick  updates) to capture the rough-draft ideas that you’re not keen on publishing but would like to preserve? I’m thinking of doing just that. Do you find that writing just to write leads you ultimately to write better or just to write more? And finally, are you willing to fess up to participating in NaNoWriMo?

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  1. Still on the fence about participating in NaNoWriMo this year. On one hand, I really should write more to get better at writing. On the other, I fight the – it’s not good enough, or perfect enough demon. Always a battle. Good luck to everyone!

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  2. Funny that you mention the nanonomo thing. I signed up for it, I have an idea for a story and I’m going for broke. Nothing gained, nothing lost if you don’t try? that isn’t right. Anyway, I hardly ever write drafts, being part of the Daily Post group, I write about the topic at hand, free flow and that is it. I only write drafts if I am writing a professional letter to someone and it is only because I feel incredibly uncomfortable doing so that I agonize over it, edit and have others proofread it before it goes out.

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  3. I’ll be participating in NanoWrimo for the 5th time this year – and I have yet to make it past 30,000 words. And I’m very proud of that regardless of my inability (thus far) to push through week 2 into week three. However, the issues in the rest of my life are much different – so I am cautiously optimistic. I can’t imagine trying to write 50K words of prose, though! For me, it’s a mixture of fiction and real life storytelling.

    I suppose that like the rest of like, Nano is what you make of it. For me it was an AMAZING tool for circumventing my Inner Critic and Perfectionist. It helped me to push back that tendancy to write a couple of paragraphs, stop, edit, rewrite, ad nauseum. The point is to allow the words to flow, to move through blocks (both inner and outer), and to just keep writing. It’s an excellent way to develop a daily writing practice and discipline. It’s not about “winning” – it’s about writing 🙂

    I’ve been blogging for 7 years and my editing of blogposts is minimal. The only blogs I have in my Draft pile are the incompletely ones, where – half way through (sometimes less) I got bored with myself. LOL

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  4. I thought of participating in writing a novel for November, but I feel as you do, it would take too much to edit. And, really, I can’t think of anything interesting to write about. I don’t even know how to start a novel. But, you know what, I’ve decided to go ahead and take a chance.

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  5. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best: “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
    Enough said! 😉

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  6. I think the value of NaNoWriMo is it gets you to commit. It gets you into a rhythm of writing every day. It’s more about developing a habit than the actual output. I think 50,000 words is too much especially in November with Thanksgiving and FOOTBALL (Sooee Pig). I tried it once. I don’t think I has a story I could sustain for 50K words. And the holidays got me. That’s my excuse anyway.

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    1. Yes, it’s definitely a lot, and it’s really hard not to skip days here and there with the holidays in mind. Something else I played with briefly that represents a smaller commitment is 750 words. It’s less than half the daily word commitment, and it tracks some neat metrics about how you write.

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  7. I attempted NaNoWriMo twice and didn’t finish twice. But I took the dreck I created during those times and turned it into something readable eventually (I’ve got a manuscript now and I’m looking for an agent). As for my blog, I definitely believe that writing just to write improves my writing. Sometimes (maybe many times) my posts are weak, but sometimes I’m amazed at the stellar stuff that comes out of me. As a daily newspaper reporter for four years who turned out copy like a machine, I firmly believe in getting it down on paper (or screen). If you wait until you have the time to be perfect, you’ll wait forever. Nothing — and I mean nothing — is perfect. I bet Pulizer Prize winning novelists would go back and change things.

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    1. That is what free writing is all about–I am assuming there is a little of freewriting or speed writing in the NaNoWriMo project. I’m new to it. The whole point is to search the mass for the nuggets–and of course to recognize them.

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  8. I’m like neverending1. I can’t seem to grab hold of an idea. The few I’ve had that interest me are things that I don’t know very much about, and I’m concerned that it would take a ton of research before I could write convincingly about the topic. I’m not sure I have the time to research and write that much everyday. Still thinking about it though…..

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  9. I hadn’t given it a second thought until reading your post, but maybe I’ll go for it! My style is to just get it all out and then go back a million times to edit. I’m not sure I’m ever completely satisfied with the final product, but I’ve just forced myself to keep on keepin’ on!

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  10. This is my 5th year in NaNoWriMo, and I did actually “win” once in 2008. I will admit, that while I often struggle with perfectionism, one of the things that I enjoyed so much about pushing through and finishing was what it did for my confidence and my creativity. I like having goals and being able to complete them, and overcoming my perfectionism really helped with my writing. I think the reason I prefer NaNoWriMo over Post-a-Day, though, is being able to write fiction. I find it difficult to have interesting things to say in my blog about my life! I’m a Ph.D student, and we lead very boring lives 🙂

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    1. I think I must have missed the official rule book for Post A Day (I must admit I am a late comer to the challenge). Why couldn’t you respond to the daily prompt with a fictional piece? For me, having characters deal with the situation or topic can help to clarify my own thoughts and can put in a creative boost when I don’t think I have anything to say. Maybe I’ll have to say goodbye to all my WP brownie points for the confession, but such is life 😉 Best of luck on your 5th year challenge!

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  11. I’m doing nanowrimo for the first time. I have five drafts that I can’t seem to get anywhere with. I see a similar pattern in my blogs. I used to write daily, by hand but after a lifetime of this my hand goes numb after about one written page now. For the past month I can barely hold a pen. But I have been reluctant to use the computer for daily writing practice–too much editing. Just like my drafts. Nanowrimo and postaday will hopefully break the block and allow me to transition to using the comupter to resume my daily practice. Even now I’m editing what I just typed. So I must be committed to not only typing the words but not quickly hitting the delete button!

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  12. I left the PostaDay but am writing for NaNoWriMo. I preferred quality over quantity hence am only writing for NaNoWriMo.

    Every challenge brings a good change. Waiting for the one.

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  13. I used to wait until it was perfect. And I used to never put anything down on paper. I find now that even if I just put some crap down to put something. It helps on the weekend when I have time to actually write a story.
    I am not ready to write a novel right now. I am doing short stories first.

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  14. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. I’m not participating to get 50,000 words down, rather to get the story out and later go back and edit. My first writing is never quality stuff. It is always a jibberish mess, but once it is on the page, I will spend hours refining it (not so much blogs). I think that is the value of this exercise. The polish and the editing comes later. First we have to have the rough stone. I’m an advocate of morning pages, also Writing Down The Bones, both of which encourage just write write write.

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  15. I write novels but I prefer to write a few pages a day over several months. I find that if I try to write thousands of words a day then I burn out and can’t bring myself to even boot up my computer for a month. So for me it’s counterproductive.
    I’m the same with blogging. I like to have a schedule and write about things I think others can relate to. If I have loads of ideas at once, then great! I write them out and keep some of them as backup for when my creativity or motivation dries up. But I don’t try to force myself to overproduce content because there’s enough crappy content out there already. Why add to it?

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  16. “Do you find that writing just to write leads you ultimately to write better or just to write more?”

    Writing more is necessary to writing better. Sometimes you just have to write through the crap in order to get anything down at all. What’s better, writing crap or writing nothing? I vote crap.

    I did NaNoWriMo last year (and “won,” ie achieved the word-count goal), and I’m doing it again this year. Will my novel go anywhere? Who cares? I wrote a (short) novel-length work and proved to myself that I can shut up the inner critic and actually write if I just sit down and do it. Process trumps product, in my opinion.

    And if I think about editing, I’ll never get anything on the page. You can’t edit a blank page. NaNo gets me past the blank page.

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  17. There have been moments when a little push is necessary to get one from the thinking post to the gate. Writing when the mood prevails is not always the best advancement of ones writing goals whether it be an article on deadline or a novel in the works. So perhaps a genuine mix of challenge and authenticity is a more productive approach. I admit that I have never done the NaNoWriMo, but was sorely tempted this year. But I chose not to write for the sake of writing, but for the sake of the words that I write. As a writer that push was off a cliff. I just need a jump start. For that, I go to the “in progress” file and choose an idea that keeps the motor running.

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  18. I like this post very much. I finished one NaNoWriMo novel in 2008, and started one in 2009 which I hated so much I decided not to finish it. I think the exercise taught me discipline in terms of scheduling, and pushed me past my fear of bad writing–but I haven’t done anything with either of the works since Nov 30 of those years. I agree with your question “who cares?” I also loved being a participant on the NaNoWriMo forums, and met writers virtually who became collaborators. I recommend bloggers to give it a try!

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  19. I have been participating in postaday2011 since August. Posting everyday forces me to let go and just write. Before that I could barely put up a post every few weeks. I was afraid because I am not a professionally trained writer. Postaday2011 made me realize that I don’t have to worry. That I can contribute something regardless of the typos. That I can learn & improve along the way.

    I signed up for NaNoWriMo because I aways wanted to write a novel and sometimes you have to just do it. Quality be damned! I like the idea that writers are throwing caution to the wind and just spilling their guts on the page.

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  20. I started my blog a bit over two months ago, and I’ve posted stuff almost everyday. I found out yesterday that there is this thing called postaday2011. I think it’s a great idea, because it gets you thinking, and it sort of forces you to be creative in your writing.
    I am participating in the NaNoWriMo project because I was always interested in writing a novel, and I just never had the time to do it. I don’t care if it’s a piece of crap at first, and I’m actually up for editing that junk, and making it an enjoyable piece of literature (hopefully).
    Thank you for your insights! Cheers.

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  21. Daryl, I think you may have missed the point of Nanowrimo. It’s not so much the emphasis on turning out “dreck” in a drive to have word quantity. I see it as an attempt to get the intellect out of the way and tap into the muse, the creative juices, the subconscious, the feeling part…whatever you want to call it.

    It’s an effort to bypass the critical, judgmental part of the mind and get to the gold. Once the draft is there, then the necessary judgmental part can rehash to its heart’s content.

    I know this because I did Nano for the first time a few years ago and came up with a novel that has won hearts, awards, and praise. Of course, it required a fair amount of editing, but even with that, the original draft was readable and entertaining, just needed more (a lot more) polishing.

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    1. Thanks for this perspective, Sandra. The NaNoWriMo folk do explicitly emphasize quantity (“Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality.”), but I take your point, and it seems clear enough that the underlying intention is as you describe. I think the method just isn’t compatible with how I’m comfortable working, which requires some measure of judgment/editing even to get a rough draft that’s not a shoddy foundation to build on. Different people work differently, of course. 🙂

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  22. I understand your point very well. I am very old school–I write everything in longhand first. I carry at least one small notebook with me all the time just for that purpose.
    But I think it’s important to remember that sometimes, even writing notes turns on the Inner Editor and the writer ends up focussing on irrelevant details that really turn off the flow of ideas and words. While I hope to complete a novel in 30 days, I’m doing it for the challenge of doing it. I have already written novels, but the drafts alone take over a year. I also find that I often have complete dialogues and scenes ready to go in my head, but the Inner Editor rigidly filters them as I write and I end up very unhappy with what I’ve done. The NaNoWriMo is not for everyone (obviously), but it may help quite a few.

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  23. i do plan on doing Nanowri this month and i’d love to network with other metro detroit writers. please contact me! i’m so excited and already set up my profile on the main site as well!! I’ll be posting updates on my website as well

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  24. I’ve done three years of NaNoWriMo and “won” twice. There is definitely an emphasis on output, but there are also a lot of resources given regarding the editing process following the 30 days. Besides the joy at accomplishing a writing goal (as some days it was like pulling teeth to even get 100 words on a page), I also connected with an amazing community of local writers.

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  25. I wrote a long (OK, really long) reply. I moved the whole thing over to my blog, so I will be brief.
    Not only am I willing to ‘fess up’ to accepting the NaNoWriMo challenge, I am going to get me one of them badges that says so when they come out for this year. And not one of them tiny things you can’t hardly see, but the jumbo sized one, and plunk it prominently to by blog.
    If you would like to read some of my reasons as to why this type of thing may not be only good, or a challenge, but necessary and essential to the art of writing, check out the full Fessin’ Up post on my blog.

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    1. I myself have never participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge. mom mom passed the info on to me for the past 3-4 years? now. she has I believe, attained the 50,000 word goal, but I don’t believe she turned it in. Thinking about trying. not only does just writing help refine what it is your “trying” to say on paper (it always comes out so well in my head), I find it is a great stress relief in any situation, on any day. Good luck to all out there.

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  26. Personally when I began writing for an audience on Facebook, posts used to go unedited but now I believe writing is rewriting and unless I’m satisfied with the quality I refrain from pressing the publish button

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  27. I agree – in many cases its better to say than to not have said. And interesting your views are on the writing process. My challenge is time to write and getting connected to the true me when I write. If its rushed or is me writing something that is not me (ie more a reflection of what I think others want to hear) then my writing in inevitably awful. But you have to admit that there is a certain joy in placing words down together to form a body of work – whatever that may be. Some may say a similar sence of satisfaction that you may get if you were to build your own home.

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