The problem with Nanowrimo and why it took a decade to undo its effect.

(Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash)

It’s the month of Nano soon, and I am often tempted to go for it again, but never have.


I tend to start planning my story in October, just in case I go for it, but something has always nagged me as to its real value (for me) as a writer. I now know why. Nanowrimo is toxic to my author progress. Toxic is a strong word, but I literally won’t be able to go anywhere near it for at least another decade, I believe. Yes. It’s that serious.

I’ll tell you why…

My first Nano-win was in 2008, and I went on to complete them in 2009, 2010, & 2011, then a break of a few years before doing it again in 2015. Nano started me off as a novelist – 50k and no less!

Eventually, after realising that I was going to take this writing stuff seriously, I went to Uni and was proud to state I wrote novel length works.

However, I wasn’t actually a novelist. I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t have a grasp on Story (capital S). Nano had given me a false sense of ability and identity. I was not a writer or a storyteller, I was a typist. I could type 50k words of crap out onto a page. Big whoop!

Sure a first draft is always crap, but it kept the dream alive that all I needed to do was polish and publish and I’d reach my dream.

Once I’d realised that 50k does not make me a Storyteller, I started retreating into my man cave in an attempt to figure out Story. I now have a mountain of story craft books on my shelf as evidence that 5 years of Nano success and a 3 year degree in Creative Writing, doesn’t produce a confident storyteller. If anything, I was only able to call myself a qualified typist.

50k is a lot of words to faff around with only to discover that you’ve got the fundamentals wrong. 

This is why (traditionally) writers start with serials or shorts. I’d always wonder why that was and hadn’t figured it out. Now I know. Without proving you have a grasp on Story, it’s very hard for anyone to trust (with their hard earned cash, and limited time) that we writers know what we’re doing. Particularly if we don’t have a handful of notable publications to our name.

Nanowrimo now feels like I’m heading into that same toxic trap: the false belief that 50k words makes a story. It does teach typing self discipline, speed, and bring social comradery. But unless you’re going into Nano with a big fat plan, or realise that you’ll need to rewrite a lot of it once you’re ‘done’, you could come away with more of a mess and disappointment than when before you started!

So, what? Never Nano ever again?

Well, I wouldn’t say that. What Nano excels at is getting a nugget of an idea fleshed (somewhat) out in a short space of time. If it sucks and can’t be saved after a month, find something else to write. No biggie. However, if the character voice kills, and the plot kicks ass, whoop! We’re onto a winner.

So, this brings me to the point of this post. I think I may be doing Nanowrimo 2021 again for the first time in 5-6 years. And I will probably write a month of shorts. Or maybe I need to spend a year writing shorts (12 of them) not a year writing one novel!

Either way, I love the idea of writing randomly for a month (at least) experimenting with plot and character and voice to try and discover a real gem that I can carry forward into 2022 as a full novel (or 3).

Btw – first started writing this post in 2018. It’s now 2020. That’s how long I’ve been thinking about this.



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