Why I Don’t Do NaNo or Check My Speed

NaNoWriMo is a great idea. A community supporting its members in writing 50,000 words of a novel throughout November. It helps deal with one of the big issues about writing, that of the primary task being getting the words on paper (or screen etc) without letting second guessing or procrastination get in the way.

A great idea, but I’ve never been tempted, and the reason is entirely down to me and my understanding of my own psyche.

It’s the same reason that I stopped setting myself speed goals on the treadmill at the gym. I went through a period of setting a distance target rather than a time target during my workouts and spent a good three or four weeks noting the constant improvements in my speed. After that time though I plateaued. I’d improved my time over the distance by about 20% and that felt good, but suddenly I was hitting the same time or (horrors) slightly worse and coming off it exhausted. And all of a sudden I wasn’t looking forward to the treadmill. All of a sudden I could fail. That made it not fun. I switched back to just hitting a duration target on my runs and keeping up the best pace I could of course, but not constantly trying to beat my own best on a regular basis.

I think this is why NaNoWriMo never appealed to me. I enjoy writing. I enjoy the periods away from my keyboard, usually while walking, where ideas take root, grow and change, where I GM plots and characters in my own heads and see what they do. Whole sections of dialogue, of plotting, of foreshadowing emerge from nowhere, take form and work themselves out, and then when I sit down to write it tends to be nine-tenths done but there is still plenty to discover when the actual writing takes place. I love it. At the keyboard I feel like a combination of architect, GM and explorer and discover the fun surprises within my own creation. It’s play, art and wonder all in one.

If I set myself a word target though, if I set myself a “50K words in November” goal then all of a sudden there would be a fail state. I’d run the risk of not succeeding. Worse though I think there would be a good chance that I’d succeed but it would have been a duty, a task of work cranked out for the wrong reasons.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for self discipline. I firmly believe, as King says in On Writing that you don’t sit around waiting for the muse… you go to your writing place and you write and then the muse knows where to find you. I’m not arguing against that, I’m simply saying that for me making the process a competition against a goal would take away what I enjoy and add a level of additional stress that would get in the way of things.

I’m still improving on the treadmill. I’m about two revision chapters away from finishing The Crow Journal and I always look at NaNoWriMo posts by my friends on Facebook and Twitter with a twinge of envy. It’s a great concept and a great community effort, and I wish I could join in, but knowing myself I don’t dare.


Finn’s first novel A Step Beyond Context is available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com and a few others as well. It’s a punchy genre-busting mystery with a heroine who is a Regency lady, a high tech mercenary and much more.

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