Should You NaNoWriMo?


Wait, you want something better than that? Okay.

I entered, and “won,” NaNo back in 2014. I was itching to write a cool, edgy cyberpunk book. I’d originally titled it Uplinked, but after conversation with my wife that changed to Upgrade. I had so, so many ideas for this book. Bionics. Particle cannons. Plasma weapons. Always online, always ready. Love. Hope. The people lost in the cracks. I would do William Gibson proud, man.

A little peer pressure crept in. October of that same year, a few friends were talking big about how they’d win NaNo. I’d never heard of NaNo, thought, “How hard can it be?” and wrote Upgrade (or a hyooooge chunk of it) during November. Despite knocking something like 65,000 words out of the park during NaNo, well in excess of the 50k threshold, I discovered this was a terrible mistake.

NaNo’s pretty good for people who struggle with building a writing habit, or who just want to see if they can do it. I don’t fit into either of those camps. I did NaNo because I figured I wanted the seal of approval. I wouldn’t be a real writer until I could produce epic word counts on a daily.

Upgrade is the book of mine that’s done the worst. Despite being full of really cool things it wasn’t very well written. Part of this can be laid at the feet of my aspirations: I wasn’t good enough at my craft (my second book ever!) to knock something so complex out of the park.

The biggest reason was because I was trying to hit an arbitrary metric of daily words to win an intangible prize for invisible friends on the Internet.

It was the only book my wife didn’t like, and since she’s who I write for, we can consider this a hard fail.

I’ve spent the last three months remastering Upgrade and giving it the supplemental shorts and sequel it deserved. This isn’t a great use of time, but I felt I owed it to both my fans and myself to do the story justice. Over three-quarters of the original manuscript is different, all while keeping the story the same. I’ve completed the finishing touches and I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. It’s tighter. Hits harder. I’ve cut about half the dialogue, but the resulting dialogue is far, far better. I can’t wait for you to read it.

How do I know it was NaNo?

I had a huge fear that all my old writing was a bucket of shit. While doing the Upgrade remaster I went back over my Night’s Champion novels. Those aren’t bad! I mean yes I’m better at the craft of writing now, but they’re nowhere near as cumbersome or forced. I wrote Upgrade at the same time I worked for a pack of assholes, but that also sums up 2.5 of the three Night’s books, so I don’t think “daily life sucks” is the contributing factor.

NaNo was not good for my writing.

What’s the take-home here for NaNo?

If you have trouble building a writing habit, you might get something out of NaNo. If you’re someone like me, you’ll find it more harmful than helpful. My firm belief is that NaNo’s a fairly destructive process for producing a quality product because daily adherence to habit is linked to performance. Think about what would happen if you wanted to be a marathon runner. Would you start by running a little bit every day, working up to your 40km distance, or would you just throw yourself into daily marathons?

You might get through your runs, but it’s more likely you’ll fail out because it’s very hard on your body. NaNo feels similar in principle. There’s some ego and bluster around it, with a lot of people telling you to, “Just do it, it’ll be fun!” But the reality is, you’re quite likely (if currently unable to sustain the word count NaNo demands) to produce either the worst thing you’ve ever written, or fail out and think yourself a hack writer.

Learn from my mistake. Step away from NaNo, and write how you need to. Success isn’t an arbitrary word count. It’s beautiful stories, well told, for readers who love them.

My wife finished reading the remaster and likes it. I think Chromed: Upgrade might — finally — be okay.

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