Anyone who’s participated in NaNoWriMo has experienced the benefits of completing the challenge. Who doesn’t like the accomplishment of writing 50,000 words in one month? Who doesn’t like the idea of having a first draft of a novel completed, or at least a good chunk of it done? It’s also a freeing experience to break past the inner editor’s vigilance and into the realm of unbridled writing. But what of the downside of doing NaNoWriMo?
Have you ever worked so hard and so intense on something that there comes a time when you know you’ve pushed yourself too far? That’s the danger of NaNoWriMo. The danger of burn out, depleted creativity, or an outright dislike for all things writing. Yeah, it’s great getting all that writing done, but it comes at a price. Some people can pay it, deal with it, and move on. And then there are the others. Those who never recover, or it takes months or years to really get the writing bug back. Or there are those who don’t meet their goals and get discouraged. They may even stop writing all together because of the disappointment. It happens. But like everything else, writing is not for everyone. Completing NaNoWriMo tests a writers limits. It either forges stronger writers or breaks them, which can be yet another downside for the writer that breaks.
Then why do it? Why do NaNoWriMo at all? Speaking as a person who has completed the challenge four years in a row, I do it because I know the benefits far outweighs the downside. I have to admit that each December I tell myself I’m done. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo again. I’ve proven I can do it and there’s no point in doing it again. And yet, every October I end up setting my goals and prepping myself for the intense writing sessions in November. Why? Because I find I need the push, and the companionship of the fellow writers doing the same challenge makes it a fun experience. However, come the last day of November, I’m done. I’m so sick of writing that I’m sure I won’t write a thing ever again, or at least a long, long time. This was the case for the first two years. It took me until well after Christmas before I started any real writing (the first year it was March before I got serious about writing). Last year it only took a few weeks to get back into writing, and this year it only took a few days for me to start writing again. Personally, I think the burn out gets easier to deal with each time. Why?
Maybe because I now know what to expect. I know I will have the urge to keep going with my novel so I can get it done. My big ideals outpacing what I can actually do. The first two years I thought I could ignore my burn out and work anyways. It’s a dangerous path to take, and I paid a heavy price for my over enthusiasm. Since then, I’ve learned my lesson. It’s essential to take a break from the project worked on for the NaNoWriMo challenge, and even do freewriting for awhile instead of any story writing.
This year, I felt the burn out, but also an urge to work on two short stories I’d been thinking about for awhile. Now a week after November, I’m actually feeling good enough I might try working on my novel again. Maybe. I’m kind of shocked about that, but pleasantly surprised I even feel the urge to want to look at the novel. Believe me, I was hating on it pretty hard just last week.
Despite the downside, NaNoWriMo is worth doing. Just be realistic in expectations and don’t be afraid to let the novel sit for a few weeks or even months. Move on as quickly as possible to just short exercise writing, freewriting, or starting a new (smaller) story. Writing is hard work, but it should be fun too. No matter how bad it gets, never forget it. Conquer the downside.