I don't even remember when I first heard about National Novel Writing Month. It must have been the first year I was studying in the USA (that is 2007) and I remember liking the idea. I was a published author by then, so I already knew an important thing about myself: I simply cannot write alone. Maybe this stems from also being a performing storyteller, being used to constant audience feedback, but whatever the reason, it was really hard for me to get motivated when alone, and so I was constantly seeking out family members, friends, and other people not fast enough to run away, to bounce ideas and get feedback for my work. I also loved working alongside other writers, even if our genres didn't mix well, just for the motivation of writing along (yes, I am extremely competitive, thanks for asking).
In the past 7 years, I did not always participate, and when I did, I didn't always hit the 50k goal. Last year was an epic fail, for example, mostly because it collided with my first year of PhD. But the year before (2012) marked the start of my book, Tales of Superhuman Powers (55 re-tellings of folktales that feature superpowers), my first English language work, that got published by McFarland.
You win some, you lose some.
Except, you really don't lose anything.
Now, while hundreds of thousands people participate each year, NaNo also has its critics. Most of them belong to the "NOBODY CARES" camp of people (I never understand why they are on social media in the first place, if they will whine about having to look at other people's interests), and some of them are believers in "high literature" that don't trust the quality of works that come out of 30 days of crazed writing.
So here is the thing: NaNo is not perfect, and it is not for everyone. It will also not turn you magically into a bestselling author if you leave your work as it is on November 30th. There are good things, there are bad things. From my experience, here are some of them:
1. Motivation. NaNo was designed to make you put your ass into a chair, your hands onto a keyboard, and start the book you always planned to start 'someday.' It also keeps you on track with word counts and various other built-in mechanics of the challenge.
2. Community support. Despite the claims of 'nobody cares,' I have seen people actively help each other during NaNo, instead of just tooting their own horn. Heck, the forums are full of questions and answers. People support, encourage, and motive each other; they give feedback, and help with research. As they should.
3. Pre-release audience building. Who said getting people interested in your work has to start after publishing? People are invested in works if they see them being formed, and even more if they participate in their creation by supporting and motivating the author. NaNo is a great place to build interest, a following, and an audience that keeps you going simply because they want to read the finished product.
1. Deadline stress. Are you a person that gets stressed out about deadlines and shuts down entirely? Maybe NaNo is not for you. Or maybe it's just more of a challenge.
2. Number of people. Sometimes I get intimidated by the sheer number of books people write during NaNo. How am I ever going to be one of the few that get picked up? Is it even worth trying while so many other people are also competing in the same market? Are we going to turn from writing buddies into competitors the moment November is over? While a great place for support and help, just because of the sheer number of participants, NaNo can also be intimidating.
3. Extra work. NaNo was designed to make you put out 50k words in a month to kick off your next writing project. However, since editing is forbidden during November, a lot of what you put out in a writing frenzy will probably land off the cutting table in December. It would be interesting to see percentages of how much useful written material people actually get out of NaNo. I know I scrapped an entire project once.
(But still: Getting started in the first place is priceless. At least you find out what direction you didn't want to go in).
While I don't always use it to its full potential, I do believe in NaNo. Mostly because I am not convinced that writing was ever supposed to be a solitary act. I know storytelling certainly isn't. We are social beings. Maybe we just create better within a community.