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Does NaNoWriMo foster bad writing habits?

There's a discussion in the NaNoWriMo forums about a non-writer friend of a Wrimo who believes that NaNoWriMo fosters bad writing habits. Does it, though? The non-Wrimo friend believes that NaNo encourages writers to pad and worry about deadlines and word count instead of writing on one's own and page count. Let's take a look.

I rarely if ever pad, which you might not believe. In fact, I anti-pad. My writing is so skeletal in the first draft stage and lacking in description that I often have to go back and add these things. Of course, not every Wrimo writes like me. Padding can be part of the NaNoing experience, but only if that Wrimo chooses to make it so. The idea behind padding isn't necessarily to make one's word count or to intentionally write crap that will definitely be cut out later but to write something down. You can't edit a blank page, and writing anything down lets you keep going. In that way, NaNoWriMo fosters the best writing habit of all if you want to write well: writing.

Word count, not page count, is what the publishing world usually goes by. Anyone who has written a paper for a class knows that you can fudge page count by changing the font or margins to squeeze in that last half page. Word count can't be fudged as easily, but you get a good idea of how many pages, say, 50,000 words take up in pages. (Somewhere around 175 book pages, if you didn't already know.) Awareness of your word count isn't an entirely bad thing in the long run; it makes sure what you intended to be a novel doesn't end at ten thousand words or stretches on to 300,000. Some genres have understood guidelines on word counts, so knowing those limits going into a book's writing is a good thing so you don't overstep them too much. Well, unless you're absolutely convinced that your novel is really really good.

If you're a writer outside of NaNo, there's a very good chance you're going to work under a deadline at some point. NaNo teaches you how to do that. Writing under a deadline makes you better at it over time, and you'll learn how to write smoother prose that is easier to edit, even if it doesn't look easier at first. Take this from my own experience; my first NaNo novel is never getting touched again, while two of my books from the past two years definitely have potential.

If there is a bad habit that a Wrimo may fall into, it's the idea that one writes only in November with a bunch of other writers. Writing doesn't have to be a solitary activity, but it's not always an activity with thousands of writers cheering you on, either. Not everyone does NaNo with its breakneck writing speed and community support, and as much as I love NaNo, that's okay. November is for writing, but if you want to be a serious writer, the rest of the year can't be off-limits.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
moonglade_swan
Aug. 18th, 2011 11:12 am (UTC)
It's always the non-Wrimos who feel that NaNoWriMo fosters bad writing habits. I'd say that not practicing writing fosters bad habits more than NaNo does.
wanderhomeagain
Aug. 18th, 2011 12:21 pm (UTC)
If you're padding with NaNo, then you didn't have a novel length story to begin with, in my opinion. I rarely finish my NaNo story because I don't get that far.

The biggest bad habit that NaNo has instilled in me, I think, is that I'm so busy rushing through the story that I get burned out on it. It's just the adrenaline of the challenge, I think, but I personally need to draft slower than that. Or draft that many words in a day, but not be CRAZY CONCERNED about making up the words if I miss a day or two.
alfvaen
Aug. 18th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
I think the biggest problem with NaNoWriMo is that it's not enough. I have eight or ten first drafts sitting around now, and have done very little with any of them. It's like if "National Cookie Baking Month" consisted of mixing as many bowls of batter as you could. (Yes, I know about NaNoEdMo, and maybe one of these years I'll try that instead...but it seems to me to be a much harder skill to learn.)
kaesa
Aug. 19th, 2011 01:18 am (UTC)
I guess I'm a little confused about the fear of developing "bad writing habits" like padding, because they're so irrelevant to the finished product. I don't know that I consider myself a NaNo writer -- I've written twice during NaNo but never finished -- but I do tend to write the best in an environment where a bunch of other people are writing and wordcounts matter. In addition to the motivation it gives me, the deadline often gets me to consider plotlines and possibilities that I would never have thought of, and gives me that extra incentive to say "oh, why not? Let's see where this rabbit hole leads. If it's awful I can return to the planned outline." And I almost never return to the planned outline.

Anyway, that all might occasionally lead to padding. The thing is, though, you get to edit. NaNo and similar projects are not for producing publishable work, they're for getting first drafts finished, and I'm finding (working not to a deadline or with a wordcount goal) that what I need to do, often, is to get the words on the page and then I can pick out which subplots and characters add nothing, where I've written things just because I like the sound of my own keyboard, etc. And then I can cut them out. And sometimes scenes that didn't seem relevant at the time I wrote them, but there they were, insisting I write them, end up being (upon reread) thematically important or necessary for characterization, or they lay groundwork for plot twists I hadn't actually thought of when I was writing them.

(Shorter me: "I love writing! I have no idea how it works but haters gonna hate, and writers gonna write. And edit.")
shipwreck_light
Aug. 19th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC)
I do not think I ever would have figured out this drafting business were it not for NaNoWriMo teaching me how to quiet my inner editor.

That said, most everything I ever wrote for NaNo has turned out to be a hot mess when I tried to edit it. This, I accept. In at least one case, it was totally my fault (crummy outline).

So, thank you, NaNo. Thank you for giving me the joie de vivre to actually apply my butt to a chair and write. I'm sorry some people don't like you, and ergo fun.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 9th, 2011 07:18 am (UTC)
How can...
...NaNoWriMo teach you to write to a deadline when quality doesn't count? Every deadline I've had meant turning in the disk to the editor to be prepped for the press run the next week. The fewer work I made for him the better for both of us. "Feeling free to write crap" has absolutely nothing to do with real writing situations.
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