Why NaNoWriMo is a Complete Waste of Time

Three reasons why Luke Edley feels self-respecting authors should avoid taking part in NaNoWriMo like the plague.

It’s that time of year again, a time when every wannabe author gets all preachy and sanctimonious about NaNoWriMo, and telling us why we should all be doing it. Well, we shouldn’t, frankly. The success of NaNoWriMo, a writing challenge in November in which writers have to produce 50,000 words in 30 days, utterly baffles me and I get sick to death of seeing clickbait articles floating around trying to convince me it’s a good thing. It’s not—doing this challenge will only lead to bad writing, which is not what decent writers should aim to do.

Here are three reasons why I feel NaNoWriMo is a complete waste of time:

1. Good things come to those who wait

Writing takes a great deal of patience and, truth be told, most of a writer’s time isn’t actually spent writing. Instead, it’s spent thinking. Ideas take shape slowly, mostly inside your own head, gestating gradually over long periods of time and flowering the more you dwell on it. I will admit that some ideas can be made forcibly better by beginning the process of writing, but there’s a notable length of time before your embryonic idea for a story is ready for the birth canal.

What NaNoWriMo deludes people into thinking is that all you need is a germ of a concept on day one and then the rest of the plot will evolve naturally by dragging it kicking and screaming into life by engaging in a gruelling routine of writing. If your novel is your baby, childbirth wouldn’t work in this way—there’s a word for ripping things out of the womb before they’re due, and it’s abortion. NaNoWriMo will end up killing what was once a good idea by forcing you to rush it, so it’s far better to wait and write your novel at a more steady and considered pace.

2. Half-baked ideas don’t make the cake worth eating

Even if you do get to the end of NaNoWriMo’s 30-day challenge, those tangential loose threads in your final draft will expose many holes in your story like a moth-eaten cardigan. You wouldn’t have had this problem if you’d have simply taken your time. Trust me, those 50,000 words at the end of NaNo will be an erratic mess, with hardly any discernible form or structure, as its creation was only determined by a hope and a prayer, subject to the whims of the moment.

The pressure NaNoWriMo imposes on you to churn out a set amount of words per day will mean that only the half-baked, tossed-off, un-kneaded ideas find their way into your story and, to extend this Bake Off analogy, it will be saddled with a soggy bottom. Nobody wants to eat a cake that’s been thrown together too quickly before it’s had a chance to finish cooking. You won’t end up with a masterpiece; instead, you’ll end up with food poisoning.

3. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should

Not all of us are going to be best-selling authors doing book signings at Waterstones branches and being interviewed on Sky Arts by Mariella Frostrup. But what the internet has ushered in is the era of self-appointed guru, the so-called experts (or aspiring authors) who are nothing more than charlatans self-promoting their pointless delusions and presenting as fact. Oh, so you’ve written 50,000 words in 30 days? Well done, it’s just a shame it stinks.

It’s quite likely that most of the people who take part in NaNoWriMo are bad writers, and that the only reason they bother taking part is because it feeds their egos and allows them to gloat about how great they are to their Twitter followers. Maybe if you’d have just focused on taking your time over the damn thing it’d have been Febrezed enough to smell pretty to pass muster in a publishing house. My point is: just because you can prove to the world how prolific you can be at writing, it doesn’t mean you should. You should be focusing on quality, not quantity, and all NaNoWriMo will foster is the latter (at the expense of the former).


None of this makes a jot of difference, really. People will still take part in NaNoWriMo, and lots of people will still think it’s a worthwhile exercise, but in my opinion, it’s a distraction. It distracts us from writing decent stories by straight-jacketing us into an expectation to churn out bilge. Good for you, if that’s what you want to do, but I want no part in your revolution. Vive la résistance.

Humorous fiction writer, poet and novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.

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