I am firmly in the camp of not participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me summarize.
I’ve ended up with roughly three wordy but ultimately unreadable drafts out of Nanos past. Producing a thoroughly gobbledygook first draft, or “zero draft,” is part of the point, but it’s not of much use unless you follow up with heavy revisions. And I’ve tried, oh, I’ve tried, but the messy draft is often messy to the point of feeling unworkable with editing. I have no doubt that the foundations I established in those drafts will prove useful eventually, but for now I have to cope with the frustration of knowing that I put a lot of work into producing many words that will ultimately be thrown out.
A consistent bit of feedback that I got on multiple different pieces in the “zero draft” stage that I’ve written and shared with others is that they are confused because I try to throw too much information at them all at once. As someone who leans towards variations on fantasy, I often fall into the trap of trying to overexplain my fantastical creatures, magic system, etc. Conversely, I explain absolutely nothing in an attempt to let the reader figure it out organically through the character, who already knows all of this information, and they are left confused in a different way. It’s something I’ve been conscientious of as a problem ever since I read my very first writing craft book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by (unfortunately) Orson Scott Card. Knowing that it is a common problem among writers of the genre and successfully working to address it are two different things. (Vaguely related note, I own several Nanowrimo books on writing craft and I think I have yet to finish reading any of them.)
All that to say that I don’t know that Nanowrimo is a conducive event to avoid that particular pitfall. I’m not thinking as hard as I should be about how to most eloquently establish my worldbuilding because I am trying to pump out as many words as possible, which is a slippery slope to accidental infodumping or, again, accidental withholding.
It took me roughly four to five months to write and revise my 25,000 word novella Dinner Date to a point I felt happy with. Slowly chipping away at it, mostly on the weekends when I could settle in at a café for many hours at a time and write, was ideal. I didn’t work on it every single day or even most days, but it ultimately came together. In fairness, I feel like that particular story is high concept enough that the fantastical elements weren’t too hard to explain. My other novella, Dream Eater and Monstress, is in a bit of limbo right now, in part due to the heavy amount of worldbuilding required for it.
I know I am not the only one who has suffered from the burnout effect that Nano has on people, but I don’t think it’s been wholly negative, either. The writing group that I am currently in—and have been in for two years!—and value greatly I found as a result of searching on Meetup for Nanowrimo groups. It is definitely not a net loss to have participated in Nano before, and I do have intentions to revisit the drafts that I got burnt out with working on, but I also don’t want to do the definition of insanity, as they say.
Maybe this time next year I will have a project that lends itself to Nano’s fast drafting/high volume methods. Who knows? For this year, though, I’m glad I didn’t force myself to do something that I don’t think would be conducive.