Why on Earth are writers wasting their time on NaNoWriMo?

Tim Kimber
5 min readDec 11, 2018
Stress and self-doubt become a sustained malaise during NaNoWriMo, so why do writers bother?

Every November, I attempt the National Novel Writing Month challenge (dubbed “NaNoWriMo” for fans of torturous portmanteaus). The goal: to write 50,000 words towards a single work of fiction in just 30 days.

I have had varying degrees of success.

In my first year, I won the challenge, writing essentially a Homeric fan fiction, which remains an unfinished ramble of ideas. Fine.

In my second year, I won it again, but I came out with the basis for a novel that I spent the following eight months rewriting and refining, and which is now out to beta readers. Fine-to-good.

In my third year, I didn’t complete the challenge. I wanted to write a novel about fascism in a fantasy setting. Unfortunately, by around two thirds in, I felt I was unable to do the subject matter justice. I stopped at 35,000 words – admittedly with a handful of characters and a setting to which I will one day return. Poor.

Mixed results, then. But I still keep coming back to have another bash at it.



NaNoWriMo has its detractors, whose grievances range from the stress that can be wreaked by imposing this needlessly arduous goal, to the inevitable lack of quality that such rushed productivity inevitably must yield.

These are fair criticisms, to which I have meagre responses; but since I like NaNoWriMo (for reasons I will go into anon), I will attempt to defend its honour.

The first riposte I offer is to the notion of self-inflicted stress: NaNoWriMo is a challenge, nothing more. Despite the language its organisers employ of “winning” the event, it is a meaningless nod, and as immaterial a victory as one can muster. There are no awards – besides a graphic that you can download and post on your blog – and success is felt only in the author’s sense of achievement.

It is not advised you write your magnum opus under such pressing circumstances. NaNoWriMo is but an exercise, to promote discipline and the kind of gut-busting work ethic that many would-be writers forget is necessary to finish anything of worth.

Tim Kimber

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.