Practice Makes Perfect: NaNoWriMo as a Writing Exercise


Practice makes perfect. While the relative perfection of any finished project is up for debate, the reality of writing, as with many creative endeavors, is that you need to work at your craft in order to improve.

When you were a small child, first learning the building blocks of what would eventually become your ability to write – the alphabet, how to fashion individual letters, how to spell short words: cat, hat, bat – no one expected you to get these things right the first time you tried. The adults teaching you understood that it would take time for you to remember all the letters, to comprehend their meaning, to adjust to holding a pencil and forcing it to make recognizable shapes, to memorize what letters represented the words you already knew. They coaxed you through repetitions, assured you of your progress when you grew frustrated, and encouraged you to keep adding new skills to your arsenal.

Writing a novel is no different, and I feel it’s particularly important to stress this now, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, when so many aspiring authors dive into the task of writing a novel in a month. Publishing professionals, and agents in particular, are quick to remind NaNo participants that their completed NaNo novel is in no way ready for submission on November 30th. What you create during this month is a draft, a very early version of what your book might one day be. But more importantly, this month of writing every day, of shaking off your internal editor and sitting down to add more words to your project instead of editing or deleting yesterday’s efforts — this month serves as a fabulous writing exercise.

Whether you are writing for NaNoWriMo or just for yourself on an average day of the year, each time you sit in front of your keyboard or pick up a pen and notebook, you work a sort of alchemy. You are creating a story out of thin air, plucking the idea from your imagination and personal experiences and influences, then fashioning it into something some other person might read. Any given day you might write a string of sentences or pages that never make it past the confines of your writing desk. They might get rewritten later on or you might give up on that particular concept and move on to something else. But never consider those abandoned pages wasted effort, because the act of writing requires practice, and part of any practice is understanding what not to do as much as what you should do.

Producing 50,000 words in a month can be a difficult haul, especially for a new writer, but ignore the naysayers who tell you that you’re crazy to do it. Because at the end of thirty days, you will have a great deal of writing practice under your belt and a good chunk of first draft to play with. Likely you’ll need to add to it, since most novels are a longer than 50,000 words. And you will undoubtedly need to revise it. Parts might get discarded, and others changed until they barely resemble their origins. There are plenty of stories of professional writers who cherry picked through their NaNo drafts, taking only the interesting bits to make a better book. But that’s no different from any first draft of a project. First drafts are meant to be jumping off points, not finished works. And with every first draft you create, your writing skills get more polished, more adept. Each book teaches you something new.

So to those of you participating in NaNoWriMo this month, whether for the first time for the fifteenth, I say good for you and happy writing. The same goes to anyone simply plugging along with their writing practice, because of course you don’t need an organized event to write daily. After all, there are eleven other months in the year, and practice makes perfect.