When NaNoWriMo Becomes Pathological

Writing is a great method of psychological hygiene. If you use the National Novel Writing Month for the purpose of unburdening yourself psychologically in preparation for the emotionally taxing winter months, that’s great. However, the moment that even the slightest whiff of a fantasy about eventually publishing the product of this writing and making money from it attaches to the endeavor, you need to know that you have walked into the realm of pathology.

Many people escape from the realization that they are not very happy with their lives using fantasies of writing a bestseller, becoming a rock star, inventing something that would make them millions, etc. If you need to hide from reality in these fantasies, that’s not a good sign. It would be a lot more effective to invest the time you waste each November on churning out the words nobody ever wanted to read into figuring out why you dislike your actual life so much.

People who suffer from midlife crises are precisely the ones who kept avoiding the realization that they hated their lives until such an avoidance became impossible.

12 thoughts on “When NaNoWriMo Becomes Pathological”

  1. _I_ want to read what I write, or I wouldn’t bother writing it!

    Not to say that I disagree with you particularly. I do NaNo for the fun of it – it helps ‘free up’ my writing muscles at a time of year when I’m usually getting sick of academic writing, and I like escaping into a creative imaginary space for an hour a day. I skip all the ‘how to turn your NaNo into a published book’ mails.

    But what’s wrong with hiding from reality for a little while in your fantasies, as long as you know that’s what you are doing? Your post seems to offer a black/white choice, but life has a very large number of other shades…


  2. I worked from time to time over ten years or so on a mathematical problem I never expected to see anyone solve in my lifetime. In 1978, I solved it. It helped my academic career quite a bit. Just because one does something for fun should not preclude the possibility that it will be published and become important. So, I do not agree with this at all.


    1. The difference is that you were already a mathematician and you would be a mathematician without solving this problem. Here, I’m talking about people who only fantasize about escaping from their lives through striking it rich. Imagine what it would have looked like if you never did anything in mathematics but engaged in intense jags of trying to solve this problem every November.

      Actual writers already have something published (and have gotten paid for it) and they write all year long.


      1. “Actual writers already have something published (and have gotten paid for it) and they write all year long.”

        -This is a good point. And writers who do break out with NaNo pieces (it’s happened) are also those people who write all year long.


      2. I also know professional writers who participate in NaNoWriMo and ask for sponsors to pay for each word they write (maybe a half cent per word.) This money is then donated to charity. (Clarion Writer’s Workshop is one such charity, IIRC.)


  3. This is interesting, I myself am a writer but I don’t do Nanowrimo because I don’t have enough free time. Maybe when I was younger, I thought it would be cool to have a best selling novel and be famous, but now I know that’s not going to happen because I don’t write normal stuff, mostly fan fic. To me, writing is something I do for fun and for a bit of escape, if someone likes that’s awesome but it’s not the end-all or be-all of writing, it’s a way get far away from my job and a bit of fun.


  4. The idea that we all have a little genius inside of us just waiting for the right moment to break out is a self-indulgent notion that was perpetuated back in the 80s. I think it has almost run its course, although in the mean time, it has been used to run a lot of self-help industries and to curtail the power of teachers: “How dare she speak in that way to my little Johnny, who seems like a lazy person to outsiders, but after all could be a genius in the making?”

    Liberation from this madness consists in a return to the aesthetics of ordinariness.



  5. Thanks, I needed to hear this.

    Lately I’ve been having recurring fantasies about writing the next big app. Not so coincidentally, my job has been just horrible lately.


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