What does Nanowrimo mean for creativity?

Cally Phillips offers further creative observations on Nanowrimo… for those who engaged and for those who choose not to engage with it. If you missed her first article then check it out HERE and give yourself a creative reboot this November. Nanowrimo may work for some but it is also crowded, market driven and prises creativity with a deadline. So, what is the alternative?


Writing is all too often seen, and sold, as an aspirational activity. And that, dear reader, is the problem.

It is a sad fact of life that publishing is a massive and often heartless industry. It is market driven but with a heavy dose of ‘finger in the wind’ tactics masquerading as expertise, married with huge financial investment, and the attendant hype that is required to get a return on such risk to guarantee a ‘best-seller.’ (Sounds like the fashion industry, right?) 

People often say that if you want to ‘make it’ as a writer you need to have a thick skin. Since sensitivity and empathy are quite valuable tools in a writer’s armoury, I’ve never bought into that one. The thick skin is required to deal with what is sold as the inevitable rejections along the way.  

But look at the premise these ‘rejections’ are built on.  I suggest rejection is less often related to the perceived ‘quality’ of one’s writing, and more of a system which judges quality based on width. Or, market penetration to be more accurate!

As someone keen to express themselves through the written word, you don’t need a thick skin so much as you need a good handle on how you’re being ‘sold’ to.  On how you can very quickly become product rather than writer.  You need to reappraise your definitions of success and creativity. The ‘market’ isn’t going to help you do this.  Nor, necessarily, are fellow aspirants.

So while the Nanowrimo objectives on the one hand are lofty - encouraging everyone to have a voice and to write that voice without fear of rejection -  on the other hand they offer the perfect environment for marketing to the hopes and dreams of those who still believe in ‘the dream’ of ‘success’.  Here I have to voice some reservations about market driven transactions fuelling creative endeavour.

The sad, uncomfortable truth of life for anyone who wants to write is: There comes a point when you just have to WRITE. 

On the face of it that’s what Nanowrimo offers.  They reward you for getting down to it and hitting the keyboard. But why do you need the narrative of ‘winning’ to motivate you to creativity? Do you really need badges and stars to get you writing and keep you writing?

To ‘win’ Nanowrimo you need to be writing just shy of 2000 words a day for a month. For me this is no big achievement. I realise I’m not the ‘target market’, I can and regularly do do that in two hours a day.

BUT - and here’s the rub; that is WITHOUT distractions.

Even as it offers the space for you to write, Nanowrimo builds in the distractions.  The community themselves possibly become their own worst enemy.  The ‘we’re all in it together’ attitude of spurring each other on and exchanging play lists  or ‘casting’ your books with buff celebrity Insta pics (displacement/distraction) works against the actual purpose - creativity.

I’m sure I’m about to be unfashionable but: Can I make this any clearer - you want to write, to really write with focus, you need silence and no distractions. You do not need music in the background.

Think about it. When you are actually in the act of being creative by putting your thoughts onto virtual paper the last thing you need is someone else’s creativity infiltrating your space. I’m assuming your goal isn’t creativity as simply the firing of dopamine, or displacement activity, but a genuine desire to express yourself and develop your thoughts and emotions into something communicable; if only to yourself. 

That’s quite different from just stroking yourself with ‘rewards’ or motivating yourself just to HIT THE KEYS. Monkeys typing Hamlet anyone?  When you get into ‘the zone’ make sure it is YOUR zone.

Writing itself isn’t being sold as ‘fun’,  for all that fun is worth, and the strong suggestion is that you  need something extra to make the experience valuable.

So ask yourself - what do you need to start (and keep!) writing?

Do you need the motivation? Or do you really need the external validation? Or do you need another place to hang out with friends sharing views.

If what you really want is to talk about writing with other folk who want to talk about writing, that’s fine. When I was in my teens and twenties it’s what we used to call going to the pub! 

For the sake of your creative self, can I just point out that the bit that everyone seems to see as the hardship, the punishment: the WRITING, is actually one of the most enjoyable stages - once you get to it, and avoid distractions.  Writing a first draft can be like an active meditation. It can be like getting to know yourself.  But it’s something you need to do ON YOUR OWN.

With Nanowrimo, you’re never alone. The numbers are pretty scary. Whenever I’ve signed in there seem to be over 2,000 people online alongside me. Of course you don’t have to talk to them. And as with all social media, if you don’t talk, they don’t talk back.

I signed up for research purposes. No one has yet come looking for me to ask anything about my ‘novel’ in the making (It’s called ‘An (unco) Adventure’ if you’re interested). 

By the time you read this it will probably be the middle of Nanowrimo but you won’t find me on-site  pitching for business - or shooting the breeze, or hoping for strokes (hug a writer day is a big favourite among the aspirational writing fraternity).

I’ll be too busy writing for all that. And I’ll be enjoying myself.