This would have been my third year in a row participating.
I cannot stress enough what a great idea NaNo is, because above all else, it gets people writing. It certainly did for me. It loosens up those cords binding the words in, shutting down voices. You know, those barriers that say things like, "That'll never work, it doesn't make sense, don't even bother starting." NaNo brings people together in support and friendly competition. And it results in a WHOLE LOT OF FIRST DRAFTS.
The first year I did it, it was a revelation. What came out of it was 50K of culture, scenery and characters set in the realm of death omens, namely the Black Dog and the souls designated to fill the role of harbinger for the rest of the world. I haven't done too much with it since, but I am so proud of it, and it's a universe I am chomping at the bit to explore in more detail.
The second year, while more prolific (I wrote 60K with time to spare), was also disturbingly sobering. I wrote a coming of age tale about a gay boy and the best friend he's secretly in love with, driving from California to Yellowstone National Park the summer before college. The story, drawn heavily from my own trip to Yellowstone that summer, was in and of itself not the problem. It came out (no pun intended) very readily, and I liked my characters and where they went, in the real world as well as metaphorically.
The reason I decided not to do NaNo a third time in a row came out of this second try, however: As freeing as it is to just write and write and write, no self-editing, no redrafting, just hit that 50,000 mark and then you are allowed to look at it a second time... Such a method ended up being detrimental to my particular writing style. I found myself tossing down as many words as I could in order to reach my daily quota. Never mind if those words actually had a real place or purpose in the story. Never mind if they were just restatements of the adjectives that came before. The stressful part turned out not to be meeting the word count so much as coming back later and realizing that, had I been allowed to write in my normal manner, I would not be back chopping out a third of what I'd spent a month putting down.
I know we are taught not to self-edit as we write, but frankly, it works for me. Only rarely does it stopper my writing. It does not slow my process but rather enhances it: I go back and reread what I've already written in order to glean more knowledge about the places I have yet to go, the scenes I am gearing up to write. In this sense, it helps that I do not tend to write a story's scenes in order. I will write the beginning, then something two-thirds of the way through, then the end, then right after the beginning, then the middle, then... You get the idea. If it comes into my head, I get it down before I forget it, regardless of where it is slated to end up in the story's timeline. Ultimately this method assists me in keeping themes arcing strongly and teaches me more about my characters and the world they live in. One would think this method would lend itself well to NaNo; when there is no rule concerning writing in order, a person can just go crazy. Fly. Erupt with a tide of storytelling.
Not true. For me, it turned into another way to not actually write. And by that I mean "write substance".
This year, I bowed out. Next year I may come back to NaNo, because goodness knows it's a wonderful way to flood the brain with ideas. Get things moving. This November, though, I needed time to work as I work best: producing something ultimately less wordy but that I can nod at and call quality.
How are you all finding NaNo? Does it work for you?
Random Writing Exercise: Try another method of writing. If you always write consecutive scenes, try writing the ending of your story first. If you tend to write all over the place (like me), trying writing a story in order, start to finish. If you edit as you go, try just writing straight up (no editing until you're done) and vice versa. Challenge yourself, just for this one story. How does this switch inform your style of choice? How does it cramp said style? (I know a lot of writers with a lot of different writing styles. We can always stand to learn from the styles of others, whether they work for us or not.)