National Novel Writing Month logo

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is one of the most well-known writing events out there. Every November, NaNoWriMo challenges you to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. People hold local write-ins in their communities, meet other local writers, and write like crazy.

And it’s hugely popular. Every November, every author community becomes NaNo central. Heck, I’ve had people who aren’t writers at all ask me if I’ve done “that NaNo thing.”

Despite this, I’ve never seriously considered doing it. I tried once–half-heartedly, for a week–during NaNo 2002, but it really wasn’t for me. And why is that?

Well, it depends on what your goals are.

When I didn’t know how to write a novel, NaNoWriMo was really stressful.

NaNoWriMo is a trial by fire. That’s the whole point of it. Hitting 50K in 30 days means you have to average 1,667 words a day every day of the month, without stopping. It’s not an impossible number, but it’s relentless, and missing just a few days can leave you struggling to catch up.

But when I was new to writing, NaNo was… agonizing.

I didn’t outline. I had never finished a book. I didn’t know story structure. I did write then, but I was all over the place–“writing,” to me, meant coming up with a half-cool concept and immediately starting on Chapter 1. I didn’t plan anything.

Consequently, I had no coping mechanisms:

  • How do you know what comes next?
  • What do you do when you run out of ideas?
  • What’s the difference between fluff and meaningful story development?
  • How do you break a big idea into a smaller, linear sequence of events?
  • How do you write the middle of a book without it dragging?
  • How do you finish a book? (Not like I ever finished anything back then.)
  • For that matter, how do you start a book?

For NaNo 2002, I did what I always did: I wrote 3 chapters, didn’t know what to do next, and quit.

NaNoWriMo is promoted as a great way to force yourself to write a novel if you–like so many people in the world–have an idea you want to write, but have never gotten around to doing it. It forces you to put in the hours and time to learn the process.

For some people, this is a great way to finally get their butts in a seat and learn this thing they’ve been putting off forever. It’s hard, and they struggle, but it makes it all the cooler when they finish.

But I’m not a “learn on a deadline” kind of person. If I don’t know how to do something and you give me a deadline, I panic. NaNo felt like failure to me. It was a great, big, glowing reminder that I had no clue what I was doing.

I needed to learn how to write every day, forever.

What helped me the most was creating a regular writing habit.

NaNo is not sustainable (at least for most people.) 12,500 words a week is a pretty high number for someone who doesn’t write for a living. But since I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to make writing part of my life, I needed a schedule that I could do forever. Every day. For the rest of my life.

And that was much, much less than 12,500 a week. Heck, even now I average somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 a week. When I started, it was closer to 3-4K.

Almost immediately, I started finishing novels. And since I didn’t have a deadline, so I couldn’t “fail.” I could take all the time I needed to learn.

This scheduled worked out so well that I didn’t feel like I needed NaNo. I usually finish an 80K to 100K novel in 4 months. Four months! That’s not terrible at all! And since NaNoWriMo pushes you to do 50K in a month, which isn’t even a full-length novel for most genres, I could win NaNo and still not finish a novel. I’d have to keep going another month.

So I’d be doing a 4 month project in 2 months. In exchange, I’d be stressing myself out. Was that actually worth it?

For a long time, it wasn’t.

But now that I have several projects under my belt, it seems like an interesting idea.

I’m in a very different place than I was 15 years ago. I’ve written several novels and have one published. And now that I actually know how to write a novel semi-quickly, there are some actual benefits to NaNo:

  • I have too many projects I want to do right now. This is the big one. I’m almost ready to query a novel (which could potentially have sequels), I have a new series bouncing around in my head, and… of course, there’s the book I already have out. Which ends on a cliffhanger. Oof. Too many books! If I wrote these all at my normal pace, I’d be done with all three books in 2021. Ahh!
  • I could make some local friends!
  • Since I already have a strong writing habit, writing 12.5K a week is less of a life-changing sacrifice and more of a manageable increase in my workload.
  • And, most importantly… since my next novel is going to be at least 80,000 words, I don’t honestly care if I win NaNo or not, since this project would take at least 2 months anyway. If I hit 40K and got halfway done, that’d still be twice what I do in a normal month.

So here’s what I’m doing this month.

I’m writing a sequel to Justice Unending. So, uh, all you people who keep writing reviews that include the phrase “I’m looking forward to the sequel”? It’s in the works.

My goal is to get at least 40,000 words into it, which’d put me in an excellent position to finish a first draft in December. If I actually hit 50K? Sweet. But I’m not going to kill myself.

My main goal is to actually meet writers in the area. I’m capable of writing a novel already, but I am absolutely abysmal at getting out of the house. So that’s one of my main goals! I’m going to go to at least one write-in, and preferably more.

Because of this, blog posts will be few and far between this month. But I’ll toss in an update every now and then, even if it’s just on Twitter.

And if you’re doing NaNo this month, good luck and have fun!

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Illustration of the NaNoWriMo badge, showing a Venn Diagram of 30 Days, 50,000 Words, and 300,000 writers coming together to form NaNoWriMo.

The official NaNoWriMo Web badge. Linked to the NaNoWriMo site.

Since all my traffic seems to be coming from people looking for NaNoWriMo-related things, I thought I’d wish all you writers good luck! It’s the start of a brand new National Novel Writing Month, and while I’m not going to be participating, I can still give the strangers of the internet all my unwelcome advice. It’s all obvious. Everyone’s already said all of this. You’re going to get it again anyway. Here’s a few random things that my NaNoWriMo friends have said:

  • Go way over your quotas on the first few days. You’re excited, you love your idea, and you have a lot of energy. Use it now!
  • Remember that 50,000 words across 30 days is only 1,667 words a day. That’s not actually very much. Just don’t let yourself fall behind.
  • You’re not allowed to have a single day off from writing until you hit 50K.
  • Beware Thanksgiving. It can swallow half a week (or more!) if you let it.

Oh yeah. One last piece of advice.

Stop reading WordPress (and the Internet) and write.

Good luck and have fun, everyone!

Illustration of the NaNoWriMo badge, showing a Venn Diagram of 30 Days, 50,000 Words, and 300,000 writers coming together to form NaNoWriMo.

The official NaNoWriMo Web badge. Linked to the NaNoWriMo site.

Oh hey, it’s October! That means that National Novel Writing Month is next month!

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo since 2003, so it might seem odd that I’m writing about it. But while it’s never been a very good event for me, I love the idea to death.

The best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to move quickly. There’s no time to edit. No time to doubt yourself. No time to worry. You have 30 days to write 50,000 words, and if you want to finish then you’re going to write several thousand words every day no matter what.

That sort of motivation can be empowering! And for some people, its the kick in the pants they need.

And while I might not personally participate, I do love the book No Plot? No Problem!, by Chris Baty, who’s the founder of NaNoWriMo. It’s admittedly designed for NaNoWriMo. But at its core, its about different ways you can rapidly break through writer’s block, even if you have no idea what to write next. It’s an interesting read no matter what you’re writing.

Are any of you participating this year?