NaNoWriMo: The Community

On October 1st, we relaunched our website with new features, new, squeaky clean forums, and more. The site reset is a physical reset, but for a lot of people, it’s a mental one, too. For many of our participants, the reset is the sign that NaNoWriMo is here, and the panic and planning begin in earnest.

The most valuable resource NaNoWriMo provides is its community. And I’m not just saying that because I manage the aforementioned community, either! Time and time again, people have told us how the community has transformed their writing, and I’ll be honest: I’m one of those people! For me, writing was something I did alone, in a corner, scribbling madly in a notebook or behind a textbook where the teacher couldn’t see me.

Mind you, I had writer friends, and we talked about it. Maybe we even shared work now and again. But write together? Madness!

NaNoWriMo changed all of that. I was suddenly surrounded by a community of thousands, all writing together, with a common goal and deadline. The community was sheer magic. It drew me like a moth to flame, and today, it’s quite literally my passion and my career.

So how can you leverage that magic for yourself?

First and foremost, if you don’t have an account, create one. Many people do the event on their own, or know it’s going on and kinda write along with us, but never really use the site. That’s great, but you’re missing out on a rich community of writers who want to help!

Once you’ve created an account, head straight over to the forums. That’s where the main, international community resides. Forums exist for just about every writing-related issue you can think of, and then some. There are age groups, genre lounges, tips, tricks, and more. There is also a regional community for most areas. You can find that under Local Events.

So you do all of that… now what?

Well, what’s your need? If you’re having trouble with naming things (one of my favorites) you can pop over to the Appellation Station. If you need prompts, or competitive word sprints, you can hit Word Wars, Prompts, & Sprints. If you’re looking for filler characters, chapter titles, motives, or just about anything, Adoption Society will have a thread to find one. You can find commiseration in the NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul forum, or check out the genre lounges.

The most important thing is to engage. Ask questions. Help others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve improved a piece simply by looking at what others are doing, and getting inspired, or realizing what I did wrong… or any number of things. Sometimes, the process of typing out a question will solve the problem by getting me thinking in the right direction.

What do you have to lose? Well. I’ll be honest. Time. Your soul. NaNoWriMo (many a novel has been lost to the Games forum.) But you might just gain something instead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Do changes in seasons affect your creative writing output?

It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere.  The days are shortening.  Average daily temperatures are dropping.  Arrays of food and beverage products are offered in “pumpkin-spice” varieties.   And yet, what excites me most as a writer is that it’s the time of year when my daily word-counts start to skyrocket!

Speaking personally, I feel there’s a strong correlation between the season and my desire to set my butt in the chair to start banging out eloquent prose and engaging character dialog.

Autumn is by far my favorite season; perhaps that can be attributed to the abundance of cherished personal memories I associate with the months from September through December that I feel are worth capturing within my works of fiction.  And for those of us browsing writing-related blogs and discussion groups on the Internet, we’re likely fueled, at least on some unconscious level, by the buzz and hype of National Novel Writing Month that begins on November 1.  I know I am, and I personally look forward to Saturday morning write-ins at the local coffee-shop/bakery with fellow co-blogger at this site, Rob Diaz.  (The camaraderie and commiseration is nice, but I mostly look forward to nibbling the orange-flavored scones and sipping hazelnut coffee.)

My writing patterns change once full-on winter arrives.  Although I continue to write steadily, I find I am more inclined to skip a day or two upon feeling worn out from the early winter festivals of the Christmas and New Year holidays.  Weekends in winter are great for writing because it’s usually too cold, wet, or snowy for neighbors to fire-up leaf blowers and lawnmowers at the crack of dawn.  That affords more time to write without ambient outdoor noises, except of course for the occasional shotgun blast from the area as deer-hunting season is in full-swing.

Where I live, the middle of March is the welcome of springtime.  Biologists will tell you spring brings new life and rejuvenation to the plant and animal world, but what they won’t tell you is that it tends to wreak total havoc on my writing cadence.  The early mornings are brighter and a bit warmer, which finds me yearning for a brisk outdoor light jog about three days a week.  Of course, that’s three days a week of prime writing time now interrupted.

And then there’s summer.  Early-morning clanking and banging from neighborhood home improvement projects tends to be disruptive to me.  Need I say more?

In reality, many of the distractions I describe above that keep me from driving up my word counts are admittedly embellished and satirized.  But it’s true that autumn, for me, brings the best word counts.  I just need to understand how to capture the spirit of autumn and leverage it to my advantage twelve months of the year.

Ready, Set, NANO!

Despite the flagrant title, I will not be doing a novel in November.  Likely, I will never be participating in this during the official month.  But, as you read,  I did do it last July.   I loved it.  I hope you do it to – if not now, this month, then soon.  A quick overview of things that helped me:

1.  Keeping my focus on my goal.

I didn’t participate to write a complete novel.  I participated to 1) give myself a kick in the ahem, to write while I knew I had the chance, and 2) to achieve a challenging word goal during a short period of time.

Two things I think were especially key in my goal-setting.  My goal was challenging, but ultimately realistic.  Meaning that it was hard, but I knew it was at least possible.  Doing 20,000 words in July would have been too easy, because it was summer and that (and general life stuff that comes up with a young one) was my only priority.  I had to push myself.  On the other hand, even imagining 20,000 words written this month or next is completely hysterical.  I came up with a great –and I mean GREAT—opening to a story last week.  Didn’t have time to write it down, and by noon it didn’t matter.  I couldn’t remember anything past what I’ve shared here.  Can almost imagine what trying to write 20,000 words next moth would be like:

Day one:  (types “day one”…….. 10 minutes later types “she said she didn’t do it”….10 minutes later goes to bed convinced she should be locked up because she’s clearly a walking zombie, having typed 6 words in 20 minutes.)

2.  Beginning with a clear outline, which I had not a whit of hesitation or guilt in breaking.

I was surprised at the end that I had kept so closely to my original concept.  Yet, I also created a character who wasn’t at all in my original concept.  He showed up on day three and became one of the major players.  That was the character who became the love interest.  The original love interest was the husband – and yet that relationship remained as originally conceived despite this new character.  Yet another character, the son, whose viewpoint I introduced on day two when I was stuck on what to do with my main viewpoint character, got shuffled neatly away into another colony about halfway through the month because he turned out to be unnecessary.

3.  KISS it

You’d think this would refer to the introduced, and unexpected, love interest.  But, no.  Much as it does help to know that soon you get to write a candy scene–the kind that replays itself over and over in your head because it’s so fun.  KISS actually is a mnemonic: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Which means that I kept my outlines / concept really simple.  Not so simple that nothing happened, but so simple that when something new came to me I could easily write it in.  To my mind, that’s what really got me through.  It stayed fun because if it wasn’t working, I could just switch viewpoints, kill a character, have her kiss the guy, and  meet my word deadline while carrying on with the story.

I am extremely excited for you, and envious that I won’t be joining you.  I’ve spent the last three weeks trying to figure out when to write this simple post.  (Sadly, it took a weekend trip to my mother’s, which includes a glass of too-strong wine and, more importantly perhaps, no internet connection.  I can’t get my grading done, and she’s entertaining my child.  Ergo, it’s acceptable to write.) Have fun, let me know if you’re victorious.   I’ll celebrate with you, then find the wine my mother shared with me for a solo sulk fest.

The Fear Chronicles: Why I’m not Scared In November

One of the things I said I would write about for Today’s Author was fear in relation to writing. I mentioned in my introductory post that when it comes to having deadlines, fear takes a backseat. And when it comes to NaNoWriMo, fear may as well be in the trunk. There is something comforting about giving myself a challenge, and leaving no room, none whatsoever, for failure. And yes, I would view it as a failure if I didn’t complete my 50,000 words.

So, to avoid this failure, here are some things I’ve done to help me finish my “novels” in NaNoWriMos past and some things I recommend:

  • Turn off the self-editor, and view this month as an extended exercise in freewriting. Freewriting is something I teach to my students in basic writing classes as a trick to just get over themselves. Freewriting lets them initially scrap the things that will matter later: structure, grammar, punctuation, paragraph breaks, an introduction and conclusion, and yes, even content. Just write. Get it out, though it might be crap (it will be crap). Ignore your self-criticizing, self-editing, self-questioning side. Crawl out from under your many neuroses, and let the subconscious take the driver’s seat (ah, the car metaphors are revving up . . . see what I did there?)
  • Remember that production is the essence of NaNoWriMo, its raison d’etre. And community. Embrace those two truths. If you’re not a particularly prolific writer (and I am not), then allow (read: force) yourself to be prolific this one month. If you’re not a particularly communal writer, then force yourself out into your community—meet up with fellow writers at coffee shops and bars, and take some comfort in staring at each other over your laptop screens, faces crinkled in consternation and lit with hellish screen-glows. Make your personal suffering a shared suffering. It makes all that sighing and hair pulling and sudden chair overturning all the more meaningful. No more must you be the crazed first wife of Edward Rochester, thrashing about in the attic of Thornfield Hall, alone and ignored—you can have friends to share in your mania.
  • Check the stats often. One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo is seeing how your city matches up to other cities around the world. You can see if your city is falling behind Rio de Janeiro, or Paris, or the entire city state of Monaco. If you’re competitive, this should get you going.
  • Post on Facebook that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Make others hold you accountable. And post your word count every day, even if it seems annoyingly self-congratulatory. Get those thumbs up and words of praise!
  • View the writing you do in November as a kind of meditation, because it is. As anyone who has tried meditation (or anything that requires consistency…exercising, for example) knows, it sucks in the beginning. It is often painful and feels pointless. But there is something to be said for persistence, and learning the art of longevity. November 1-8 might feel like a jumbled, jangly mess of terribleness, but hang on. As your mind gets into the groove of consistent writing, it will come to crave that time, and the days that follow will change. Sinking into your writing chair, or standing at your computer (as some of us do) to persist in this particular challenge will feel more and more familiar, expected, and ultimately needed. In essence, you are changing your mental make-up this month; you are changing your routine. And that means you are giving your writing itself a (perhaps) much-needed change in scope, in length, in style, in content.

So, don’t be afraid. No fear in November—that’s the mantra. Enjoy what you produce.


23 Reasons I’m NOT Doing NaNoWriMo

nanowrimoNovember 1st-30th–National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to those in the know)–is when the entire world picks up a pen and writes thousands of words a day with the goal of finishing a novel in a month. Words pour from pens like ants racing to an abandoned picnic. People stop going to movies, watching TV, skip football games, all in the name of literary endeavor.

Last year, over 256,000 people participated. Over 36,000 of them were winners, defined in the rules as writing over 50,000 words. The tagline–thirty days and nights of literary abandon–couldn’t be more true. In any month but November, a novel would take from one to ten years to complete, exhaust the writer and infuriate those close to them who don’t understand how fictitious people can be so gal-darn fascinating.

Well, for the fourth year in a row (or the fourteenth if I count from Year One), I’ll be skipping this massive meeting of the minds. I weighed the pros and cons, lined them up on two sides of an 8.5×11 sheet of college lined notepaper, compared and contrasted, and realized it just won’t work for me. Here’s why:

  1. I don’t believe in miracles
  2. To rephrase Ashton Kucher, NaNoWriMo looks an awful lot like work
  3. I have to wash my hair (Is that excuse ever followed by something believable?)
  4. To rephrase Winston Churchill, It has all the virtues I dislike (hard work, cerebral endeavor, camaraderie) and none of the vices I admire (sloth, perspicacity, wordiness)
  5. Some books get clearer the more words you put into them; mine just gets murkier
  6. The ribbon broke on my typewriter (does anyone know what I’m talking about?)
  7. I have to get ready for Thanksgiving
  8. My protagonist’s on strike
  9. I don’t have anything to wear
  10. I burned that bridge last year
  11. Writing a novel in 30 days is one of the things I do best–along with finding needles in haystacks.
  12. I asked my husband if he’d support me in my endeavor. He said, “Sure”, in the tone of voice he uses to tell me the toilets are backed up again.
  13. Of course not. I don’t have to leap into a fire pit to know I’ll get burned.
  14. I don’t usually let sleeping dogs lie, but here, I’ll make an exception
  15. After all is said and done, a h*** of a lot more is said than done.
  16. I can write, but it won’t do any good
  17. If there is a God, he always takes a break November 1st – November 30th
  18. As an efriend once commented, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, wore a hole in it and now use it as a duster”
  19. I like deadlines as much as sticking my tongue on a block of ice
  20. Ever see a car backfire? That’s my brain on NaNoWriMo
  21. The words that would be the roar in my engine never seem to show up
  22. NaNoWriMo doesn’t even beat hitting golf balls in sand traps
  23. The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, moves on

Anyone have one good reason why I should enter? No? You at the back of the room–speak up…

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is editor of a K-8 technology curriculum and technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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The Writers Circle: Previews

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

When you are working on a new piece, be it a short story or a longer work, do people ask to read what you have so far? Do you let them? Or do you wait until the first draft is completed before sharing it with others?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

NaNoWriMo: Are you Coddling your Characters?

It’s October, and I’d hazard that approximately half of the NaNoWriMo population is currently plotting their novels, while the other half is snickering behind their hands over the fact that they aren’t doing anything at all to prep for their novels. There is a long-standing argument over whether or not plotting or pantsing is the way to go, and let’s face it, we all tend to think the other side of the coin is wrong.

But, we’re all in this together, and whether or not you plot now, or you work yourself into a frenzy plotting while you draft, you will likely have to ask yourself this question: Are you coddling your characters?

Excuse me while I duck and cover behind this couch. I can practically hear the screams of, “No! I torture my characters!”

Do you, really? Or do you just think you do? There is a big difference.

Inflicting temporary pain on a character is easy. Using torture for long-term infliction is easy, too. But, do you let your characters escape facing the consequences of their actions?

A lot of writers I’ve encountered forget to do this, and they lose a great opportunity to really torture their characters. It is one thing to hesitate for a moment, be it jumping out in traffic to get a kid out of harm’s way or doing something else that gets themselves or someone else hurt. It is a complete other to have the character make a choice, and then have that choice come back to bite them later. It’s a different sort of impact, when the characters reap what they sow.

It hurts more.

It cuts deeper.

So, how do you know whether or not you’re letting your characters pay the price for their actions? First, you need to track the decisions they’ve made that will bite them later. Then, you need to give the action a consequence that will really, really bother the character. Let them really experience the horrors of what they’ve done. It adds depth to the character, and an edge to your writing.

If you’re a plotter, consider a variable plot line to help you see how the consequences of actions pan out. I already wrote an article about this as a part of a prepping for NaNoWriMo series on my blog.

It is a bit more complicated than just tracking the consequences of actions, however. You need to keep an eye on how your character arcs fall, and how the decisions and actions of your characters drive your plot forward. Whether or not I write it down, I keep track of this stuff when I write. By juxtaposing plot lines and character arcs, it is possible to create round characters with a lot of depth, with plot lines that are a product of your characters and the world they live in.

Plots don’t happen to characters, after all. Your characters create the plot — even if the plot events are created by someone who isn’t present in a scene. Unless you’re working with environmental conflict points, someone out there is responsible for your plot events. Volcanoes don’t tend to erupt because of the actions of a person, which is why environmental conflict points fall outside of the scope of character-created plot points. However, global climate change can be attributed to humans, so you can include that as a character-created plot point.

The line is a little blurred. Play with it. That’s the nice thing about fiction. Present it well, and you can get away with anything.

Are you coddling your characters?

Don’t. You aren’t doing your characters justice, yourself justice as a writer, or your reader justice.

Let them face the consequences of their actions. Let them fall. Let them make mistakes. Let them learn from their mistakes. Let them fail. Let them endure, suffer, and grow stronger.

Heroes don’t need to always succeed, after all. They need to be strong enough to get back up when they fail. That’s what make them a hero. They don’t quit. They don’t give up. They may be broken and bruised, but they aren’t beaten.

And even when they are, they rise up from the ashes of their mistakes.

Let your characters face the consequences of your actions.

Your readers will thank you.

November: A Novel Month

To be bound by a designated entry point, a predetermined finish, and a trivial concern for quality—at least at the initial stage, for the first draft—doesn’t necessarily sound like the finest makings of substantial art (although I don’t know if during this yearly November event you’re asked to do that). Because during your involvement in National Novel Writing Month, ‘NaNoWriMo,’ you are required to achieve a quantity of words that translates to a novel-length manuscript.  The amount is the goal. You’re asked to write continuously, to reach daily checkpoints, and to work without pause and heavy reflection; being overly watchful of your prose may hinder your progress.  It’s daunting, especially because we surely want to write something good and to move on from a sentence, a paragraph, a page of something that we aren’t fully satisfied with requires trust.  And that isn’t always easy.

Although I don’t like the idea of writing a novel in a month’s time, I can see it’s value for others and, therefore, the effort deserves to be celebrated.  Just as January 1st marks the beginning of our newest weight-loss journey and Monday marks the beginning of, well, anything we hope prompts good change, November offers the writer a digestible meal in an otherwise overwhelming feast.  If anything, your involvement in NaNoWriMo will help teach you about your own process, that maybe you are the type of writer that needs to write daily, without self-editing, to just spill it all out.  Or maybe you thrive on a patient year focusing on one longer piece where a month’s time results in the satisfactory completion of ten damn good pages.  Either way, you learn, about you, and that’s a very good thing.

And November is just the start, really.  You will hopefully go back into your novel, repeatedly, to polish it.  Often, the best writing comes in the revision stage.  So if the month works for you, what a great springboard. You’ll have 50,000+ of your words to work with. It’s a commendable endeavor and talking with others that have endured NaNoWriMo before can offer some beneficial pearls. (Maybe even some folks here on this site.)

But it isn’t for me and may not be for others. Hemingway said, “I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.” Having to write a certain amount of words in a day may not allow that approach. And moving on too quickly when writing something I’m deeply engaged in just doesn’t work for me.

That, though, may not be you, which is good. Our craft process takes different forms and you need to be dedicated to yours. So dig your heels in and be kind to yourself daily, throughout. Take some time, perhaps before bed, to softly reflect on how the day’s writing went. What worked well for you? What will propel you the next day? What practice might you scrap?

NaNoWriMo Tips for Success

press-start-nano-2013National Novel Writing Month is met with all kinds of feelings, emotions and opinions each year, by people who are veterans of the event, people who are rookies an people who have never even considered participating.  A lot of people will tell you how fantastic NaNoWriMo is and, it seems, an equal number of people will tell you how bad it is.  2013 will be my 8th NaNoWriMo. But don’t worry, I am not here today to say that you should or should not participate in the event. As Annie pointed out last week, you should look at NaNoWriMo as you look at anything else competing for your precious time: determine what your goals are and decide if participating will help you to reach those goals.  My opinion, as you might guess from my years of doing this, is that if you are a writer who enjoys the feeling of being part of a larger writing community, or needs the incentive to prioritize writing over other things for a while, or simply wants an excuse to “finally write that book I’ve been talking about”, then NaNoWriMo is for you.

Even with my years of experience doing NaNoWriMo, I get nervous and excited and terrified and worked up about it each year. Right now, I have no idea at all what I’m going to write this year.  When I take a deep breath and think back, I’ve never had an idea on October 7.  In fact, I’ve only once had an idea as early as October 30.  And still I’ve “won” every year. Today I wanted to share some tips I’ve found to help achieve success during this frantic, chaotic and exciting writing adventure.

  1. Just keep writing!  As simple and obvious as this may sound, it’s actually something that is important to keep in mind. Since NaNoWriMo’s goal is based on quantity,  it is important to try to write every day, if at all possible, even if you don’t have time to write the 1,667 words “required” to stay on track. Part of the trick of doing NaNoWriMo successfully is to get into the habit of writing. Yes, you should try to keep to the daily word count goal or, if possible; even better, write more and get ahead.  But the bottom line is to write and if you fall behind, don’t panic.  Yes, it can be difficult to catch up, but it is not impossible. My first NaNoWriMo, in 2006, I didn’t even start until November 9. It wasn’t easy to make up the 15,000 word deficit, but nonetheless, I crossed the 50,000 word finish line on November 30.  One additional tip related to this: forget that the backspace and delete keys exist on your keyboard. Put little stickers or pieces of tape with pictures of bunnies or wolverines or the quadratic formula over these keys to remind you not to press them. Save the deletions for December.
  2. Trust your instincts.  If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time overanalyzing each word you put on the page as you write it.  This scrutiny is good for the second and third drafts, but it can be disastrous for first drafts.  Since NaNoWriMo is about getting the first draft down onto the page, you can “lock that inner editor away” and let your creativity run free.  If you feel like you need to write a scene about fresh, organic carrots growing amidst a field of poison ivy, then write it. I’m not suggesting you should just write to pad the word count, so much as to get all of the ideas out on the page. If you feel like you should write it, you probably should.
  3. Allow your characters to do their thing. Your protagonist wants to stop for a latte?  Your character’s boyfriend wants to get a tattoo on his arm featuring his three favorite U.S. Presidents (Fillmore, Polk and Garfield)?  Let them. Your characters can bring your story and your creativity in directions you may not have thought of going; since you are not limited in space by your word count, why not let the characters explore their world and interact with each other?
  4. Drink a lot. Dehydration from hours of sitting at the computer, eating salty, crunchy snacks (see below) while writing those awesome chase scenes can make it easy to forget to drink, I, of course, prefer coffee as my go-to-beverage when I’m writing.  You might be more of a tea drinker and that’s okay, too. Whatever it is you prefer, make sure you have plenty on hand before you sit down to write so that you don’t have to think about it later.
  5. Don’t worry about the small things.  You’re here to write, so let the inconsequential things like laundry or dishes sit there—they’ll be there later, waiting patiently for you.  Do make sure to take the dog out every once in a while, and get the kids to and from school as required by law. Otherwise, though, just write.  One tip: bathing is still highly recommended but somewhat more optional during NaNoWriMo than at other times of the year. You may want to ask your characters if they are okay with you skipping showers, though. You wouldn’t want to offend them.
  6. Eat well.  Chips, pretzels, crackers… salty snacks that are also crunchy are my go to NaNoWriMo food. The carbs provide energy for those long writing sessions and the crunching sound is satisfying as well. For those days when I’m feeling healthier, I might have crunchy fresh fruits and vegetables like celery or apples or peppers. Don’t let your grumbling stomach become a distraction or an excuse for not writing.
  7. Write with friends. Seriously, don’t underestimate the value of getting together with other people who are participating in NaNoWriMo for a writing session. Challenge each other to word wars and see who can write more in a set amount of time or see who can reach a certain number of words faster. Sharing the joys and the burdens that come along with taking on this task of writing a novel in a month can make it a whole lot easier for all of you as you encourage each other to reach the goals. I’ll admit, my friends and I often shame each other into reaching those goals. One year, a friend and I fell way behind and took to the NaNoWriMo forums to publically challenge each other to get it done (we both did reach 50,000 that year, thanks in part to the support of the NaNoWriMo community).
  8. When you get stuck (and you will get stuck), have your characters write a diary entry. Or a blog post. Or give an impassioned speech about the need for broccoli flavored ice cream. I know I said earlier that I’m not a proponent of word-padding and I’m not suggesting that this be your goal here, either.  But I’ve found that when I get myself stuck, either because I got my plot into a corner or I just don’t know where to go next with the story, often times allowing my characters to do something which helps me understand where they’ve been, where they want to go or why they did something opens up new avenues of the story to me.  Understanding what motivates the characters is often the key to understanding the story I’m trying to tell.
  9. Allow yourself to change your method. If you are a planner, give yourself permission to go “off script” if an interesting turn-of-events crops up; if you are a pantser, give yourself permission to write down a quick set of notes if an idea pops into your head for a future scene or chapter. We can often get ourselves locked into a particular method of doing things and this can be limiting.  I am a pantser and I really despise outlines and planning; but when an idea comes to mind, I need to acknowledge that between work and life and the stress of keeping the momentum going, I won’t always be able to keep the ideas in my head.  Jotting them down and putting notes about where the new idea will fit can be a helpful thing for me, despite my distaste for it.
  10. Make a novel cover. But don’t spend a lot of time on it.  I find having a “good” cover inspiring, but I find that since artwork isn’t my forte, I can spend hours, or even days, working on the cover only to never quite get it right.  Stop by the NaNo Artisans forum and see if there’s someone who can help you do what you want. Or have your kindergartener draw your cover for you, then scan it into the computer to use for your novel.  Once it is there, though, get back to writing. You can always change the cover in December.
  11. Experiment. Different styles, different genres, different settings or characters—NaNoWriMo gives you permission to just try new things if you want. No fear, no editing, no judgment.  My 2007 novel was the first time I ever tried my hand at writing fantasy, and I totally loved it. Maybe you want to try your hand at writing some steampunk or supernatural romantic comedy. Why not give it a go in November?  You may learn something about yourself (I learned a few years ago I don’t write romance…). You may find that you absolutely love writing historical fiction. The key is to allow yourself to try.
  12. Don’t say “can’t”.  From their earliest days, I’ve told my children the word “can’t” is not allowed in my house. I believe “can’t” should be on that list of words you’re never supposed to use. Saying “I can’t” is, to me, like giving yourself permission not to try.  That said, “I can’t do this” is a thought that will creep into your mind during NaNoWriMo, usually during the latter part of the second week.  Don’t let it set in! Banish that thought with the arch nemesis of I can’t:  “I am!”  Because you are doing it. You are writing. And you will succeed.
  13. Laugh. Because if you don’t laugh, you might cry.

The “official” goal (and the threshold for “winning”) is to write 50,000 words, of course; I propose, however, that success and winning are not necessarily the same thing and that for many participants, just getting 5,000 or 13,000 words written is the true victory. Your goal for NaNoWriMo is your own. If you see it as a means to just start writing, then use it for that.  If 50,000 words doesn’t matter to you, that’s fine – write 15,000 or 30,000 or whatever you want.  Success is the big pile of words you end up with at the end of the event, those words that you would not have had if you didn’t just start. There is no “failure” with NaNoWriMo, there is only success. So how are you defining success this November? How will you use NaNoWriMo to achieve it?

Oh No! NaNo

Writing blogs and columns have begun their frenzied panic leading up to NaNoWriMo.  There are a myriad of excellent reasons for a writer, regardless of where they are on their journey in their writing career, to enter and participate in this pressure pot of madness.  Having participated and completed a number of times, I believe there is a great deal of worth in focusing on this event and giving it your fullest intentions. However, this post will explore some reasons why a writer can give themselves permission NOT to enter the fray.

Whether you participate or not, its important to have clear reasons.

What are you hoping to gain?

By participating in NaNoWriMo, are you hoping to gain

  • a publishing contract?
  • experience in writing?
  • connections with other writers?
  • respect as a writer?
  • recognition that your book would transfer perfectly as the next blockbuster on the big screen?

Whilst it is possible to achieve any one – or all of these- unless you have your purpose or goal clearly stated, you will not reach it.

Be at peace with your limits

A mild hysteria builds in the writing world from around August. Many measure ‘worthiness’ or ‘true commitment’ to participation in NaNoWriMo, with a certain level of snobbiness attached to a writer’s involvement (or non involvement).

Understand your personal limits, time frames and accessibility to the workload and stress involved. Juggling a young family, work, household duties and community involvement doesn’t simply stop for the month of November. Something has to ‘give’. Unless you have plans for outsourcing duties or postponing a great deal of activities, seriously revisit your commitment to participation in NaNoWriMo. Don’t get sucked into the hype and peer pressure.


It doesn’t mean that you are any less dedicated to your craft or any less serious about following a career path as a writer, if you choose NOT to participate in NaNoWriMo. Thirty days of dedicated writing – 1667 words per day – might not sound like a big deal; but miss one or two days, and the pressure begins to mount as your word count fails to rise. This sort of pressure is not creative or supportive, particularly if you have family and community commitments also pulling at your priorities.

Choose to write 500 well chosen or crafted words per day.

Choose to pull out those first drafts hidden away in a drawer or file.

Choose to redraft, polish and submit stories to competitions, anthologies or publishers.

Choose to support a cause, educate, inform or promote an idea through your writing.

Choose to use your powers for good!

Write for the Right reasons.

Do you have a character, message or plot line burning holes in your psyche?  Participate in NaNoWriMo because you have the passion and drive to deliver this message, not because ‘everyone else is doing it’. For every pursuit, there needs to be a passionate, driving need to continue, which will dispel negativity, tiredness and disparaging comments by family and friends. If the need is not there, by week three you will find a myriad of excuses not to write and end up being disappointed in yourself and your “commitment,” not to mention having to own up to your writing buddies and writers group.

“Writing is rewriting.” 

E.B.White admits that the first draft is easy, but it’s in the redrafts and edits where the true writing emerges.  50,000 words is a great start to a novel – but for most publishers, it’s not the accepted modern day length. (Whereas classics such as Animal Farm are under 30K and many of Asimovs’ works, for example, are 27K; but thats best saved for another argument.)

For those of you who have ‘done’  NaNoWriMo before, I have a simple, perhaps uncomfortable question.

“Where is that manuscript now?”

For 99% of NaNoWriMo winnners, the answer is something like, “gathering dust” or “not seen the light of day since the 1st Dec.”

Seriously, if you were passionate enough to invest 30 days of your time, sweat and for many, tears, then be serious now and redraft, edit and continue what you have started. Consider using this NaNoWriMo month to do something with your draft and either finish it, or begin redrafting so it can be submitted somewhere.

Work out what is important in your life.

As with everything you do, ensure that what you are about to invest a great deal of time and effort into doing will support your life choices. Check in with yourself to determine whether they are in line with your goals and outcomes. Many authors write to entertain themselves, or as a means to unburden from their lives. Look at the process and at the end result of NaNoWriMo and question whether this is something that you want to experience.

Participating in NaNoWriMo may not run along the ideals you have set for yourself in your writing journey.  Don’t get bullied or persuaded to join, simply because everyone else is doing it.

Join NaNoWriMo for the right reasons. Sit it out for the right reasons. But don’t sit on the fence.