NaNoWriMo: It Should Be Your First Step, Not Your Excuse


18691SD2November is upon us, and with the close of Halloween and the beginning of a new month you might be seeing across various social media platforms “daily word counts” being posted, sudden concerns about productivity, or rants over applications like “Scrivener” or “Write or Die” when they unexpectedly crashes. If this is happening to you, I’d recommend stocking up on coffee for your friends and patience with yourself. November is the month of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve seen writers react both positively and negatively over the event. The positive sentiment usually constitutes cheerleading, tough love advice, and an overall celebration of hardcore, P90 X-style word-herding. The authors who loathe NaNoWriMo? They hate it with a passion, and don’t get the nay-sayers started on the NaNoWriMo instances that see publication. That’s some prime vitriol there.

What’s my opinion on NaNo? Anything that gets people writing, I think, is a good thing. NaNo is an incredible challenge. Fifty thousand words in a month when people are planning family get-togethers and massive multi-course dinners? That’s amazing. I know how tough it is to plan for a podcast around book appearances, and yet here are these writers both experienced and brand-spanking-new all making a mad push across 30 days. Seriously, that takes guts and I got nothing but love and admiration for that sort of drive.



There are some writers I’ve met who have told me that NaNo is the only time in the year when they write. For some of these writers, they need NaNo to light a fire under their asses. It’s that “mob motivation” that gets them moving. There are other writers who live for the thrill of the deadline. Knowing that you have to finish by November 30 is a bit like betting on sports or playing the slots in Vegas. You’re gambling against your own talent, abilities, and reputation to reach that final day of the month with over fifty thousand words to show for the effort.

Then there are the writers who tell me “This is when I’m allowed to write.”

Wait. Hold on. Say what?

I honestly don’t know if this is an agreement between partners or if this is some weird regimen that writers have inexplicably convinced themselves that November is somehow a magic month for ideas and productivity. While this would be a good time to say “Nothing wrong with that. You do you.” I don’t get this midset at all.

According to the NaNaWriMo website…

National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.

See, this goes way deeper than just one month of intensive writing. NaNo offers people who have always wondered “Could I be a writer?” a chance to see if they really can crank out the words for a novel. Regardless of your background, if November is the only month out of twelve when you “allow” yourself to write, I encourage you at stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. The goal in NaNo is not to write a novel but to just write. Let’s say when December 1 rolls around, you only have 40,000 words to your name. Should you be disappointed? Well, in this humble writer’s opinion, NO! You have half a novel in front of you. Why stop when December 1 arrives? I’ve seen NaNo participants chuck ideas because they “didn’t make the goal” and this is when I pull my hair out.



It’s not about making the goal. It’s about getting your butt in the chair and writing.

This brings me to what I believe is the other lesson to take from NaNo. You’ve just spent 30 days writing your heart out. You forced yourself into a brain-numbing routine of getting words on paper. Now, on December 1, you’re going to just stop? For the love of God and all that is holy—why?

I mentioned this is a recent blogpost I did for…

Setting a pace is so important. Maybe “2000 words a day” is good goal to shoot for, but start off with a 500-word count. Keep with that for a month. Get into a constant, consistent zone of productivity. Remember, this is a long game we’re playing. Not a sprint.

Now regardless if you pushed yourself across the 50K goal or fell short, you’ve already knocked it out of the park with the 1000-2000 words-a-day pace, so how about doing something reasonable on December 1. Take a breath. Give yourself a break. Then, on December 2, set a pace closer to 500 words. Should be easy enough to do after NaNo, right? Continue on your NaNo project, or for a change of pace, do something different. Whatever it is—a blogpost, a short story, or a new novel—write. Write in December. Write in January. Keep writing, because that is what writers do. NaNoWriMo is not your once-a-month getaway. It’s your first step. Go ahead and follow through with the next one. And the one after that.

istock_000021621315xlargeSo here we are in Day 4. I’m seeing the word counts, and I’m seeing posts of optimism and raw hunger to make the November 30 goal. Good luck and good hunting, NaNoWriMo participants. You got this.

But when December 1 rolls around, challenge yourself again. Instead of saying “Well, there always next year.” ask yourself “What’s next?”

Because that is what writers do.


  1. I love this time of year for the motivation it gives me to get moving. I tend to use this month as a springboard for the rest of the year, even if I end up settling around the 25-30k a month instead of 50. I start writing in November and usually don’t slow down until April when Summer SAD kicks me in the teeth.

    Even then, I’m involved with a critique group, trying to edit one of those earlier attempts so it looks like a real novel instead of a pile of words, and multiple drafts that need to be finished.

    I’ve been doing this fifteen years now, and hit their goal nearly every year, but have yet to have a 50,000 word draft. They’re usually 75,000 at the shortest, but usually ends up around the 85-90k range.

    And then the real work begins…


    1. I’m trying to think of a good post for NaNoEdMo, an event that should get way more press than it usually does.


  2. I wrote my first finished novel thanks to NaNoWriMo. It’s what sort of gave me permission/lit a fire under me. I did exactly what you (and I both, now) rightly urge NaNo’ers not to do, Quit. Eventually, though, doing NaNo and following the example set by working writers, and the desire to BE a working writer made me keep going year round. For me, NaNoWriMo was a gateway drug, if you will. I don’t think there’s a right way or wrong way to be a writer, but if you’re only writing one month out of the year and you’re not finishing things, you’re missing out.


    1. If NaNo is your gateway then more power to you. I just find it quite limiting for writers who only write in November. It’s a real loss to the other ideas and inspirations that can come to you throughout the year.


  3. I disagree, partially. A lot of the people doing Nanowrimo aren’t doing it as a job(even if they may dream about it during November). They’re doing it as a hobby. Those people deserve to have the maximum amount of fun while doing it. My second point of contention is that you’re assuming everyone else’s writing routine looks like yours. Some can’t get into the rigidness of routine required for a daily goal, 500 words or not. Their interactions with their muse are still valid even if that is writing only at 4pm on idle Tuesdays(as an example). I do agree that somebody who says they can’t write outside of Nanowrimo at all gets my raised eyebrow, but I invariably shrug it off as them being hobbyists, like those who will binge watch an entire tv show in 24-48 hours. That’s an intense hobby but hey, you do you. Oh, and yes, people who publish without editing irritate me as well… I simply condider that part of a different problem (all authors are writers, but not every writer is an author, kind-of-thing).

    Personally, it takes me about four months to write a 70-75k novel outside of Nanowrimo(I still have a day job but I admit, like Baymax, I am not fast). During Nanowrimo, OTOH, I can get it mostly done in a month (Around 60-65k and them I need two-three weeks of reading & rest before jumping back in because my tendinitis will be flaring) so though I write/edit year-round, I use use Nano to get a jump on whatever my next WIP is. I am not currently published, but I should be soon. My novel is going out to my editor today and once I get it back, I’ll be trying to figure out self-publishing; I may have researched it, but since its my first, I assume that it will be a case of no-plan-surviving-contact-with-the-enemy.


    1. Hi there, Brandy.

      I see what you mean about expecting people to have the same writing routing as me although I would argue I don’t expect that. At all. I can see how I’m coming across like that (ah, the joys of blogging from the hip…) but I’m asking “You just went through a grueling 30 days. Coming up with a regular routine should be easy.” In that other blogpost I cited, I talk about pace and how everyone’s is different. I’m recommending that, if you want to go beyond the hobby, find a pace that works for you. It might be five days a week and 500 words a day. Maybe more. Maybe less. So long as you find the pace that fits, and that you want to go beyond the hobby.

      I’m with you on binge-watching a show, though. I can do two episodes in a day. Four max. I think the closest I’ve ever come to true binge watching was Firefly. I know. Shocker, that.

      These are all great points you bring up. Thank you for taking time to read and reply. And hey, if you have any questions on self-publishing, drop my wife Pip and I a voicemail at 703-791-1701 or email me. We’ll talk about your question on The Shared Desk.


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