So You’re Going To Try NaNoWriMo

What the hell is NaNoWriMo you might ask? Nasty Norwegian Wriggling Monkey? Nabbing No Writing Money? National No Writing Month? That last one is closest to the heart of it. The event is called National Novel Writing Month, and it’s a time of year when a whole gaggle of would-be wordsmiths put fingers to keyboards and write the most awful strings of exposition and purple prose this side of a Fifty Shades novel. This November, a few hundred thousand people will sign up at so they can post in the worldbuilding forums, discuss all the cool software and hardware they’re going to use so they can write anywhere and everywhere (this includes a 240 comment long thread on typewriters), update their signatures and blog sidebars with progress meters that show unicorns galloping towards their goals, and maybe, just maybe doing a spot of writing. I should know, I tried it once.

Don’t Take It Too Seriously

As much as I think NaNoWriMo is a fun idea for people who want an excuse to focus on writing over everything else for a few weeks, I do worry that it sets people up for failure. According to the NaNoWriMo 2012 stats, they ‘had 38,438 winners, giving us a 11% win rate.’ That means 89% of participants failed and probably ended their November with the angry scorpion of rejection following them around and jabbing them with its two-pronged stingers of self-loathing and suckiness.  302,937 participants did not meet their 50,000 word goals. Yes, yes, a lot of those people signed up and never came back, but the fact remains that most people will fail. Those people will then avoid writing until the following November when they try and fail again. It’s a bad way to jump-start a career as a novelist, because it’s too easy to take your performance in this silly little game as indicative of the complete extent of your writerly capabilities, which is a stupid thing to do. Again, I tell you this from a place of personal experience.

How To Not Fail This Year

It’s hard to jump into writing EVERY day of the month. The 1,667 word per day goal constantly being bandied about means that missing one day immediately puts you in the hole. If you’re already falling behind on your count, how are you going to catch up with a bigger effort the next day? A better goal would be 2,273 words per day. This November has 22 viable writing days if we discount weekends. Plan to write 2,273 words EVERY day, and you won’t fall as far behind when you ultimately miss one because you had a hard day and you really needed to pizza-funnel a cold IPA into your gullet while watching the last two episodes of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. you missed because you were writing. It’s appropriate, right? It’s an acronym, NaNoWriMo is an acronym? You’ll make it up tomorrow morning before work. (Spoiler alert: you won’t make it up tomorrow.)

Now that you have a reasonable word goal, lock your kids in the basement and send your life-partner to the attic, it’s time for an opening weekend write-fest. Call in sick on Friday (Nov 2) and don’t put on pants until you’ve completed a minimum of 10,000 or 15,000 words. Even if you’re a weak-willed slave to your corporate overlords, you can still manage to bust this out before going back to your day job. If you get home from work at 7pm, you have 60 good hours until you probably have to head out the door again at 7:00 Monday morning. Stay up late. Don’t watch TV. Ignore your loved ones. Cover your living room with newspapers and kitty litter so your animal companion won’t need walkies. Go back to work tired, it’s just a stupid job and yours probably doesn’t matter much anyways. You’re now only four days into the month, you’ve got a fifth of your novel completed, and you only need to write 1886 words a day with permission to take 6 whole days off before the month is out. Don’t schedule your days off, reserve them for emergencies. This might seem like it’s a matter of a few hundred words here and there, but don’t underestimate the psychological impact of getting ahead by even a thousand words.

The only absolute guaranteed way to not fail at NaNoWriMo this year is to not stop writing. Write fast. Don’t stop. Schedule your writing time, stick to your schedule, try to break your keyboard. Don’t edit, just write. Produce, produce, produce.

Don’t. Stop. Writing.

Make writing your priority and sit down to do it every day. Block off two hours and make with the typey typey and the clickety clackety. Sign out of your social media accounts, have your significant other or best friend (or the UPS guy) change your passwords, and ask them not tell you what they are until December One. Write purple, write lean, write wasted, write clean. Maybe avoid writing in rhyme if you can help it. If you’re not picking up what I’m putting down by now, then delete your NaNoWriMo ambitions from your brainhole, because you’ve already failed.


Get drunk, party like a rock star, and go write another novel. A winning NaNoWriMo draft is going to weigh in at somewhere around 140 pages of paperback writing. Sure, you can jump into the editing phase and polish your rough draft until it’s ready to self-publish in the Amazon, but what you probably ought should do is to write something of a more reasonable length. Think 75,000 to 100,000 words. Aim higher than 100k if your book contains at least one wizard or a sword with more backstory than the main character. Writing one novel is a fine accomplishment, but it’s just practice. Write a few more books and you can always come back to clean up that NaNoWriMo project once you have a better idea of what you’re doing.

 If You Really Want To Write A Novel

There are much better ways than NaNoWriMo to write a first novel. Small daily word goals over a long period of time are the best bet for anyone who actually wants to complete a workable first draft, but doesn’t know where to start. Consider the following plans that assuming you only write five days out of each week.

  • 350 Words Per day: Go read this: HOW TO PUSH PAST THE BULLSHIT AND WRITE THAT GODDAMN NOVEL: A VERY SIMPLE NO-FUCKERY WRITING PLAN TO GET SHIT DONE. Chuck Wendig outlines a 350 word per day plan to have a 91,000 word draft completed in one year. Sure, it’s a whole year, but 350 pages is literally just minutes of work every day, and haven’t you already spent seven years thinking about writing your novel anyway?
  • 500 Words Per day: At this rate, you can have an 80,000 word first draft completed in 32 weeks. That leaves 20 weeks of the rest of the year to work on edits.

Should I Not Participate In NaNoWriMo Then?

NaNoWriMo can still be fun for people who want to hack away at a writing project alongside what seems like every other person on the internet. The whole thing is completely arbitrary, so you can use this opportunity to try to write four short stories of more than 5,000 words each or you might use it to jumpstart your big project and aim to set the habit of writing your 500 words per day alongside the other people going for the big 1,667. There’s a palpable amount of writer-stoke going around the social webs these days, and it’s hard to not get caught up in the collective energy of so many people all trying to write interesting stories at the same time. If nothing else, it can make this extremely solitary profession feel a little less lonely. Do it because it sounds like a fun challenge, or do it because you want to try your hand at focusing on writing, but don’t use it to judge your aptitude for being a pro writer. It’s just fun and games, and as long as you can keep it in that realm, go ahead and NaNoWriMo your little heart out.

25. October 2013 by Mark Feenstra
1527 words | Categories: Writing | Tags: , , | 1 comment

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