October 17th, 2016

Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWrimo 2016NaNoWriMo, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is National Novel Writing Month, where hundreds of thousands of writers gather to bang out many many words in a month. Many writers skip it and many writers treat it as a yearly pilgrimage to Writing Mecca.

NaNoWriMo is my birthday present to myself each year. Every year, I love it. And every year, I hate it…there’s simply too much to do in the tiny little month of November.

Even without my birthday falling at the beginning of the month and Thanksgiving at the end, there always seems to be unexpected craziness. One year it was shingles, another year a family vacation.

I tend to arrive at December 1st a little bit out of breath.

And still, I love NaNoWriMo.

I love the community, the late-night writing sprints, the before and after parties my local team throws. I love the write-ins, the pep talks, the excitement and uploading my word count. I adore getting the chance to encourage my peeps and watch everyone chase their goals.

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you luck in your writing goals this month.

I’d like to address the dreaded phenomenon of the Week Two Wall in the NaNo challenge where the initial endorphins have faded and the grind of the 1,667 words-a-day writing schedule sets in. The shiny has worn right off our shimmery fabulous idea.

Words like “can’t,” “shouldn’t,” and “haven’t” begin to rear their ugly heads. 

We all hate those words, whether we’re doing a writing challenge or not. So before NaNo starts, I’d like to chat about what I consider to be a NaNo “win”:

  • Your very best = a NaNo win
  • Achieving your goal numbers = a NaNo win (ex: my goal this month is 30K, not 50K)
  • Finishing a project = a NaNo win
  • Forming amazing writing habits = a NaNo win

I think people get twitchy about some things that don’t matter during the month of November. You’ve seen this cartoon, right?

NaNo should be fun.

The only word count that matters is YOURS.

However, if you’re still feeling the push to “Go 50K or Bust”… Behold the NaNo Team’s 2012 Tips for Successful WriMos…things we wish we had known for our first NaNoWriMo:

1. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one.

2. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do it! But it’s also fine to just wing it.

3. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

4. Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output.

5. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t.

6. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

7. Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month.

8. Seriously. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

9. There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through.

Above are the NaNo team’s words. They have them squinched together into just a few tips, but I spread it out. All this wisdom needs to be heard. (There’s years of writing pep talks here.)

Now, for my #10. (cadged from an earlier post here at Writers In The Storm.)

10. Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP.

The best is always yet to come because we keep improving the more we do it. I heard Linda Howard speak at a writer’s conference in San Diego some years back and I’ve never forgotten her words, which made me cry at the time.

“Everybody dreams,” she said. “But writers are special because they write down their dreams.”

As writers, we can do anything and be anyone. You can be astronauts or spies or time travelers. Writers can go to amazing places and build imaginary worlds for others to visit.”

The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, the music and the magic of your dreams will never be equaled by the words you put on a page.”

Do it anyway.”

My hope is that this November (and every month), even on those days when you feel that all is lost, when you wonder why you ever believed that YOUR words were important, you keep at it.

Do it because you have to. Do it because you need to. Do it because the act of sharing those words is more than most people will ever attempt.

DON’T STOP, my friends.
Your story is calling you.

Do you participate in writing challenges? Do you do NaNoWriMo? For my WriMo pals, what do you do in advance of November to get ready?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm.

39 comments to Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo

  • You know you’re giving me hives, right? Since I write slow and clean (relatively), the thought of this many words a day gives me nightmares! I’m terrified of breaking my writing process….

    I get the concept. I’m SO glad it works for so many people – even if you don’t win, you’ll end up with more words than you would have otherwise, right?

    That said, I’m not doing it and you can’t make me!!!

  • Thanks for this Jenny! My 1st time heading into NaNoWriMo – Yikes! – and this is just what I needed to hear and truly my biggest goal from this is to strengthen my writing habits going forward and be more productive.

    • Good for you, Donna! Especially when the day job and the school year get demanding, I get out of the write-every-single-day habit. NaNo ensures that I get back in. I love it, every year. Yes, you will have lows, but the community more than makes up for it (at least for me). 🙂

  • Holly Robinson

    Jenny, I have yet to be brave enough to try NaNoWriMo–I’m more of the “Laura Drake” school of writing…but, man, you make it sound tempting. Good luck with it this year!!

  • christopherlentzauthor

    I’m jumping in with both feet this year. I might trip and fall over those feet, but as Laura wrote, I’ll have that many more words on the page(s) even if I don’t get to “the end.” I’m learning to write without my inner editor screaming at me to go back and repair the crappy word trail I’ve left behind me. I have to say, though, it’s liberating. Really. It’s liberating. *he nods three times, hits “post comment” and gets back to writing*

    • Wahooo! So delighted you’re up for NaNo this year. I’m “jennyhansen” if you want to friend up. I just love it, although I never win. It’s the cameraderie for me, and the thought that at one point, I just might have that kind of month. 🙂

  • I tried NaNoWriMo last year but abandoned it because I could not keep up. But this year I realize that I should give it another go. I have been having a problem with committing to writing x number of words a day and need to be more structured. I realize it is not for everyone but with my experience under my belt since last year – I am jumping on the bandwagon!!

    • You go, Cyn!! “Keeping up” is the first trap you want to avoid. Write what YOU have committed to write, not what the meter tells you to. I know it’s hard to look at that progress line going higher than yours, and all your buddies who “win” in like two weeks. Focus on your own line and whether or not it’s moving in a positive direction. Every word you write is a word you didn’t have before November 1. 🙂

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    I always seem to be at the wrong end of a WIP in November. For once, I’m in the early drafting phase though and I am diving in. Not 50k worth because, well, life. But I’m in for a number that fits with the days and hours I have.

  • I’ve written two books during a NaNo and published both. It works for me writing like this. That said, it always scares me when I start. Thanks for the tips.

  • Nope. No way. No how. Not never (and I know that’s a double negative, but that’s how strongly I feel about this… doubly negative). I edit as I go. And NANO is pure chaos. My brain won’t allow me to move on until I’ve rearranged those pesky two words into the prose of their destiny. And it requires much pondering. This is simply the way I’m wired. But have fun, and I wish everyone participating the word count of their dreams.

  • Good luck, Jenny! It’s just too much stress for me. 🙂

  • It’s not the number…it’s the words. Write. Them. Down. On December 1 you discover you can write a story. NaNoWriMo brought out the fiction writer in me.

    Now I’m waiting for National Novel Publishing Month!

  • Fab post, Jenny! And these tips are applicable for writing in general. I’ve never participated in NaNo, but I have done 2-wk fast drafts. But you know what…I’m doing NaNo this year! The boys may go feral and wear dirty clothes and eat off paper plates (laden with takeout food, leftovers, and EZ Mac), but I’m going to give it a go!

    Good luck with your project, Jenny!

  • A friend forwarded this post to me – thank you, friend! I’ve done NaNo twice – first time was a huge success and a fantastic way for me personally to draft a novel, That novel has now been tweaked, edited, 35K words added and is being shopped. Second attempt at NaNo I hit that 2nd week wall and the novel went south and so did the drive to pull it out of the muck. This year, I’m doing NaNo again, am currently in the process of planning the entire book and absolutely can’t wait to begin. Love the challenge, love the rush of accomplishment (and yes the fear of falling behind in that dreaded word count). For me, it acts as my writing discipline.

  • I’m doing it! Scared I’ll cave but I’m going to give it a go. I’ve actually started on my novel but hoping this will reignite the drive!!

  • I’m in again this year – switching genres and excited to dive in! Like, Nov 1 can’t get here fast enough! 🙂

  • I’ve only tried NaNoWriMo once before. While I didn’t “win,” I churned out way more words than I would have without this goal so it felt like a great reward for the time I put in. Honestly, that’s how I approach this: 50k…or as much as I can do. And I think I’m going to dive in this November and see how it goes.

    One thing I’d add to your list, which I learned last time: Honor your writing process. The last time I tried NaNoWriMo, I was following all the advice to “just word vomit,” “write beginning to end,” “don’t look at anything you’ve previously written,” etc. But that doesn’t work for me. Like you, my dear friend Jenny, I finally figured out that I’m neither plotter, nor pantser, but puzzler — I write scenes out of order, then tie them together later. I expect approaching this NaNoWriMo in the way I best write will result in even greater likelihood that I’ll hit my 50,000 words…and be happy with what I’ve written.

    • Oh! That will be marvelous. Kathy Owen is in too, so the three of us can push each other to happy heights. I agree that there are not very many of us scene writers out there – I just don’t know how to do it any other way and keep going. That start to finish thing eludes me. I just took my nun book, wrote down the list of scenes and started rewriting them scene by scene in whatever order came to me. Except this time it’s strong Margie-ized writing. It’s been marvelous. I plan to finish it this NaNo and I am soooo excited.

  • Debbie Johansson

    I’ve done NaNoWriMo a couple of times now. I still haven’t so much as looked at my attempt from last year, but I do know that something good has come out of it, which is a possible trilogy. This time around I’ll be working on something a little bit different and I’m really looking forward to getting started. Good to see we have something else in common Jenny – birthdays! Mine falls on the second week in, so I guess I can blame the expected slump around that time on eating too much cake! 😉

  • Debbie Johansson

    Wow Jenny, we share the same day as well!! Good idea about taking the day off – I might try that. Usually I take the weekends off and cram the writing in during the week when the kids are at school. 😉

  • Hey Jenny, I’m looking forward to another NaNo. I doubled the expected word count last year. 🙂

  • Oh I forgot to mention it’s still waiting in queue for its turn at editing and revising and polishing. I’ve been stuck on my 2012 or 2013

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