Writers in the Storm

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October 19, 2016

Why I Still Participate in NaNoWriMo (After 8 Years and a Book Contract)

Jamie Raintree

I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month event in 2008. I had never written a novel before and had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I'd always loved a challenge. Up until then, I'd only ever written short stories, and any previous novel attempts had stopped at the very pathetic amount of about 5,000 words. I think mostly it was naivety that made me do it. I had no idea what it took to write 50,000 words, let alone 50,000 words in a single month. My ignorance was indeed bliss, and I signed up for that challenge and I wrote those 50,000 words and I kept writing until I finished the book.

I'll always be thankful to NaNoWriMo for one very big reason: it taught me that anyone really can write a book. No anointment required.

It's been 8 years since I could first call myself a novelist, and I've come a long way since then. I've finished two more books and am working on the next. I got an agent with one of those books. And this year, I signed my first book contract. (Yes--my debut novel started as a NaNo project!)

One might say I no longer need the challenge of National Novel Writing Month.

And one might be right.

But that hasn't stopped me from signing up for my 8th time.


It never fails--every year, when the temperature starts to drop, my subconscious knows that NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. I start setting my affairs in order for the month that I will be more or less dead to everyone who isn't doing word sprints with me.

It's not as easy as it once was to commit to NaNoWriMo, now that my schedule is not my own. I did have to skip 2014 because I was in the middle of edits on Perfectly Undone for my agent, and seeing everyone else letting loose with their novels while I sat woefully on the sidelines just about killed me. It convinced me that as much as it was in my power, I wouldn't skip it again.

My passion for NaNoWriMo may seem a little disproportionate for an online challenge where you win basically nothing for hitting your goal (except, of course, 50,000 words on your work-in-progress and some nice writerly coupons), but here are just a few reasons why I'm a committed Wrimo...


Writing in StarbucksI cannot stress this aspect enough. People who have never participated in NaNoWriMo think that the challenge is about hitting a certain word count. It's not.

What NaNoWriMo is really about is the energy of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world chasing the same goal together. The NaNo forums are abuzz with excitement and caffeine 24/7. And I can't tell you how many times I've chatted with other Wrimos well past midnight, cheering each other on to hit our word count goal for the day. I've even met some of my best friends at Write-In events.

There's simply no way to describe the electricity you feel of being so deeply tapped into the writing community. You have to experience it for yourself.


While community is the best part of NaNo, those high word counts are still priceless. It never ceases to amaze me when I look at my stats and see numbers like 15,467, or 25,008, or 42,124. In a matter of weeks! I know I'm capable of producing these kinds of word counts any other month of the year, but without the energy of NaNo, it's much harder for me. I love stepping back at the end of the month and realizing that I have an almost complete draft. It may need a lot of work, but I know so much more about my characters and my story once I've completed the challenge that all the future revising is worth it.

Whether you hit 50,000 words or 10,000 words, the motivation produced by NaNoWriMo will have you impressing even yourself. You'll accomplish writing feats you never thought possible.


Now that I have two kids in school, articles to write, workshops to plan, and deadlines to hit, it has never been harder to tap into my story. I get a solid 1-2 hours of writing in every weekday, but as soon as I close my computer, my mind is back on my to-do list and I'm off racing to the next thing. Yes, the book gets written, but I don't as often get to experience that thrill of the days when I would be unable to fall asleep because my characters had something to say, or I'd wake up with a plot issue resolved and I'd jump out of bed to write it down. My mind is simply spread too thin. During November, though, I set aside as many of my other responsibilities as possible (unfortunately, the kids still have to eat), and I eat, sleep, and breathe my characters.

That kind of connection to story is what we writers live for. But how often do you feel that immersed on a day to day basis?


Sitting down on November 1st and staring a 50,000 word goal in the face feels impossible. No matter how many times I do it, it overwhelms me every year. It's like running a marathon--who actually does crazy things like that? Well, we do. Just writing a book is a crazy, impossible thing and yet, we do it over and over again. Because there's nothing quite like the high of an amazing writing day, and NaNoWriMo is a month full of days like that. Crossing the finish line, tired and delirious with effort, is a feeling like no other. Because you know you did something most people aren't brave enough to even attempt.

And celebrating with your NaNo community afterward makes the win that much sweeter.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? If you're a seasoned Wrimo, what are your favorite aspects of participating?

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About Jamie

Jamie RaintreeJamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

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37 comments on “Why I Still Participate in NaNoWriMo (After 8 Years and a Book Contract)”

  1. Jamie - I'm over the MOON about your sale! (I have a proposal in with them right now) Your book so deserves it!

    Not doing NaNo (not my thing), BUT #3 is critical, I believe, if you're going to finish a book.

    Ask Fae Rowen! I finally got her on the, 'write almost every day', wagon.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, and good luck in NaNo16!

    1. Thanks, Laura! My fingers are crossed for you! It would be VERY cool to be pub sisters!

      Yes, building the habit is definitely one of the benefits I forgot to add. It's so crucial to a writer's success.

  2. I love your energy, Jamie! Wish I could bottle a bit of that.

    I've done NaNo a few times but always seem to be on the wrong side of a manuscript. This time, however, I'm finally in the early drafting phase and looking forward to diving in.

    I have a slight amendment to the #3 - I don't sit at my computer to write every day but I "write" every day. Weekends are hard for me with family obligations, plus life and deadlines get in the way once in a while during "work hours." But even if I'm not sitting and writing, the story I'm working on is in my head. Everything I see/experience is fair game and that's when a lot of story details present themselves.

    Excited to see what your next NaNo project leads to. 🙂

    1. I don't know if it's energy so much as sheer stubbornness. Lol!

      So excited to have you participating this year!! Let's definitely buddy up and check in with each other/cheer each other on!

  3. Jamie - congrats on the sale! I'm so excited for you! I do Nano every year. I'm sad when things don't work out for me to do nano. I've done it since 2008 like you and love it. This year, i have a book due Nov 15 and Dec 31 so nano is in a weird time for me. But I'll still be doing it - just on two different books! I love the community, the focus, everything. I tend to do a mini-nano during the year too on my own. I don't do community write-ins etc but i just love knowing other people are doing it too.

    Good luck!

    1. Thank you so much, Megan! Sounds like you've found success through your NaNo-ing adventures too! Congrats! You are a braver woman than I. Lol! I don't think I could manage it with deadlines so close. But I hope NaNo will be just the thing you need to finish your books strong! Good luck on hitting your goals!

  4. I've only been at an appropriate spot in writing to try NaNo once. It's just not the way I write. The manuscript was a hot mess, and I found I HAVE to fix as I go or I lose the story. That system has worked for 20 books, so I guess I'll stick with it.

  5. Jaime - congrats on the contract! And no, I wasn't going to do NaNo but you've almost convinced me to try it. Unfortunately I'm going to be at the Writers UnBoxed Unconference this year Nov. 7-12 so that cuts 5 days out.

    1. You can do it, Maggie! There are a few insane people who do it in a week, but I routinely do it without Sundays, which also cuts out 4-5 days. And sometimes I start a week late. So 20-25 working days is possible - go for it!

    2. Thanks, Maggie! I'm glad my post encouraged you to give it a look. I'm going to be traveling for 9 days this year and I'm pretty unnerved about it! I'm hoping I can take advantage of the long car rides. It's definitely possible to make it work--you could write more on the days when you're not at the conference, or even use the conference as an opportunity to get more done. I'll bet you won't be the only one there participating so maybe you could check-in with the other attendees and see if anyone would want to meet your for write-ins. If you decide to go for it, I'll be cheering you on!

  6. Jamie, you're managed to capture my reasons beautifully! I resent when I can't do NaNo because I'm in the middle of edits, or when illness takes over, but everything you said is why I get excited. Any chance I can re-blog this?

    1. Definitely will link back. And yes, I'm a GO for this year - I was ready for 11/1 a week ago! Had to set it aside and do other stuff 'cuz it was just calling me to write! 🙂 I'm JenJensen on NaNo if you want to be buddies.

  7. Congrats! I loved Nanowrimo and "won" two years ago, then skipped it last year. This year I plan to finish my WIP. The problem is I'm almost 60% toward that 50,000 word total already, so I'll quit when I'm done and prepare for birthdays and Thanksgiving. 🙂

    1. Fair enough! No reason you can't do NaNo in whatever way works for you. I'm often at least partway into a draft when I start. I do remember one year I finished my book before the month was over so I wrote a few scenes from scratch that I knew were a mess so I could keep adding to my word count. Lol! But being able to enjoy Thanksgiving worry-free is way better. Good luck on finishing your draft!

  8. This will be my fifth time doing Nano. I've sat it out the last few years because I was in editing mode, rather than first draft mode. I am looking forward to the camaraderie of my local region. Like Susielindau, I am already 15,000 into my draft and will be taking the week of Thanksgiving off.

    1. Yay! I bet it will feel really good to be back in the mix after such a long break. I really prefer writing mode over editing mode, which is probably another reason why I love NaNo so much. Sounds like you have a good plan in place--perfect!

  9. I love the chemistry of NaNo - and so need it this year. Thanks for reminding me why I should be excited!

  10. I signed up and hope to generate enough discipline to stay with it. No excuse now just a really different attitude I must develop. When I no longer had to do whatever I just let go of the control. With NANO partners help and push I'm counting on being successful this time.

  11. Yup. I'm in. Very excited to have an excuse to not do anything but focus on my WIP. It's at 27K right now - so I'm finishing that thang! I did NNWM a few years back and it was insanity (in a good way), but I didn't win because I got sidetracked by a personal tragedy. The road looks clear this time - ready to go!

    1. Yay!! I can feel your enthusiasm, Cara! Yes, NaNo is the best excuse to ignore the rest of the world for a month. I have my husband trained to take over. Lol!

  12. I am a total convert to NaNo and Camp NaNo and I am spreading the word among my writing friends. I have 'won' at every session for the past three years. I love the renewed sense of purpose it gives me and that little word count widget is such a great motivator. Because I have established a habit of succeeding, Generally I slip over the word count winning post at Day 23. I am confident I can miss days, or start late in the session and still win although a July 4th weekend away set me up for a lot of stress. Since NaNo and Camp NaNo are such 'good writing places' for me, they are ideal to get me writing the scenes I really do not want to write (usually horrible or cruel events, but that's Grimdark for you). Generally it takes me 4 days of throat clearing and then I am off. My family is supportive and interested - they chase me downstairs to 'write like the wind, Mom' when I would do anything rather than write. Then they get called down to share the congratulations video! We all know that this is a finite time period and an achievable goal. Last year 3 of us ladies in the writing group took on the challenge and we all won. How our newbie wrote the final 20,000 words in one weekend (and it was her wedding anniversary) I do not know! I was checking on her word count progress, reminding her at 10:10 pm she still had to validate the novel to win - I was so proud of her. What's more she wrote an excellent first draft of a story on the basis of an image and a title- her story is beautifully structured with great characters, a real page-turner of a mystery, engaging to the very end. With you all the way!

    1. This makes me so happy!! 1) I love your commitment and your confidence in your ability. I really do think it starts there! To make it to 50,000, you must believe you can, which you've proven over and over. 2) I love that you've made it a family thing! Getting their support, as you know, is priceless. And I'm sure including them in the win video means more to them than you even know.

      Wishing you luck for another successful NaNo!

  13. Congratulations, Jamie 🙂 I did my first NaNo stint for my second book while I was still writing my first. I only got to 15k words with NaNo but it was enough to kick off The Celibate Mouse! I have since finished the third in the series and am about to "do" NaNo next month to kick off the 4th because it has been a problematic time for me. I need the "woosh" to get me going!

    1. This is a great approach! I think NaNo is perfect for starting a new project because I always struggle at the beginning to get moving and figure out my story. Having the deadline forces me to stick to it when I want to procrastinate. Lol!

      Good luck getting Book 4 off the ground!

  14. My first year was 2009. I participated every year, but in 2010 I couldn't get the words to upload so I could validate. Then in 2011 my husband died late in the afternoon, I sort of blew it off. But, I came back in 2012 wrote over 80k, then again in 2013, 2014, and then last year I doubled the goal and made it.

  15. I participated in my first NaNoWriMo in November 2012 on a whim. It had been a long year and honestly I think I needed to work on that story way more than it needed to be written. Four years (lacking three days) later, the story I worked on that month needs to be written because of all the worldbuilding I have done since then. It is the first book in a series after all.

    When I say I started it on a whim, I mean at around 7PM November 2nd I checked out the site due to a comment from one of my new favorite authors, Rose Gordon, in a blog post of hers. I don't think I meant to sign up, but I thought, why not. I'd already been working this story and getting nowhere. I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go even if I wasn't getting there. Nineteen days later I had passed 50K. It was another few days before I could validate it. That was the best NaNoWriMo I have done and I keep trying to beat it. Every time I do NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo my unofficial goal isn't 50K. My official one is, but my unofficial one is 77K.

    I have done every NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo since then. This is my fifth NaNoWriMo and I have eight Camp NaNoWriMos under my belt as well. All of them have gotten at least 50K. Yes, I am that stubborn. And yes, sometimes that is what it is. The first time I told a friend of mine that I was something like 25K behind and I was going to make my word count goal, I don't think she believed me. This July when I told her that she was pretty much, "I don't know how you are going to do that, but I know you are." Now I just have to figure out how to apply that stubborness to the beginning of the month so that I don't get to the last day with 10K left to write by midnight like I did this July (made it with an hour to spare).

    One year for Camp I was traveling in April and had limited access to the internet along with a much slower WPM rate while writing on an iPad and in July I was sick for half the month.

    Of course none of that compares to November 2014. I don't remember what happened, but that was the year I met my friend and I wrote the last 25K in six days with 15K of that being written on the last day of the month. I hope I never get that far behind ever again, but it's kind of fun dealing with that kind of crazy deadline. And besides, now I know I can do that. Of course, the opposite is true. I know I can do that if I procrastinate, again. So there's that.

    Looking forward to having fun with this story. Have fun with yours.

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