Writers in the Storm

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October 30, 2019

Making NaNoWriMo Work For You

by Tasha Seegmiller

Have you ever had the chance to sneak away for a writing retreat? Have you had the chance to experience the synergistic feeling of creating while in close proximity of other creators? One of the best perks is that when temptation shows up, to jump on the socials or play a game on the phone “while you figure out what’s going on in the story”, a quick glance around the place silently peer pressures you back to doing what you went there to do – write.

One of the greatest perks of NaNoWriMo is that it creates a sort of collective, online recreation of a writing retreat. Logging on the website provides the opportunity to see how well other people have been doing, provides a little graph to show where you should be.

That said, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and the word counts and the competition of the whole thing. And it’s easy to get caught up in the guilt and shame should you have a bad day (or two or ten) and get on to see how “far behind” you are. So while I am planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, while I have participated for many years, I always do it with a caveat: Only maintain that speed of writing a story if it is working for the story AND if it is working for the writer.


One of the keys to succeeding at this NaNo event is to consider where you are in your writing. Do you need to do a deep dive revision? Do you need to sort out the muddy middle? Do you have a beginning but then have no idea what to do next? While it is fun to make sure you are playing the game with your writing friends, just because 50k isn’t in your wheelhouse right now doesn’t mean that you can’t use the benefit of this international, month-long writing retreat to your advantage.

Take a break

It can be tempting to keep rehashing a story over and over again. Our mind tells us just one more edit, just one more revision, and it’ll be just right. But if you haven’t put the story in a proverbial drawer and left it alone for at least a month during your creative process, believe me when I say stepping back is the best thing you can do. Play with a different story, keep the writing muscles strong, celebrate the actual act of creating. Then put your NaNo project in a drawer, pull the other one out, and see what your fresh eyes reveal.

Revise, revise, revise.

AKA NaNoReviMo. I didn’t make that up – go ahead and google it or check out the hashtag. A lot of people use the energy of this month to revise, edit, fix, clean up. While the official counter of NaNo won’t really work for this, the same concept is there. Have a daily goal, or consider your month-long goal and break it down. Five pages a day? Ten? TWENTY?!? Whatever it is, you can make a little graph or bullet journal it or create a paper chain. And get after it. Remember the caveat: Only maintain that speed of revising a story if it is working for the story AND if it is working for the writer.

Cheat (kind of)

While the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to start a new novel and get after it, 50k is 50k. If you have a start of a project, use that. If you have almost half a project, use that. Keep a note somewhere that indicates what your word count was when you started (and don’t cheat on this part) and shoot for the 50k from there. The NaNo police aren’t going to come after you just because you didn’t start a new project. Use this as the opportunity to advance your writing.

Set a Goal of your Own

This is a great way to start in on a habit or to have something less on your plate during winter holiday celebrations. You can NaNo all kinds of things in your writing. The key is to trust yourself as a writer (I know, imposter syndrome is a bully, but you can beat it). Want to make the goal to write 500 words every day? NaNoHabiMo (National Novel Habit Month – I think I made that one up). Make an official NaNo profile or don’t.

You get to be in charge here, you get to sort out what you need from this energy, and you know what you need. Do that.

What kind of work are you hoping to accomplish in November? Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? If not, what is your personal goal for November?

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About Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is the president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and studying in the MFA in Writing Program at Pacific University, and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven, is the mom of three teens, and co-owner of a cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

19 comments on “Making NaNoWriMo Work For You”

  1. I have a story that I gave up on over a year ago. I've been away from it long enough to see where I went wrong. I'm already 30K in, but I'm hoping to have those revised as far as I can by Nov. 1st. Then on to write 50K more! It should take me to the end of the book. Good luck to you!

  2. I am once again evading the NANO Police by continuing with my WIP. This time I am labeling it the Finale and starting a new scrivener project for it. I am determined to get this Novel finished this NANO. I'll integrate the previous scenes with the new ones in December.

    1. LMadden, there are so many of us who use NaNo to finish an existing work that they're stopped being so strict about it. In the new site, when you create your project, it has options like "Drafting" vs. "Editing." It's a major mindshift for them, and I like it!

    2. I have evaded the NaNo Police several times. It's also the range of my rebelliousness 🙂 Good luck!

  3. Thanks, Tasha. That, "Put it away" advice is priceless. In my case, I did it instinctively with my current WIP. Your essay told me it was all right. The end was ah, well, uh, it kind of was weak. I'm not at a good point for NaNoWriMo this year, but it's a great process.

    1. I totally understand about the timing of NaNo. Remember, there is Camp Nano in July as well - something to keep in mind as you look forward 🙂

  4. I have a new work I started a few weeks ago

    It won't let me update the ones I did in the past--I may have failed at the time, but I did meet the goal eventually.

    1. Denise, I don't know any long-time NaNo participant who likes the new site. It's annoying to lose the history, the buddies and the links. Their tough love is a bummer, but I'm assuming the new site works better for THEM.

    2. Oh, in this instance I hate the word failed. Did you get words? Were there more than your normal productivity allows? Win/win.

      1. Thanks. I was able to update as completed.

        My kids like to quote from the Ricky Bobby character played by Will Ferrell, and the one which always sticks out is: "If you ain't first, you're last."

        The way NaNoWriMo is hyped, one often feels like a failure if they don't complete it in full in one month. Which is not a normal way to think of it.

        At this point, I probably won't make the goal, not for lack of trying, but things I have to do--can't pass them off to someone else or ignore--just increased.

        I'll just breathe.

  5. I've spent most of October outlining a new novella erom. Trying to hit at least 50K and starting from scratch. I think at this time i have broken out how many chapters I need and I've detailed outlined the first 5 out of 23. Gonna be a whole lot of scrambling but its all in Scrivener so I'm hopeful. Plus I usually spend about 20 minutes the previous day outlining all the things I want to hit in the scene for the next day. Will probably have issues in the middle. But the finale is always there to start writing on when I blank out. If I lose my thread in the middle, I tend to start writing upside down books (UDB's) by writing out he finale and going backward until my beginning and middle are complete. So far i have 3 MCs students in a course and each chapter starts with one of the MCs pov. Plus the teacher gets her say through in 4 or 5 chapters. #polyamory FFF #LGBTQIA Themes freedom of choice, prejudice, love-trust and acceptance. Perhaps a bit of Twin Spirit, since one of my characters is Native American. Should be fun. Outline is pretty much Teacher, MC1, MC2, MC3 repeat 5 times . Lets get this ball rolling. Done my research, checked out some #LGBTQIA books, read some WIKI. See you all tomorrow online.

  6. Great ideas! And the one year I did win NaNoWriMo, I did your Cheat (kind of) idea, where I had maybe 10-20k words already and added 50k. I just uploaded the words I added as my count, but by the time I got through November -- complete first draft! 🙂

  7. I'm finally back to a deep dive revision on a novel I finished a year ago. I think I like the goal of setting a page amount to do each day. I'm going to try that so I can get back into the grooove.

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