November 1st, 2021

3 Myths (and Some Motivation) About NaNoWriMo

by Jenny Hansen

NaNoWriMo, 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.

I'm always surprised to hear how people describe NaNoWriMo, before they've tried it and even after they've participated. I'm even more surprised by the myths that surround this writing challenge. I've been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2007 and I promise to tell you everything I know...

Truths and Myths about NaNo

There are a lot of interesting sentiments bandied about regarding this unique writing challenge.

  • 50K or bust!
  • I don't eat or sleep during NaNo.
  • Word Count Envy is REAL.
  • NaNo Prep is vital.
  • The graphs and tools keep me going.
  • The graphs freak me out.
  • If I don't make 50K, I feel like I failed.

The reality is that for many writers, especially indie authors, fifty thousand words in a month is just considered "a professional pace." If you're putting out 4-5 books in a year, this is absolutely true. But I know many many slower writers who keep a pace closer to twenty-five thousand words and the pressure of NaNoWriMo freaks them out.

Fact: November is an insane month for me each year.

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.

I've learned to take a more holistic approach. NaNoWriMo is my birthday present to myself each year. Most years, I love it. And some years, I hate it. And every year I throw my hat in the arena and try.

During yesterday's NaNo Prep webcast, Author Emily X.R. Pan shared a true thing: "The spirit of #NaNoWriMo is doing what you're capable of doing."

Myth #1 - 50K or Bust

The 50K total started with a bet between NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty and one of his writing friends. It was arbitrary number. It was weird and it was fun...so they did it again the next year.

This whole challenge is about fun and community, about writing a bunch of words and drinking a bunch of writer-y beverages. It is absolutely not about you feeling like a writing loser because you don't have 50K worth of words in your November schedule.

We have lives, people. And jobs and families. And stories we really really want to finish.

This year I'm participating in two regional groups and two personal groups. I logged into OhWrite to create a sprint room with a timer (now that the NaNo site has dropped that tool). I even pre-ordered the Winners t-shirt, just in case.

Maybe one of those things will help push me across the 50K line.

Fact: I have won NaNoWriMo only one time.

Julie Glover and I were accountability partners that year and we met for a lot of word sprints that November. My normal total is somewhere between 12-30K, and every year I am happy to have those words, and the momentum the challenge builds to keep me writing at that pace through the end of the year.

Moral of the story: Your NaNo buddies will pull you through every time. (Partly because Word Count Envy really is kind of a thing.)

Myth #2 - NaNo Prep is VITAL

Here's what I know - it's November 1st, and most of you reading this have not done any of the NaNoWriMo prep.

So what? The majority of my American pals who win have never done the prep. They just sit their butts in a chair for 1,667 words a day until they're done

Fact: most of them front-load their word count with some crazy writing sessions and try to finish by Thanksgiving so they can take the holiday off.

However...

  • If you want to see some of the prep tools, go here. There is also a manual you can download on this page.
  • If you need some writing motivation and want to see the Pep Talks, go here. (They're from the likes of Anne Lamott, Andy Weir, and Diana Gabaldon.)

Quick Prep and Mindset Changes

If you're still feeling the push to for 50K, behold the NaNo Team's 2012 Tips for Successful WriMos. (These are the things the rest of us 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.

Myth #3 - The First Half Is Harder than the Second Half

This is patently false. While the first few days are quite exciting, especially for the newbies, it is all a challenge. And those wordcount graphs actually get harder to look at the longer you go on, especially if you are behind.

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. Often the shiny has worn right off our shimmery fabulous idea.

This when it's time to throw out all those nasty words: can't, should, won't. We all hate those words, whether we're doing a writing challenge or not.

Today, before NaNo heats up, 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 true goal this month is 30K, not 50K)
  • Finishing a project = a NaNo win
  • Forming amazing writing habits = a NaNo win

Note: Nano should be fun. And The only word count that matters is YOURS.

Motivation is key.

Obviously I love NaNoWriMo.

I love the community, the late-night writing sprints, the before and after parties my local team throws, even thought they're still virtual. 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.

Final Thoughts

Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP. Give yourself grace when you need it, and keep your goals in sight. You've got this.

The best is always yet to come because our writing improves with every word we write. And our words on the page will never quite match the music and pageantry in our heads. New York Times bestselling author, Linda Howard, gave the best advice for this:

"Do it anyway.”

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?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny Hansen provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate 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 Facebook at JennyHansenAuthor or at Writers In The Storm.

21 responses to “3 Myths (and Some Motivation) About NaNoWriMo”

  1. Julia Archer says:

    "The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse." Priceless!

  2. lrtrovi says:

    Wish I had discovered that Nano prep page of tips and exercises before now 🙁 Thanks for the post!

  3. Teddi says:

    Well, you've sold me on trying it.

  4. deleyna says:

    I absolutely love NaNo! We had sprints at 1am last night.

    The word count winner of our first sprint had no idea what she was going to write when the timer started.

    Evernote has some planning templates for writers and I've been trying some of those this year in place of actual prep.

    And Happy birthday! NaNo is my favorite season. Just participating is fun. I've managed to win almost every year, and the one year I didn't created a story that still pulls at my heart.

    Our local group uses Discord for sprints. And of course there are the LWA write ins, too!

    Let's sprint!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      My birthday isn't for several days still but many thanks. I love that I get NaNo for my birthday every year, but I love most of all that you are up late doing writing sprints. Yes, PLEASE, I want the deets on all that!!

      • deleyna says:

        LWA Write-in is open to everyone. 5:30PM Mountain Time, Wednesdays (Thursday mornings in Australia). https://www.margielawson.com/product/lwa-write-ins/ (hope link is okay - pull it if it isn't...) It's free, and a lot of fun. Run by Jenn Windrow.

        I was amazed at how encouraging it can be to write WITH other people around. Even if you are all silently typing away, the energy is fantastic.

        We'll definitely need to sprint together. NaNo is the best time of the year for me.

        • Jenny Hansen says:

          OOOOOOOO - I hadn't even thought about LWA write-ins. Nice! WFWA has weekly and daily write-ins too. I tend to want to sprint between 10 pm and midnight, so I'm delighted to hear that you are a late-night writer.

          • deleyna says:

            It all depends on whether the hubby is home or not. LOL. When he's not...I'm usually up working! And in November, that means writing!

  5. Oh, I loved this, Jenny! After so many NaNos, I know all of what you say is true. I slightly delayed drafting a novel just so I could do it during NaNo this year. Does that make it nostalgia? Maybe. This will be my 8th NaNo. My personal tradition is to stay up until midnight and write at least 500 words so I'll rise to the story already started.

    Thing is, the tradition started for a different reason back in 2014. My first NaNo was begun reluctantly. I was talked into it and made the decision to join at 11:30PM on the 31st. In those 30 minutes I setup my account, brainstormed some character names, and wrote down some thoughts on a story that'd been on my mind. Then, to relieve my nervous energy, I started writing.

    These days I begin with a narrative outline and other prep. I've perfected my approach and removed the stress, but it's still fun.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love your NaNo story! It's addictive, all that excitement and shared goals and focus on writing. Plus, every year I meet new friends and connect with long-time buddies who I only really cross paths with in November. It's awesome.

  6. amyskennedy says:

    Welp, I wasn't going to do nano this year, but, my friend, you have changed my mind! Weeeeeee

  7. Last year was the first time I attended NaNoWriMo. I rarely write more than 500 words in a sitting, so a bit over three times that seemed daunting. I tried writing in chunks. This worked for me.

    I started thinking about a possible story in October, and had a general idea of the main points, the main characters, and location by November.

    When I wasn't sure "what happens next" I took a break to clear my mind. That's when the next part of the story popped in for me.

    I'm about halfway through editing that story.

    Not editing as I go was probably the most difficult part of the process for me.

    I will join NaNo again next year for sure.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Congratulations on getting the words down for that story you're now editing. I love to hear that. It's astonishing how many New York Times bestsellers started as NaNo novels.

  8. dholcomb1 says:

    I have so much on my plate this year, I decided to skip it. I barely had time for my birthday, and somehow Thanksgiving is next week.

    denise

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