Shawn L. Bird

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writing-NaNoWriMo October 18, 2020

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:29 pm
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November swiftly approaches, and for writers around the world that means the question hovers, “Should I participate in National Novel Writing Month?”

In case you’ve not heard of this event, it’s promoted on as a way to encourage folks to accomplish their dream to write a novel. The challenge is to complete 50,000 words in the month.

That’s 11, 669 words a week.

That’s 1667 words a day.

For 30 days.

Those who complete a 50,000 word manuscript ‘win’ and are eligible for assorted prizes from writing related businesses. (Those who participate but don’t ‘win’ are also entitled to some prizes)

It’s good to be able to plot your progress on the graph and see your project grow.

It’s empowering to be productive.


It’s also a slog. My non-writing friends don’t like my social media feed during NaNo because it’s all about word-count, recalcitrant characters, exhaustion, and frustration.

Because it’s all about word-count, I’ve noticed my writing quality suffers. I have four NaNo ‘winning’ books in my computer that my editors and I have not been able to make publishable yet. There is something fundamentally off about them. I blame the pressure of NaNo. They’re not ‘winners’ to me, because they’re still sitting there in the computer years later.

When I was writing my first novel, within 3 weeks I realized I had settled into a pace, so I made that pace my quota. 1200 words per day Monday to Friday. 6000 words a week. On the weekend, I could catch up, or get ahead as I liked, but I didn’t have to write if I didn’t want to. I had days off if I’d earned them by keeping to my quota. This system worked brilliantly, and the 155,000 word novel was finished in 6 months. (It was 23 weeks, specifically, that averages 6740 words a week).

It was good. I pitched it successfully to a publisher six months after I finished it. It’s an example of ‘slow and steady wins the race.’

I have 13 books in the world, and none of them were NaNo projects. My NaNo projects remain problematic.

So be careful.

If you’re going to embrace NaNo, here are some suggestions:

  1. have your project planned so you have a general (or very specific!) direction in mind and you’re writing with a purpose rather than wandering around the page for the sole purpose of getting words out.
  2. give yourself a schedule that allows you to get some guilt-free breaks. Self-care is important! 12,000 words a week could be 5 X 2400 words, for example
  3. consider a re-frame. You might enter the month with “I will do this or die trying!” That was my general attitude, but the resulting books were a waste of my time. Had I considered ‘anything is better than no words written’ and just focused on writing something everyday, the quality may have been better!
  4. Everything writing counts. If you don’t start your planning until Nov 1- all those planning words are legitimately part of the project. πŸ™‚
  5. Try new ways to write. Some people find they can increase their word count by dictating instead of typing.
  6. People write novels in a month all the time. Some writers write 10,000 words a day routinely (I’ve done it Nov 28 a time or two… ). You won’t discover your abilities until you’ve tried, so try, and if ‘winning’ is important, push through to achieve the goal.
  7. When you’re done, and a few weeks after the thrill and exhaustion of the success has worn off, look with objective eyes at your project. What have you learned? Is that fast-paced sprint good for your writing process? If so, make it part of your practice. If it’s not good for you, try something else to see what is the best way for you to produce projects of the quality you demand.

I have learned that NaNo is not good for my writing practice. I happily participate in the April and June Camp NaNo events when one can set personal goals, and the projects I’ve done then have been completed and published.

These days I don’t feel guilty for letting November go by as I wave at my frantic colleagues. I’ll plug away on my projects without stressing over word-count, and know I’m producing something better than I could do at NaNo pace. I wouldn’t have learned this if I hadn’t tried so many times, though, and seen the unfortunate pattern. It’s worth doing to discover whether it’s a pace that works for you.

Do or do not, it’s up to you!

How about you? Have you done NaNo? What was your experience?


15 Responses to “writing-NaNoWriMo”

  1. I kind of put those things in the same class as organised 5k/10k runs etc, lol. The organisation factor of it takes away the fun, for me. And it’s not as personal to me. I mean I’m saying that having not tried any of these writing challenge things, so I never say never.

  2. I’ve noticed the same thing!

  3. I write, and I don’t class myself as a writer more a grubby handed collection of strange thoughts that inhabit a woodland in the outer reaches of a windy island. I used to tweet,in fact it was about as close to human contact as I wished to be but with more conversation,and this became my downfall. Writing challenges became interesting.from there I shared my thoughts to the nether regions of nowhereland and to see someone who has thirteen books and writes so many words!.well I’m spellbound and will continue in my own little way to share the roots of writing books by inhabiting my crow scorned patch of dampness and planting trees

  4. Sumyanna Says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve always felt guilty for not joining in – but I my writing would suffer the same fate. I’m more of a slow and steady kinda person.

  5. I finally published my “winning” novel from 2008 this year. Hope the sequel I’m planning for this NaNo doesn’t take that long.

  6. Kellie Says:

    This is really good advice and resonates with me, I did it once but haven’t gone back!

  7. […] ‘Writing – NaNoWriMo’ by Shawn L. Bird […]

  8. Helen Says:

    I’d have to agree that nanowrimo is not for improving your writing. Nanowrimo is for getting your ideas out. Sometimes when you are at a cafe into the wee hours of the night, typing away… that is one of the best times and best ways to write. I’ve gotten plenty of inspiration from just typing and letting my characters go wherever they please

    • I encourage timed writing for getting ideas out, for sure, but after an hour, it’s just so much babble and for me, the excessive amount of editing required after NaNo is not worth doing the job better in the first place.

      My NaNo goals will be consistent practice and getting back to a daily post here, rather than 1667 words a day.

      • Helen Says:

        That makes sense. Definitely don’t want to write anything that is worth … well… crap. If it’s crap then then it’s not worth doing at all. I think the point of nanowrimo is not to just write but to create quality words and content. The word goal is a guide, a goal for us to strive towards. Even if we don’t reach the 50,000 then it’s ok because we wrote something in November. We wrote something that will hopefully count toward a novel

      • lol I do subscribe to the first draft motto “Write crap!” but giving yourself permission to write, knowing the first draft is going to suck, and actually being so deep in the latrine you can’t get the stink off is something entirely different. lol

        Good luck on your NaNo projects!

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