To Nano or not to Nano

In case you haven’t figured it out by the last three MGC posts, NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It is the bane and the boon of many writers. We look forward to it with excitement and, at the same time, more than a little fear. Excitement because of the challenge and fear because how in the world are we going to write a complete novel in a month?

True confession time. I’ve done NaNo several times before but only once “officially”. By that I mean that I’ve only signed up on the national site once. Part of the reason is I’m not much of a joiner. Part was because I did NaNo for myself and not anyone else. So why join a national site? Shrug. That’s my warped sense of reasoning there.

Anyway, at our last critique group meeting, I asked the other members who would be taking part. Two instantly shot their hands up in the air. They first took part last year and discovered the goal of writing 50,000 words over the length of a month helped motivate them into putting butt in chair and words on the page. The others looked at me with varying degrees of non-comprehension to fear. So, after explaining exactly what NaNo is, I started trying to address the fear.

And this is where I deviate from the traditional goals of NaNo.

When you tell someone that they have to set a goal of 50,000 words over 30 days, eyes will glaze, complexions will pale and breathing becomes shallow. You can smell the fear in the air followed almost instantly by denial. There is no way they can write that much. They have jobs and families and real life and and and. . . .

So I go straight to the heart of NaNo, at least to me — committing to do something for the month. Not every writer writes novels. They write short stories or flash fiction. The thought of having to write long works turns their stomachs and they dig their heels in. Then there are the writers who agonize over every word. A good day for them is getting a couple hundred words down on paper. Then you have the writers who edit as they go. How in the world are they supposed to write an entire novel — and edit it — in 30 days?

So here’s my approach. You set a goal. Preferably, you accept the full 50k word challenge but, if that blows your mind to such an extent that you shut down, you set something more realistic — and you work toward meeting it. You don’t beat yourself up if you fall short on your daily goal. The final goal at the end of the month is what you have to keep your eye on. Sit butt in chair and write. Plain and simple. Write.

Something else you have to keep in mind is that you don’t have time to edit when you are doing NaNo — at least most of us don’t. So you have to turn off the internal editor and just trust yourself. Editing will come after you finish the challenge. Since 50K words is a very bare bones novel for most of us, we’d be going back anyway to fill in the blanks and flesh out the details.

What I have found NaNo does best is teach writers to trust themselves to write. It might drive plotters crazy because you don’t have time to site down and do a detailed outline — much less fight your characters to keep them sticking to your outline. For pantsers, it is an exercise in letting yourself go but with the knowledge that it needs to make enough sense at the end of the month that you can edit it into a workable manuscript.

Another way I deviate a little from the original goal of NaNo is that I don’t insist on folks starting a brand new piece for the challenge. As a working writer, if I were to put aside a current project for a month just for the sake of NaNo, I’d go crazy. The project I stopped working on would continue to demand attention. Worse, by the time I went back to it, there is the possibility that I will have lost the voice. That is a very bad thing — who wants a shapeshifting kick ass heroine who suddenly sounds like a ditzy airhead?

So here’s my question: how many of you are taking part in NaNo and how are you approaching it? Are you joining one of the local support groups and taking part in their activities or are you sticking to the lone wolf school of writing? Are you starting a new project or working on a current one? Or do you think NaNo is the biggest joke ever played on writers? (I’m sort of leaning toward the latter, at least part of the time, and I have this vision of a couple of guys sitting around laughing at all the writers they’ve pulled this con on.)

One last thing, a group of MGC regulars — bloggers and commenters alike — have put together a Halloween Sale for some of their work. You can find a full list of the works on sale over at my personal blog. Please wander over and take a look. Thanks!

45 thoughts on “To Nano or not to Nano

  1. Not this year. I’ve got Physics to study for and it took me several months just to do the 18000 words I’ve got. 50000 ain’t happening.

  2. 50 grand tee hee. I’m not signing up, but I plan to use it for education/inspiration. Primary goal is to get a rein on my editor and just write.

    1. The getting control of my inner editor is one reason I do NaNo. Of course I don’t do the “official” version of NaNo. I do try for the 50k, but I know that life always seems to happen when I do. Shrug.

  3. I have tried to get engaged on this a few times, but I never seem to prioritize enough to actually get serious. Plus – and this is probably worse – it’s easy to pick apart what I’ve written rather than actually writing. Maybe this year will be better… πŸ™‚

    1. As I mentioned above, part of my reason for doing NaNo is to put my internal editor on vacation. If I set the goal of doing 30 – 5ok words in a month, I don’t have time for the internal editor to come out. I just promise it can play all it wants after NaNo is over.

  4. I don’t necessarily follow the rules, but I enjoy NaNo. I’ve done totally new stuff and I’ve finished things I never fully committed to before that month. I’ve taken the month and committed to editing or rewriting. I’ve used the O-fficial site and done it on my own. Basically, I use November to poke myself in the butt, write as much as I can in a set time (great for training myself to write to deadline when I didn’t have any other reason), and as a motivational tool. I join the site, buddy-up with friends, and we cheer each other on. I can’t do it this year because I have a book launching next month and my brain space is all crammed with that right now. Maybe I’ll do a version of it in February. MidWinWriMo or something. ;o)

    1. There are Camp NaNos in April and July and you can get in a cabin with your buddies. That’s all I’ve done before, so I’m facing the big one with some trepidation. I’ll be working on a piece that’s a bit stuck. I’m hoping it will unstick me.

  5. My wife has done it the last few years. She has three novels in various stages of completion, and I’m poking her to get them out there. I am actually thinking of trying to do this, too, but I have never written much more than snarky comments and short rants on Facebook, so I’m hesitant. Got a bit of time to make up my mind, though, so we’ll see.

  6. I don’t plan to officially take part, but I do intend to use the month to get started (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) on the second book. I don’t think 50,ooo is realistic for me, so I am trying to figure out a realistic goal. Right now, I am thinking 25,000.

  7. This will be my 13th nano regular nano (and I’ve done several of the camps. I tend to start a completely new draft every November. For me, this has done several things.

    1) I have an ever increasing backlog of things I have to get to. This is GOOD for me. It is that backlog that keeps me pushing through revisions. I have a queue, and while things may get re-ordered in the queue. The current revision project MUST get done before I revise the next.

    2) It makes me set a schedule. I’m still working out my ‘best’ schedule, but every year I creep closer to figuring it out, and Nanowrimo figures prominently into that. Last Camp, I figured out a stop watch and 15 min at a time are one of the best ways I have to force myself to be productive, unfortunately not in time to make much progress that camp on the story itself, but the trick is useful

    3) It gives me a reset button. When I’ve completely screwed up a year, I can generally take a deep breath, pick a Nano event (either the ‘real’ thing or one of the camps) and use the required month to get myself back on track. That’s something of what I’m doing this year. Hopefully ‘writing with children’ habits will begin here.

    4) Lets me step back from the kind of head-against-a-wall frustration wotj a story that leads to me not writing at all. Knowing I have three scheduled ‘breaks’ a year from revision means my emotions say ‘there will be a result this year’, and mean I can push myself through the rough patches, break, then go back to the novel that was driving me bonkers much more calmly and productively.

    All this creates a feedback loop. I’ve been learning how I write the hard way and it’s been a LONG process. Nano really kick started that process back in ’03 and has kept kicking me and kept me going on a regular basis. It doesn’t have the shiny it once does, but it still is a highly useful tool. I use the website itself as a ‘ok, this is what I have done’ and signing up makes it much harder to weasel my way out of actually doing it. I’ve formally said I would… now I must. I may fail, but I must forge forward.

    1. Could you describe the 15 minute trick? Is it just write non-stop for 15 or more complicated?

      1. It’s just set a timer and write for 15 min straight. I used to race friends, see who could get the most words in in the time slot. The competitive version is called a word war on the Nano site. I discovered that I could achieve the same effect with just the timer. Wish I could say it was something fancy.

        1. Ah. I do something similar with a kitchen timer set at 25 minutes. IIRC, it’s called the pomodoro, only my timer looks like a rooster.

  8. Not about today’s post, but I keep getting “403 Forbidden” responses while trying to access this site. Eventually I do get through. Perhaps whoever administrates this could check into this. Even if it is just WordPress delinda est, it would be good to know that it is not just me.


  9. I’ve made two or three attempts on my own. I skipped it last year, because of more interesting commitments.

    I won’t be taking part this year.

    Part is computer woes. I’m recovering from something that was cripplingly painful, and had stopped much of my creativity. I have a choice between a shared computer and one with really bad ergonomics.

    Mostly I’ve concluded that a serious effort at NaNoWriMo would interfere with several more important projects I have in mind. I need to abandon NaNoWriMo this year, so I can concentrate.

    I have had some nice writing successes this year, and I have a couple of projects in the same line. One is even meant to be salable. I’m not making any promises.

  10. I love it. When the weather gets brisk and the sun starts dropping in the sky my mind turns to the excitement of NaNo. After doing it for ten years, I’m now programmed for it.

    I work to deadlines in the day job, and NaNo recreates that feeling: I feel duly terrorized into cranking. I’m currently 70K into my WIP, and I’ve devolved to squeezing out maybe 500 words a day. I’m losing the thread. NaNo will force me to squeeze out 2K a day. I will become re-immersed.

    A word on the deadline. It feels fake, artificial at first. It did the first year; but by the third year, when I understood that this was the chance to really produce, I was terrified of not reaching 50K or something close, because then I’d have to wait a whole year to feel that pressure again. This, of course, created pressure, which is good. Also, for the first several years, my brain shut off on December 1, and I had no idea what would happen next in the story, so I knew I had to get the 50K before the Big Stupid hit.

    I drafted Manx Prize over NaNo and a camp. I drafted Sleeping Duty last November. Sure you have to fix things, clean up your language, make days match properly, and all sorts of other stuff. But you have to do that anyway. The first draft might as well be a mad, glorious race (even the parts that are a slog).

  11. … fear because how in the world are we going to write a complete novel in a month?

    Makes you appreciate the old pulpsters, like Lester Dent, Walter Gibson, and Novell Page, who turned out a novel a month twelve times a year. Some of those are even still readable.

    1. Often more. Gibson wrote a colossal amount of Shadow novels for a few years there.

  12. This is my 14th year. It always makes me sit down and work on a new project. I’ve only failed once, and I don’t intend to repeat that again.

    However for a lot of those years, NaNo was the *only* writing I did all year. Just enough to keep me feeling like a writer. Not enough to actually get any better. Once I broke that habit and started writing year round, my writing actually started improving.

    Really looking forward to this year. I’m hoping to write a whole draft (probably 100k+ words) of my new project all in that white-hot fire of NaNo driven insanity.

  13. I’m doing NaNoEditMo. And writing on some short stories. I’m starting to have some stress-related medical quirks reemerging and I fear NaNo would send them into overdrive.

  14. It’s my 2nd year and I’m definitely doing it. I loved the discipline it helped me develope by giving me a goal and accountability. I’m a planner so I have the general plot sketched out beforehand.

  15. My last semester of school… Physics and reflective seismology so, no. I might try to JaNoWri… Maybe.

  16. I’m in this year. Going to go back to an idea I tried to do two years ago, tear the whole thing down, and write it again. THIS time, though, I have a better idea of who my protagonist really is, and what the end of the book looks like. Knowing the beginning of the book, and knowing the end of the book usually means Zach can get all the way through the book.

  17. Fifth year, here. Two of my prior NaNos have been published–Dancer and The Barton Street Gym. Last year’s is almost ready to publish, it’s mostly waiting its point in the series. The zombie story? Umm, maybe under a pen name, sometime.This year I managed to time things right and finish a (very) rough draft. over the weekend. I’m jumping in here and there on it to fill in scenes, but I can drop it and get straight into the next book, with a lot of the same characters.

    I hated Nano, the first time. Stressing out over the daily word count and knowing I was writing crap. It was only after it was done that I realized I really had written a rather short but complete novel, *finished* it. In one month. By turning off the editor mind, because I just didn’t have time for it.

    So I come back almost every year, to spend a month whapping the Editor every time it pokes its slimy head up and tries to interfere.

  18. You can pick your own goals? Did not know that.

    Or is that unofficial?

    The timing is curious. I’m publishing Thursday, and will have made any changes to the upload by Saturday midnight – and then there is Nano right the next day.

    I don’t do deadlines well – the pressure kills me – but it would be intriguing to get a good start on Book 2. OTOH, there is a LONG To Do list of ‘stuff I’ve been postponing forever to finish the book,’ and maybe I need to do that, take a vacation, and start at my usual snail’s pace. Dunno.

    1. It’s unofficial. NaNo is a useful taskmaster for some of us, who need a boot in the rear to get us producing lots of words. If you needs something more private, or with a lower word count, do it. Setting aside a month to get your writing back on track once a year, is a good idea. IMO, that’s half the purpose of NaNo. The other being a 50K rough draft.

      1. What I need is to revise the plan for Book 2 using all I learned during the writing of Book 1 – hoping to avoid some of the things that I made harder for myself by not being tidy or clear (hard to keep ANYTHING straight over 15 years, and with my particular brain – TONS of notes).

        That can be my goal – a ‘big picture’ up on my bulletin board. Literally.

  19. I’m unofficially doing this thing. Unofficially, because I really, really do not need the additional stress of public failure to meet goals right now.

    On the one hand, the attempt may increase my ability to just write in a blaze of productivity. On the other hand, it may reduce my (already low) motivation to tend to the “fiddly bits.” On the gripping hand, it may teach me something about balancing the two.

    1. It’s not really public. I don’t think I’ve ever checked anyone else’s page; I sort of Lone Wolf it. But there’s this graph. You enter your word count every evening and you can see how you are doing, or not doing.

      1. Well, if so, then I don’t need the hassle of duplicate data entry. I already have spreadsheets. If I feel the need for a graph someday, I’ll just add whatever I want.

      2. That graph is the best. I love watching the progress. I love being ahead the first few days. I love feeling sad when my progress dips below the goal line. I love the sweet poignancy of knowing I’ve only got that graph for 30 days and then it’s gone. Sigh. It’s a graph fraught with drama.

        1. I just track how much I write every day in a different text file. I’ve got the font sized so that each month takes up about one page, and I see what my writing total is week to week.

          Finding the time is easy, since I’ve never had the money to start a family: Now that I can do 12K a week without my brain cramping up, I just treat writing as a second job and spend the necessary butt-in-chair time.

  20. I signed up as a first-timer. I’ve got an extensive outline on hand, and I’ve given chapter one a couple of test drives before. I’ll go for the full 50k in November, and then keep going to something closer to 100k for a final.

  21. This will be my fourth year. I’m a NaNo rebel. I write short fiction. I don’t care about 50,000 words. And I don’t turn my inner editor off. There’s no point in me writing in a slapdash manner just to get word count. My goal is to write a couple things that get published. The graph is helpful. The chat boards can be. Write-ins are really productive for me.

  22. Signed up.

    I definitely need practice at writing without engaging editorial mode.

    And I need something to make me stop editing my current WiP and put it away for a while so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

  23. I signed up for the first time in a couple years – but I haven’t written any in the past few days. I don’t know if it’s because I feel daunted – I didn’t finish the character sketches for my two mains like I had planned, nor did I do any of the research I had planned. Or if it’s because I don’t feel motivated – setting arbitrary goals doesn’t usually work for me, it just serves to annoy me.

    I think what I’ll do, though, is try to at least write SOMETHING whenever I get free time and have my laptop with me – because I need to start sometime, right?

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