Nano Nono

In keeping with the Nanowrimo theme this week, I’m going to ramble on for a while about it, too. Of course, my perspective is a tad… different, not least because I don’t do Nano, and will probably never do it.

Why not?

Mostly because the main purpose of Nano is something I’m already doing – trying to sneak in writing whenever I can (let’s not mention the large quantities of failing caused by narcolepsy, diabetes, kitten, full time job, and the various interactions between all these factors that leave me with rather less focusable time than I’d like).

Outside all the publicity and enthusiasm and the tendency of people to work harder at something when they have a commitment (particularly one made publicly) what I see as the basic point of Nano is that if you can manage to write a modest amount every day, it adds up remarkably quickly. Fifteen hundred words a day over thirty days works out to 45 k words – not quite a novel, but a solid kind of start on one.

The basic guidelines don’t change:

  • Park butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, and write.
  • Resist the temptation to fix, edit, or throw it away.
  • Resist the temptation to reread yesterday’s wordage before you start.
  • Minimize distractions (or ignore them).
  • It doesn’t have to be great. It does have to be finished (especially when you’re looking at a raw first draft – although if we’re talking the first half of a raw first draft, you keep going until it is finished).

That’s all there is to Nano and writing in general.

Of course, writing something someone else is going to want to pay money for is a different beast, but mostly in terms of polish and cleanup (we won’t go into the partly-finished novel I have where I need several days of focused concentration to sort out the timelines because it’s so far off the rails it left left field behind a long way back and has tied itself into knots that I have to tease out before I can go forward. This is what happens when a pantser writes in disjointed bits and pieces – also known as gets interrupted by life being a major bitch). How you handle that part is a personal thing, but I find I need to be able to concentrate and focus much more in edit-mode than in writing mode.

The other side of this is the ten-thousand hour theory: you don’t get seriously good at anything until you’ve invested around 10k hours in it (or, for writers, you can go with the alternative of a million bad words before you get to the good ones. That works out at about… a hundred words per hour, which really is pretty low. I usually get anything from five hundred per hour up, more – way more – if things are really going well. I think my record is in the order of 30k in a day.

In any case, the point of Nano is both to practice writing by doing it – actually writing something – which has the combined effects of building a writing habit (first hit is free, after that you have to steal time), getting your brain accustomed to the idea that butt in chair plus fingers on keyboard plus word processing open equals shut down the internal censor and let the wordage flow (you can clean up any overflow later), and bringing you closer to the point where you’ll be really good at it. Or if you’re already really good at it, it will help you stay that way and get better.

Unless, of course, you’re me and you know damn well that committing to something like this will just add stress and shut you down. Then you don’t Nano. Instead you commit yourself to writing something – anything – every day until you’re in a better place where you can do a Nano.


  1. Thank you for your post. I never did the math (1500 words per day), but having looked at it for a minute or two, I figure I could do that. Maybe a little more. Anyway, thanks.

    1. I like math – people who think math is scary usually find themselves missing little tidbits like how 1500 words every day for 30 days adds up to 45k words.

      Of course, I am a seriously weird specimen, even for a female uber-geek.

      1. I’m not worried at writing 1500 words (I think I’ve written blog posts longer than that.) I do, however, find problems with the every day portion of that.

        Which is why I’m signing up for nano. Not because I expect success, or for it to be easy, but to try to train that habit. (okay, in fiction, as opposed to social media comments.)

    2. May not be as easy as you think.

      I’ve been wanting to be a writer for years, but while I’d had days where I wrote 2, 3, or even 4K words, they were few and far in between.

      It’s only this year, when I made the more humble commitment to write 100 words a day, no matter what, that I’ve been able to reach 12K a week as a consistent thing.

      I don’t know how many people follow this pattern, but I suspect that for me, writing is like exercising muscles. Except I don’t get feedback when the muscles are stressed and need time to recover, and so I kept straining under-used creative muscles until I started on a program of regular exercise for them.

    1. If you check the ‘I wrote a novel now what?” forums, especially during december and January, there definitely a community presence for polishing and revising. It’s smaller, but there are fewer who start their stories than sign up, and fewer who finish than start… It’s there, it’s just harder to find than the general mad dash (which tends to burn out pretty quick.)

      1. For me, the mad dash is when a piece has me by the throat and it’s a struggle to think about anything else. It usually doesn’t coincide with Nano.

  2. I did Camp NaNo in the two sessions of 2014, on the same book. It helped enormously in getting the words on paper, but they weren’t very good words. That project is now in total rewrite, but I am thankful for the effort of getting the first draft down. I’m doing the real one this November for a different reason. I have gotten lazy about writing (a function I believe of recurring depression) and I need something to push me back into the habit. I’m hoping it will do this and at the same time reveal to me where my current WIP is going. Being a pantser, I have a vague idea and nothing more. This might answer the plot question.

    1. I’ve discovered that my ‘first draft’ tends to be an approximately 50k outline in long form. Once I have the ‘nanodraft’ done I can actually get on with the story and churn out what most people would consider a real first draft. (Though the project is on it’s about 4th first draft and has finally resolved into two that are now chugging along quite steadily, if not as fast as I’d like.)

      Every Nano I re-discover that I’m not the only one for whom that seems to be SOP.

      1. The important thing is that whatever you do works for you. (I draw the line at requiring freshly sacrificed virgins before you start writing – there aren’t enough virgins for that).

  3. I like the idea of making a habit of writing but I don’t like the whole do it this way during this month. I tried it once and it gave me a weird level of guilt and anxiety when I could not write due to life, work, etc. Of course November always happens to be the busiest month for some reason.

    1. I have this issue too. My workplace is gearing up for its busiest time of year, and November is the push to have everything in place and stable. Not a good time to add a commitment that’s practically guaranteed to add stress.

      1. Yup. I started looking at the work schedule and thought, hmmm, no, the last four weeks of the semester are NOT the time to be doing NaNo. I have enough silver hairs and acid stomach as it is.

  4. I’m not a novelist, but I may just stick my butt in the chair, write some code for a personal project on a daily basis and see how far I get.

    1. So long as you remember to compile and test as well – 30 days of uncompiled, untested code makes for debug hell.

      1. Is this a difference between our primary field and writing? I am (or was) on the development side, myself.

        It is somewhat strange, but I have laid my application development template over my writing template. I essentially am doing “top down novel development.”

        Now, I am going to unofficially do NaNoWriMo and see how it goes – but it will include still include quite a bit of that “decomposition” work.

        So far as the “rest of writing” – well, I still “compile” fairly frequently (run spell check and scan for things like stupid tense and valid words that are not the word I meant to type). I am hoping to eventually attract good beta readers that will “test” the production as it goes. Yes, the “bug list” will accumulate while the entire “application” is still being “coded” – except that it will be scanned frequently to see whether a “bug” is affecting the rest of the system.

        OK, this is getting rather long. I have a note in my “blog topics” folder to expand on this at a later time.

        1. “Is this a difference between our primary field and writing? I am (or was) on the development side, myself.”

          Yes and no. It’s worth a few essays.

          Both are crafts with skills that take time to develop. The primary difference is that great code has to be readable to both the computer and other developers.

      2. Don’t worry, I know the difference between development and creative writing. One is inherently more structured than the other, if you want success. 🙂

        (And the tools available to the wise technician today are good at assuring some sort of logical compliance at the code level, if used as attended. And I can still sling “fluff” and “marketing jabber” if I have to write promo pieces…)

        At a philosophical level, if a story or a novel is well written, it “compiles” and “runs” in my head. There are some tales that require more attentiveness or a different “state of mind”, but there are also those that get spit out with an error message for various reasons. (For some reason, I can’t get into “Ancillary Justice”, it’s just grey goop text with grey goop characters. But I can handle and enjoy all the other authors that author is compared to… Banks, Cherryh, etc…)

        But the goal is the same, sit down at the keyboard and produce/learn.

  5. For non-NaNo writing, I sneak it in at lunch or after dinner, after work, chores and family. For November, the writing comes first. My family is willing to put up with that for 30 days, and I’ve learned to clear the decks a bit on house stuff by November 1. When the kids were at home, I’d buy a ham on October 31st, and there’d be a lot more egg dishes for dinner. The boys called it the month of no love.

    One doesn’t have to do NaNo, but for some of us it’s a real opportunity.

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