NaNoWri. . . why?

Ah, the first day of November is here. The little ghosts and goblins of Halloween are a memory and now is the time when many of us sit down at our computers with shiny faces — okay, mine’s a bit bleary right now but go with it for a moment — and eagerly poise our fingers over our keyboards, waiting for the words to pour out. NaNoWriMo is officially here. Just like New Year’s Day when we are sure we can live up to all the resolutions we’ve made, now we are convinced we can write 50,000 words in a month. We can do it, we tell ourselves. We can.

And, yes, we can.

Too many of us — and, yes, I’ve been one of them — start out with the best of intentions but we wind up focusing on the big number and not the more realistic daily word count number. So let’s break it down.

50,000 words in a month. That is a novel in some sub-genres. It is most definitely a good rough draft word count. But still, that looks like a lot of words. But is it?

Yes and no. Yes, because it is more than many of us write in a month. No, because, when you look at it in smaller increments, it does become more doable.

50,000 words in a month. That breaks down to 12,500 words per week (if my math is right. Never a sure thing since I haven’t finished my first mug of coffee). That still looks a bit scary so lets break it down a bit more. It breaks down to 1,667 words daily. Hmmm, that doesn’t look so bad, does it?

For those of you who blog, consider how many words your usual blog post runs. Mine rarely come in under 1,000 words. Now, add in the number of words you input into your various social media accounts PLUS the time you spend checking Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, whatever. That daily word count suddenly starts looking more doable, at least to me.

Okay, Amanda, you’ve proven that the word count is doable, but why should I do NaNo?

I’ll be honest, that’s been a question I ask myself each year. Each year, I come up with the same answer: accountability.

Writing is one of those professions/avocations/activities/whatever you think it is where it is easy to find a reason not to put butt in chair and just write. There is always something around the house that needs to be done. Most of us reach a point in any book we’re writing where we’d much rather be writing something else. NaNo holds us accountable, even if only to ourselves, to push through the distractions and finish.

And finishing is what’s important. No one expects what comes out of NaNo to be publishable without additional work, be it filling in the details or editing or all of the above. What is encouraged is meeting the 50,000 word goal. In other words, finishing.

Now, NaNo isn’t for everyone, at least not the “official” NaNo. However, for those of you who want to sign up and get the daily or weekly encouraging e-mails, who want to find local groups to meet up with, mosey over to the official site and sign up. It’s quick and painless. You choose a screen name, name your project, fill in as many details as you want and off you go. Each day (recommended), you input the number of words you wrote.

I’ve tried NaNo officially once and real life interfered. Most years, I set the goal for myself and run with it. I’ve succeeded more often than not. However, what I’ve found is that I tend to work on more than one project when I don’t do the official NaNo. There’s nothing wrong with that. The writing is what’s important. But still. . .

So, this year, I’m doing it officially. The main reason is I have a book due to come out the end of the month and I have to put the butt in gear to finish it. I’ve had the rough draft finished for some time but something about it kept bothering me. It was a good book but there was something wrong. It took me a bit to figure out what it was and then, when I finally, did, I wanted to pound my head against the wall.

You see, I’d made a fundamental mistake. I had forgotten a thread I’d woven into the first book, Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). Worse, it wasn’t a thread that I could do a quick nod to and everything would be all right. I’ve made notes about how to fix the problem but it comes down to this: I have to add a new section to the beginning of the book, one that looks like it will be approximately nine chapters. Then I have to go through what I already wrote and rewrite a lot of it to fit the new opening. So, this book is now my NaNo project.

Do I have a full 50,000 new words to write? Probably not on Dagger of Elanna. But it will be close to it, especially when you look at editing. Besides, there will probably be one short story being written this month as well. So, yeah, I’m aiming for a minimum of 50,000 words and will be tracking it on my blog. I’ll try to remember to update it here throughout the month.

Now, all of this is a long-winded way of saying I blame Sarah for this. Don’t listen to her when she says it is my own fault. You see, we were talking the other day and I told her I was setting a new goal for myself, something I was going to try for the next six months to see how it impacted my sales. My goal is to try to bring out at least one new title a month. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not crazy enough to try to bring out a new novel a month. However, I do think it doable to bring out a short story or novella one month and a novel the next.

Why? Or maybe, more importantly, how?

It’s simple really. I can pound out a short story in a day if the plot is already firmly in mind. If not, it may take a couple of days. So that doesn’t take any real time away from the novel, especially not if I’m disciplined and use the time I’d normally be browsing the web to write it. The purpose is simple. I want to see if bringing out something new every month helps stop the sales dip that happens approximately 6 weeks to 2 months after a new book comes out.

Oh, getting back to blaming Sarah. I expected her to tell me I was insane. Instead, she said she needed to do the same. So it has become a mutual butt-kicking deal. She is supposed to kick my butt when I slack off and I get to return the favor. Since it also corresponds with NaNo, it just seemed reasonable to add that to the “encouragement” chain.

So, NaNo, here I come.

Oh, btw, to show you that it isn’t impossible to meet the daily word count, this blog post is going to come in at approximately 1400 words. It has taken me half an hour or so to write it.

Here’s my challenge to you. Even if you don’t officially take part in NaNo, set yourself a goal for the month. Post it in the comments below and, when the month is over, let us know how you did. For those of you who have done NaNo before, post your impressions and any suggestions you might have for those who are newbies to to. Finally, tell me why you are — or are not — doing NaNo.

One last thing, here’s a post from Pat Patterson that I love. He hits the nail on the head when it comes to what being a writer means. You don’t have to write novels. You don’t have to write in a certain genre. What you have to do is write. So, my friends, go out and write. If you don’t think you can, then read and do the author a favor. Leave a review. (Do that often enough and you will realize that you are a writer. You might not be a novelist but you write reviews and authors will thank you for it.)


  1. I’ve been doing NaNo for years. I often hit 50k, although not the year I tried to spend the month writing short stories. That didn’t work for me. Once I actually wrote the ending. That was pretty exciting. I added another 20k after November, but that’s what editing and revising is all about.
    Make sure you write a chunk early in the day. I’m not going to let myself do anything else I’m supposed to do until I’ve written 700 words. (I aim for 2k a day in the first half of the month, then I burn out (which I would do at 1600 so might as well do 2000), rest, and get back to 2k a day.

  2. Accountability is the thing. I’ve tried it unofficially with the best of intentions a couple of times before but allowed myself to get side tracked. Simply having to update that number every day should help me make this year different (I hope).

  3. I tried it for a few years, but found that the competition was killing my creativity. I know it’s supposed to be supportive, not competitive, but that’s the was it felt.

    At this point, I’m just trying to finish the one book I’ve been working on for some time. I’ve got a real limit on that, I’ll be going back to work at McDonald’s in mid December, which will cut into my writing time and energy again.

  4. I like Nano for two reasons.

    It forces me to write and not ever stop to edit. This is my annual retraining in turning off the internal editor.

    Second, NaNoWriMo basically makes me write an extra book a year. Of the five years I’ve done it, I’ve gotten three books that I’ve published already, and last year’s will get published eventually.

  5. I can’t do it. That’s about two hours of writing for me, but I haven’t got that kind of flex in my day for about two months. But I am priming the pump for when I *can* write. Thank you for the nudges.

  6. Oy.
    I don’t think I’ll have the free time this month to make a run at 50K. It’s shaping up to be a bear.
    I’m aiming for 20K. That should be doable without letting other obligations slide.

    First, I have to overcome a mental block of stupidity. I’m in the process of stripping and refinishing the chair that I need to apply my seat to. Sure, I can “borrow” a chair from the table, but it’s just not the same! (And now, I’m fighting off the urge to build a temporary platform so that the dining room chair at least has me sitting at the right height. This does not bode well.)

  7. I unofficially tried NaNo a few years ago when I was working on the first draft of our novel. Fell a bit short but wasn’t too displeased. Life gets extremely chaotic in the Fall for me – So much so that some years I consider myself lucky to get anything on paper.

    Daily Word count goals are pretty much out of the question for me. I came at the current project sideways. I’m world building and researching while trying to get certain parts down. [MC is very insistent, and has an annoying habit of jumping from one point in the story to another without consideration for the poor writer] Which means that writing comes to a screeching halt while I go off to find the answer to a question. (Like, how would a cliff dwelling culture deal with human biological waste? In the middle of the night, in the dead of winter? A question I was laughing about in the Diner over the weekend. Even more amusing was the fact that several folx step in and helped me get the answer.)

    The best I can do is dedicate a block of time, allowing for standing obligations, and see how far I can take this baby. Say a minimum of 5-7 hours a week. Doesn’t sound like much, but to a wage slave with home, family, and philanthropic obligations, it can get fun.

    1. I’m glad I did NaNo during my time as a wage slave. It taught me to get a few hundred words in over breakfast, 700 at lunch and another 700 at night. I had to write fast so I did.

    1. Hey, the hardest thing I ever did in my life was the first leg lift after coming out of the cast. Compared to the folks in physical therapy around me, much less the walking therapists, it was barely a twitch. But right at that moment, it was the greatest movement, and the hardest one, I’d ever managed. You do what you can, with what you’ve got, and that’ll be awesome. 🙂

      1. Funny you should mention the physical part. I’m working to make walking normally a possibility after long ago botched back surgery. The exercises are tiny, the pain pretty large (especially the next day), but mobility is one thing you fight hard to retain. It’s especially hard with no energy (I joke I could have fought one or the other off, but the combination is a nasty symbiosis), but the alternative is to quit.

        And what I’ve managed to do, one nanometer at a time, is in the right direction. Writing AND walking.

  8. I’m tempted to try it. Just did the math and I’ve been averaging 660 words a day or so on the current project, so it would be a stretch, and I’m more than prepared to fall short, but…if I pulled it off, I’d likely be nearly finished with the current project and I could move onto editing the last one.

    Decisions, decisions…

  9. Muttered in the Office far more often than I care to admit. “I’ll never get anything done today! Arrrgh!”
    Clickity clicklty clickity*
    (90 minutes later) “2500 words and a plot twist! Great . . . I think.”

    *I use a Das Keyboard.

    1. Oh for flip’s sake . . . one of my protagonists just disappeared! That wasn’t supposed to happen. If his wife leaves anything of him when he reappears, I’ll strangle him after she’s done.

  10. I’ve been doing nano since ’03. Win some, loose some, on an irregular basis. On the other hand I’ve gotten several novels that are ready for revisions out of it. I use Nano as a reset, to restart the habits of writing regularly, which I haven’t been lately. (Toddler is a major excuse, but often it’s an excuse when he’s down and sleeping and I’m still awake.) I was tempted to back off on the word count, but every time I’ve done that, I’ve failed. (I’ve tried quite a few of the camps.) So going full bore on a new Science Fiction project, AND trying to get back into editing. Overall the goal for the Sci-Fi is the 50,000 words. The editing is just to do some every day, whether it’s building the series bible, or actually revising/editing scenes. (Though I FINALLY know what I need to do with it.)

    Tips for newbies: Nano is great for trying new things and figuring out what works for you. It may take you a few goes to get anywhere. It is a tool. Use it to your advantage. The biggest thing to learn, unless you have it already, is the discipline of butt in chair, hands on keyboard/pen/paper, words on screen/page. If you slow down after Nano that’s fine… but try not to stop entirely. It’s a hard habit to get back into.

  11. Won’t be writing an entire novel, but I have to finish a short story for submission at year’s end.

  12. I’m not going for a word count, although if I do achieve my goal, I’ll have the 40K that I strive for as a side effect, when added up over the thirty days.

    What I’m aiming for is at least six hours a day doing something useful towards the career. (Example – figuring out a cover produces zero words, but is a necessary work product.) Too many distractions / excuses over the last few months, that are dissipating now, so I may manage it.

    (Let me see – 4 hours and 22 minutes on that goal in my log so far today.)

    And, of course, the real goal is to do the same in December, and January, and…

  13. I’ve been tracking my daily wordcount in a spreadsheet for months. My initial goal was 100 words a day. I’m not capturing my full wordcount, but my max doesn’t reach 1600, and I have a lot of gaps, where I really did not write anything. (I probably wasn’t talking much either.) This is all writing, not fiction. The longest fiction I’ve written was a trilogy of two vignettes and a drabble. (200 total.)

    I’ve been looking at daily wordcount, because I’ve failed NaNoWriMo several times, and regularity is the most tractable part of improving my writing skill to the level of making money. 1. Small and regular beats big and can’t repeat. 2. Even if I can’t figure out long fiction, there is a market for long nonfiction. 3. Don’t chase after the big payoff so much that you forget to eat, sleep, etc… (I’ve been keeping notes on my sleep since late August, and it has done me good, even if I probably haven’t isolated and solved all my problems.) 4. Given how I use the computer, it might be easier for me to track NaNoWriMo by printing out a form, than by using a spreadsheet directly.

    I’ve recently started two projects, one health record keeping, and one that should be drawing from the verbal ability well. I have decided that NaNoWriMo is not a good goal for me this year. I am ignoring it.

    Two forty words today.

    1. This is the biggest thing I learned from NaNo last year. Track words all year, try to write 100 a day. It’s helping. I’ve hit 10,000 several months this year.

      I don’t care about NaNo’s 50,000 at all. But I do recommend joining NaNo officially. Use their word count tracker – just remember to update before midnight each day. If you can make it to write-ins, having just a few other people around, nose in laptop, typing, is pretty good motivation.

      If your project doesn’t fit a NaNo category, who cares. There’s a rebel conference now.

  14. Amanda, I enjoyed Sword of Arelion, looking forward to the next book!

    I’m doing NaNo for the first time this year. I tend to write in spurts — I can, and have, done 12,000 to 16,000 words in a day before. But sustaining the momentum long enough to actually finish a story is much harder to do. So I’m hoping to build better writing habits this month. It’s going to be a bit rough as we will have company off and on all month, and I’m way behind in my housework, due to having had major back issues for the last several months. But I can only do housework for a little bit at a time before I have to sit and relieve the muscle cramps, so I will be writing on those breaks, instead of reading.

    Now I need to get busy writing, LOL!

  15. I’ve never tried NaNo, even though this year I have a marvelous concept for a short novel that grew out of a Halloween story I thought might be a novelette. Well, it got legs, and the concept is now worth 50,000 words at bare minimum.

    That happens to me a lot.

    The problem with NaNo is that November is probably the second worst month of the year to do it. (December would be worse.) Thanksgiving week is basically out of bounds, so I would have at most three weeks to work. Now let’s consider March, which is in my view the worst month of the year to be outside, at least in cold climates. The cold and snow have long lost their novelty, and you’re in the Big Slog until the weather breaks. Granted, I live in Phoenix now, but November is still problematic.

  16. I got started (finally) writing with Sarah’s PJ Media A Novel in 13 Weeks posts. It has been far, far longer than 13 weeks – even longer than 13 months. I’m doing NaNo this year. I don’t much care if I finish the novel, but I need an incentive to move along. We’ll see how this works. I have the outline. I have the first five chapters (of, I think, somewhere around 30). No reason not to push through and see what happens.

    I agree: November is less than ideal as a month choice.

  17. Doing it officially, no. But want to try to average 1k per day. Right now I’m getting kicked out of my existing story so may pick up fresh on a different one. Getting free time to write is the bear. Got a few cover shifts so will.have enforcement of no games at least.

  18. I have, over the past few years, gotten into the habit of starting and not finishing. As a result, I have a frustrating wealth of partially finished stories, with not an ending to the lot of them. So this year the goal is…finish one. Just one. I’ve got the one picked out and I’ve got the majority of what needs to happen in my head, and I’ve probably got around 50k worth of story to fill in before I can call this baby quits.

    But of course, that was my goal last year for NaNo. And what happened last year? I got about three days of writing done, and my day job suddenly went from around thirty-five hours a week to somewhere between forty-five and fifty. And since I’m an introvert, that wiped me so far out all I could do was come home and collapse–remembering to take a shower if I was lucky. I think I got about 6000 words for the whole month.

    We don’t have the same circumstances at work this year, so I’m tentatively hopeful, but last night’s unusually late night was not a good sign. We’re not ready for season, and I think season is coming early this year.

    Ah, stuff it. I have eight words so far, anyway. So there’s that. I’m crossing my fingers that this year is the year I finally come home with a finished product. Just one. Finish it. That’s my goal. *nods*

    1. That is a very worthy goal. I often use NaNo to start a project, and then finish it over the next few months, or, over a NaNo camp in the spring.

  19. When I’ve been writing… it’s strange. 50k doesn’t seem like a lot compared to some things (I’ve had reports that topped 267k words… and still seemed incomplete when I turned ’em in). But fiction? Gah. Either I’ve got a white page and a headache, or it’s “Good Bob, is it really four in the flippin’ morning? …Dammit.” Open head, pour brain out…

    Can’t afford to do that with the job I have, so if I write anything, it must start on Friday night and end *before* Sunday lunch. At least.

  20. Never did NaNoWriMo… partly the abbreviation somehow put me off, then it seemed more people went on and on about it than anything, so even if it is a good idea, it has poisoned the well as it were for me[1]. That and I have this strange idea that I should I have at least a vague idea of what to write about and where to go with it.

    [1] A year or three ago I recall tweeting that considering how annoying nanowrimo was, I was sure glad there wasn’t a megawrimo.

  21. Okay, for what it’s worth, I’m going to start writing again and this will be the post that gets me motivated. 5,500 words a week for Nov. Already at 2,100 for this week and I haven’t started writing today.

    Thanks for the motivation.

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