To NaNo or Not to NaNo

November is almost half over and all across the internet you will find writers and wannabe writers talking about NaNoWriMo. Some are gleefully extolling on and on and on about how they have been meeting their daily word counts and will make their 50k word goal for the month. Others lament about how they haven’t been able to keep up with their goal, but they are continuing to try. Some will tell you about the book they started in last year’s NaNo or the year before or the year before, etc. Then there are those who will boldly tell you that you’re a fool for taking part.

Each year, I see someone — usually several someones — condemning anyone who takes part in NaNoWriMo. These oh-so-superior authors are convinced that nothing good can come out of NaNo. They cling to the belief that no one can write 50k words of publishable material in a mere 30 days. To them, NaNo is a gimmick that does nothing more than make fun of their craft. And, yes, I have a mental image of these authors sipping tea, pinky fingers lifted, as they look down their noses at the peons laboring away in the writing trenches.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this attitude more than bugs me. It tics me off. First, it completely misses the point of NaNo (and full disclosure here. I’m not a big fan of NaNo for reasons I’ll go into later). Second, it assumes that every writer works at the same pace as these so-called authors and who are they to tell any of us what pace we should set when we are writing?

So, what is the purpose behind NaNo? That’s simple. Some years ago, a couple of friends got together. During the course of their conversation, someone said no one could write a 50k word novel in a month. These guys took up the challenge and NaNo was born. If you take part and if you follow the original concept of the challenge, you start a new novel on November 1st and work through the month with the goal of writing at least 50k words.

The goal isn’t to have 50k words of publishable content. It is to set a goal and meet it. To simply sit the butt down in the chair and write. Editing comes after that. This is what makes NaNo an effective tool for a number of writers. It is committing to a goal and working to reach that goal. It has been the impetus a number of writers have needed to move past writer’s block or the various distractions that all too often take us away from our writing.

There is another benefit to NaNo, at least for some writers. There is a huge NaNo community. During November, there are meetings you can go to, even write-ins. For a number of writers, especially beginning writers, this means getting to know in meat space others like yourself. That’s important because writing is a solitary profession and all too often our families don’t understand the demands of the career.

My issue with NaNo is that 50k word goal. There are a number of writers who are terrified of that number. They won’t sign up because they know they won’t be able to meet the goal. In other words, they aren’t going to give themselves the chance to “fail”. When asked about it by other writers, I tell them they don’t have to take part in the “official” NaNo. They can simply set their own goal for the month and then do their best to keep to it. One way of doing it is announcing the goal on social media, on their blogs, etc., and then doing daily or weekly upstages. That will keep them honest.

I hear some of you out there asking if I do NaNo. I don’t. I have in the past and, in most instances, I met the goal. However, with my writing schedule, I am rarely in the position any longer of starting something new at the right time for the challenge. That doesn’t mean I ignore the spirit of NaNo. I have weekly and monthly writing goals. Sometimes I meet them and sometimes I don’t. In November, I do my best to hit at least 50k words. It might be on a single project or on several different projects, depending on when I end one and start another. Sometimes, it might be an editing goal. There are times when it is both.

You might be asking about my goals for the month and how have I done so far? My goal wasn’t so much a word count goal as a project goal. I wanted to have the final version of Light Magic finished and ready to publish by the end of the month. I also wanted to have the final version of an untitled holiday short story/novella in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe ready as well. Working drafts of both have been finished. I have also done some work on the expanded edition of Duty from Ashes. But, thanks to a knee injury, I am behind on my goal. Since the short story/novella and Light Magic are time sensitive, they are getting the bulk of my attention right now.

Here’s the thing. No one has to like NaNo. It isn’t for every writer out there. But just because it isn’t right for you doesn’t give you the right to decry it where every other writer is concerned. For those of you who haven’t tried it, or who have tried it and not met your goal, don’t discount doing it again. Remember, there is nothing stopping you from doing your own form of NaNo. If the 50k word goal terrifies you to the point you feel you will self-sabatouge and not meet the goal, set a lower goal. But give yourself incentives to not only meet but exceed that new goal. You might be surprised by how much writing you can get done.

The key isn’t whether you write 200 words or 50k words. The key is that you write. You don’t have to write every day, but you have to write. So many of writers stop writing, not because they have run out of ideas but because they fall out of the habit of writing. Yes, real life gets in the way. The challenges of work, family, school, etc., all have to be dealt with before we can sit down and put ideas to paper. Once we get out of that habit, it is often almost impossible to get back into it.

So, here’s my challenge to each of you. Set a goal for the rest of the month. It can be anything you want. But set the goal. Then set secondary goals. Goals that, if you reach them, you treat yourself to something special. Before you start telling me you don’t have time, give your daily schedule a hard look. Is there some way you can change your schedule or crave out an additional five or ten minutes a day or an hour over the weekend? If you ride the train or bus to work, can you grab your tablet and stylus and make notes (or even just an old-fashioned steno book and pen)? How about giving up five minutes of gaming at night or getting up five minutes early?

You’ll note, I didn’t say you have to write a story. In fact, if you have been having problems focusing on a plot, don’t force it. Do free-writing. When you get up (or before you go to bed), grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just write. Write down whatever comes to mind. It can be your shopping list or it can be journaling. It can even be that letter you wish you could write to your boss or your neighbor or whoever but you just don’t dare. The key is to write.

The key is to write.

And, on that happy note, I’m going to go do just that.


  1. NaNo. Jeez. My problem is not that I meet my word count every day. One way or the other, between blog, novel, and other crap I have to write, that always happens.

    My problem is that everything else in life goes to hell. I have to cut back so I can have a life, and not be killed by the other denizens at Phantom Northern Command. They are looking at me with intent.

    So for me, the fricking mutant, it’s NaNaNoWriNoMoToday. 😡 Hey hey, good bye.
    The grass is always greener, my friends.

      1. Real Life is that thing where the characters are jumping up and down screaming WRITE THIS!!!! but you are in the car driving to the store, because there’s no bread, because you’ve been typing stuff for three days.

        This is after the characters have been doing nothing for the previous week, so you’ve been “editing”. Which means reading back to see if you can get them to do something besides play Mario Cart and go shooting.

        Real Life is a pain in my butt. Sometimes an actual pain from sitting and typing too much. 😡

  2. I set a goal for myself a few months back of 500 words a day minimum. This past October (around Canadian Thanksgiving weekend) I went into high gear. Lately my minimum word count is between 1500 or more words a day on average. I thought about doing NaNoWriMo, but I was in the middle of a project. So didn’t bother.
    I have finished a novel (53k words worth) and currently working on polishing it and making sure things hang together properly. I am now working on the sequel (!) and thinking I skipped a lot and may have to write another one between the first and second I am writing currently.
    As to publishable work coming out of NaNoWriMo? I think the book “Pay Me Bug” by Cristhopher Wright was done during one of the past challenges. Highly advise it and have to read the sequel myself.

      1. Eating isn’t a worry, or remembering too at least. I have a little that gets aggravated when I don’t feed him when he’s hungry. 🙂

  3. Initially, I used NaNo to teach myself to write toward a deadline. Back then, I figured if I ever did get an agent and a publishing contract, it would be a skill I’d need. Now, knowing I have the ability to write 50-60K words in a month helps tremendously when I start a project, and I can sit down and crank out the words when I need to.

    Those people who somehow think NaNo means having a publishable novel in 30 days are fooling themselves. Gah, it’s a freakin’ first draft, people. Have the first 50K words of a first draft down by Dec 1st.

    I don’t do it anymore because, like you, I’m not always in a place where I can utilize the entire month of November that way. So, I do it in December, or March, or July, or whenever. Sit my butt down and write 50K in a month – whatever month happens to be available for that kind of marathon of sprints.

  4. I’ve got to get back to my WIP. I hammered out 47K words in about ten days, then got distracted with timeline issues and real life. Now, as it’s getting toward the end of the year, a long standing WIP that takes place during a Medieval European Christmas celebration has tapped me on the shoulder (okay, story; you get me past the morning of the feast of St Becket, and I’ll see what I can do). But I also need to go back over the blurb for a work that’s set for release in January, and maybe figure a better way to promote it.

  5. I expected my non-writing schedule and goals would not permit me, and I was right. Maybe in a couple years.

  6. Trying to write a 8000 word or less story in November for submission by year’s end. That shall satisfy my NaNo urges.

  7. NaNoWriMo itself doesn’t bother me (and I admit I’ve not bothered with it) though when I was more active on LJ (and LJ was more active) it seemed to make November a clutter of boasts and whines to the point I got well and truly sick of it by induction rather than action. And despite so many going on so much for so long… this might well be the first time I’ve seen to origin and genuine original purpose well-explained.

    It does sort of remind of a line in a book by an animator. A drawing instructor said sheer volume production was needed as everyone had a 1,000 (or 10,000?) bad pictures in them and this was to get those out as fast possible.

  8. NaNoWriMo–for me–is a much needed kick in the rear reminder that I should finish a first draft before editing, that I should write every day, and that I really can write a bunch just by writing steadily.

    As for publishable? I’ve published three of my NaNos with another waiting for polish and cover and so forth.

    The Barton Street Gym written in 2011, published in March 2013.
    Dancer written in 2013, published May 2014
    Directorate School written in 2014, published in 2016.

    And that’s why I love NaNo, even while I grumble and curse at it.

  9. I’ve never been able to do NaNo, because it always happens around finals season. Although this year, November just so happens to be when I’m working on lengthy screenplays for classes, so I am actually getting a fair bit of writing done. 8,200+ words in a screenplay (and 1,600 for a short story I wrote) isn’t 50k, but it’s not bad for me for a week and a half of work. And I’ve still got another screenplay the same length due before the end of Thanksgiving break.

    I’m a senior this year, so I’m hoping that next year I will have a clear enough plate to do NaNo for real. Although, I will probably take your path and just keep working on things I was already working on.

  10. I considered NaNo this year to get the WIP done. Life intervened, and I said to myself, “Self, this isn’t going to work, because of Life.” The book will get done. The next book will get done. Just not this week. And I’m not going to sweat it.

  11. I learned to write to a deadline long before NaNo: responding to DoD and DoE RFP’s. If you don’t make the deadline, your company doesn’t get a shot at the contract. And what do you mean, those weren’t fiction? They contained some of my finest fantasy work!

    My only objection to NaNoWriMo is the silly name. Just hearing it makes me start to hum, “Sha na na na, get a job, sha na na na…”

  12. I am not doing NaNo this year. I have other writing to be doing, and other work to be doing. I need to have the benchmark prototype for my game ready in a few months.

  13. November=Thanksgiving.

    So that takes up a week. Which means that I’d have to write 50,000 in three weeks. Um, no. I’m a musician, and mom to ballet dancers and musicians, and we’re in crunch time in November for all the Christmas recitals.
    Nanowrimo in January. That could work.

    Seriously, November is the craziest month of the year. December at least ends on a week off-ish.

    1. Yeah, timing often sucks. I can do a heavy-deadline lifestyle—I wrote up a schedule for what I did last year when October collided with a play—but it’s horrible. I have small kids, so they take up most of my time, and you’d better believe that most of that heavy October schedule was in regards to them.

  14. I’ll preface my comments by saying that I love NaNo. I’ve done it many years, and except for the year that I stupidly thought I could write 50K for a novel and get a PhD thesis done by December 1, I’ve won each year I’ve done it. And I always write at least a paragraph every day in November, because if I don’t, I can’t get the “You updated your word count 30 days in a row” badge. (I am ridiculously motivated by stupid little goals like that. Tell me that my very real daughter needs Vitamin D drops, and I may or may not remember to give them to her. Tell me that my fictitious online avatar will lose HP unless my daughter gets her drops, and she gets them at 9am every morning on the dot.)

    My problem with NaNo is the opposite of Amanda’s: I think 50,000 isn’t ambitious enough. Or at the very least, it’s calibrated wrong. Most of the novel ideas I have are longer than 50,000 words, so what NaNo actually tends to get me is a hard drive full of incomplete stories. There are only a couple of NaNo stories where I’ve ever reached the point where I could write “The End” on even a first draft. NaNo would work better for me if it were less concerned with word count and more concerned with reaching critical benchmarks and actually getting the novel finished.

  15. Just because something is a gimmick, doesn’t make it bad or unuseful.

    NaNoWriMo is totally a gimmick. But it’s a useful one that works to build professional habits.
    Writing a significant amount (almost) every day, in a sustained effort, is a high hurdle. If this gimmick helps you over it, that’s awesome.
    (But if you use the gimmick as an excuse to whine on social media, well, I might loathe you just a bit.)

  16. I did NNWM last year, my first time, and won. What it gave me was the framework of a first book, that I could, with a lot of revision, turn into something I could publish.
    It gave me the experience of completing a book – I’d started several in the past, but dropped them.
    What I’m using it for this year is to explore writing a different genre – sci-fi – and getting the core of the story in place. If I hit 50K, great. Whether or not I do, I’ll have accomplished what I set out to do – get that next book started.

    1. Most of my nano novels wind up being frameworks as well. 30k-50k typically. Not sure if this makes me the worlds wordiest planner, or an unrepentant pantser because I use those as outlines for the ‘real’ first draft.

      1. Yes. My 50K words seem to include at lot of things like ///need Stone to practice some magic here/// while I went on to write the big battle. And after it’s sat for a month or so, I can see the ploy holes and gaps. But if I’ve got the basic story down and finished, it’ll get polished up and (probably at least a year later) published.

  17. This year, I’m using it as a re-set. I’ve been bogged down in the interminable WIP and it’s killed all writing time because… pickupsticks of a story. So, I’m doing something different this year and have set a 50k goal for a story and some surrounding world building (I usually only count actual ‘story’ words, but this year the world building is as important and not readily infered from the story itself, nor briefly noted. I apparently needed the laid back approach… and the word count practice.) I’ve managed to figure out the glitch in the program I typically use, but hadn’t been able to (it’s almost abandonware and rather old.) for a while, and it’s improved my workflow immensely. Best of all, as I run through the new story. Little bits on the pick-up-sticks story pop into my brain and I’m slowly figuring out what I need to do to disentangle the crazyiness. So this year? Definitely worth it.

  18. The failure thing is what I don’t understand. I enter Nanowrimo knowing full well I’m not going to get 50k words, I’ve got two toddlers, a full-time job, a comic strip, and a poster and a cover in the works, but by the gentle scold of the productivity line I know I’ll be further ahead on my new novel then I’d have been without it.

    My first time, I got nearly forty thousand words, so I ‘failed’ to get fifty thousand. Except I got forty thousand words which was probably about twenty thousand more than I would have gotten without Nanowrimo. How in the world was that a failure?

    The speed I was writing at carried me through to the end of the book and I finished it in early January. It was around 80 000 words. I had no intention of producing a full novel in that month, I always knew I wanted the book to be 80 000 words, I just wanted a large portion done, and Nano helped me get the ball rolling down the hill.

    But I’ve come to realize that even though they get 10, 20, 30, or even 40 thousand words down that they otherwise wouldn’t have some authors truly do believe they failed when they don’t get the 50. But if you were building a house and you set a timetable of a month to build it, and it ended up taking two months instead would that be a failure? Or would you still have a house you built with your own hands? And wouldn’t that be a success?

    So what if you didn’t get the t-shirt. You got the novel.


    1. Which is actually what the staff say. The goal is just there to provide a push. It’s also why they really don’t bother with complaints of cheating. Most of the prizes are discounts or stuff you buy yourself. They don’t refuse to sell you a winner’s shirt if you don’t win. Which makes cheating rather silly.

  19. Two years ago, I “won” in that I finished a story. Mind you, I’d been pulling the pieces together for about 6 months prior; I just restarted with a new plot and a “this is what it’s grown into in my head” on Oct 29th. (Look, it wanted to start. So I started. Because I have enough dry spells already, so when something’s working, I’ll go with it.) Except the story was finished around 43K, or so. I won the arbitrary word goal by writing some other things that went nowhere to make the last 10K.

    Last year – I didn’t have anything coming together like that, gelling into a complete story. Nor this year, though I’m picking up an old thing, and reworking it heavily – I realized I started too late, and needed to add a beginning, then move on from there. It’s slow going, about 2K words/week instead of a day, but it’s moving forward. The NaNo posts are at least inspiring to keep picking at it, and trying to complete the story.

  20. I have no problem with those who do NaNoWriMo – or those who take ten years to finish their opus (although I don’t call the latter professional writers!)

    But when I first saw the acronym I thought it meant “National November Writing More”. I try to see it that way still, and that it needs to be “MeJaWriMo,” “MeFeWriMo,” “MeMaWriMo”… (For some reason, “MeNoWriMo” sounds more like getting out of the chain gang, however.)

    Trying to get back to that habit of almost every day, every month. I too have a Christmas story that will get pushed out the door by this December 1st, otherwise it’s work on Talons of Vengeance. (Which is apparently going to include a fair amount of – how did Wyrdbard put it? Ah, yes, “pick up sticks.” Things in the background are rather too vague.)

  21. I’ve done it before. Only failed once.

    Meanwhile, this year, I’ve designated the month to type up some longhand word. 50,000 words or end of manuscript.

  22. The key is to draw btw for all you illustrators out there.

    Heh. I think I have a NaNoDraMo idea.

    Seriously, between the lunchbox comics & TiaT I’m drawing w/discipline more than I ever have in my life, and the improvement in quality (okay, better tools made a huge difference, as well) in just two years astonishes me.

    Great post.

    1. Working on that. Consistency is my bane. One drawing: very good. The next drawing, completely off. It’s worse if I try and duplicate waht I did last time. So… drawing more. And downloading pictures of actors in different roles and positions to see if I can get even semi reasonable consistency.

      I would definitely go for a NaNoDrawMo. Arbetrary goals tend to help me figure out what reasonable ones are.

    2. I’ve usually looked at Inktober as the NaNoWriMo of illustrators – and really enjoyed the output!

      It’s not just better tools; the work you put in and the growth in your skills is really showing. You do good stuff!

  23. My first NaNoWriMo, I failed. Still have that draft. Still annoys me I didn’t finish. So I’ve ‘won’ every year, since.
    This year, I did 50k, by the 14th. Fastest Ever! Is it a finished novel? Heck no!
    But I plotted, this year. Drew a basic outline. Had an Idea about what I wanted the character to be like, when I started, what challenges he’d face, and how I wanted him to end up.

    Once again, I’m off into ‘pantser’ land, make $hit up, and boosting the word count – BUT I have a Plan™.

    And this year, it just might more closely resemble a Novel than any year previously. So, NNWM has taught me. I can do 50K. I can get the ticky box for 15 days in a row. I can!

    Larry Corriea commented that for (some) professional writers, every month is NNWM. Ok. That’s a mental shift. So NNWM helps jump start into that mode, for me. So this year, it’s 100k or bust, AND complete the story. 2 challenges. And write every day. 3 challenges. Aggh! The pressure! 😀

    One analogy from the forums I am really liking: Bronze sculptures often start with clay and wire. Without those, the basic form doesn’t get made, then the details don’t get added, and the mold can’t be made.
    NNWM is teaching ourselves how to mix the clay, setup the wire, apply the clay, and create the basic shape. Next will come the details, then the rest.
    BUT nothing happens until the clay and wire are stacked, assembled and then pressed together.

    So, for us Z-list writers, it’s great to mold the clay, with friends. Soon, it’ll be solo, and, who knows? Someday soon, you may just get to look at the finished product. And won’t that be a day for a Snoopy happy dance?!

            1. A lot of Larry’s articles are fun to read. His fisks are especially hilarious!

              I think most of us, at the very least, are at U, or S, then go to N… and hopefully climb up from there.

              “Authors who’ve published a book or maybe some short stories.”

              I’m aspiring to F rank!

              Y and Z actually are based off of real, specific individuals at least one of whom is banned from here… and ATH… and Larry’s… (I don’t know if the former Grauniad Village Idiot is banned from here or ever showed up here.) Let us all breathe a sigh of relief: we are not that bad, and thankfully, never will be.

Comments are closed.