NaNoWhoNow? NaNoWriMo Dos And Don’ts

Writing Advice

Writing a novel is having a baby. A lot of pushing and pulling, and by the time you’re done the floor is covered in blood and amniotic fluid, and then somebody’s got to shove a bulb up somebody’s nose to clean out all the snot, and then there’s the crying, and then you have to pay for college.

Wait, no. That can’t be right.

Writing a novel is like building a chair! Yes. Yes, that’s it. It’s a craft in which you saw and sand, measure and plan, and next thing you know you’ve accidentally slipped and pressed your face up against a belt sander, and your nose goes sliding off into oblivion, and now you’re the noseless freak that the whole neighborhood makes fun of, and anytime they walk by you they do that “I Got Your Nose” shit with their thumbs and two fingers and then you’re forced to plot their murders…

Damn, that doesn’t feel accurate, either.

Writing a novel is like captaining a ship.

Writing a novel is like knitting a sweater for a unicorn?

Writing a novel is like fighting a cyborg bear!

No, no, and no.

Writing a novel, as it turns out, is like writing a novel.

And, if you’re engaging on that month-long expedition into the word-choked dark called NaNoWriMo, then you’re about to do that very thing. I don’t know that you’re so brave and intrepid I’d compare you to Admiral Byrd or whomever, but writing a novel is a pretty crazy process: lots of squalling, many hurrahs, and frankly, when you’re done the floor really is covered in blood and amniotic fluid.

(At least the way I do it.)

I received a handful of emails asking, “Hey, are you going to blog anything else about NaNoWriMo?” And I thought, “Uhh, no, I guess not.” Except, now I am. In the past, I’ve been a little critical of the NaNoWriMo setup, but I’ve never been critical of those who endeavor to actually push through this process and birth their struggling word-baby into the world. You people writing the books? You rule. Literally. You rule your own little fiefdoms and islands, your own city blocks and households, your own sky castles and undersea empires. You rule because you’re the writer.

So, I thought: hey, maybe I’ll do up a quick list of dos and don’ts. (I always want to write that “do’s” and “don’t’s,” but that looks assy, doesn’t it?) Some quick bumpers on the walls to maybe help keep your bumper car aligned — guardrails to stop you from flinging yourself into the wordless oblivion, into the yawning chasm of a no-novel existence.

Ready? Get ready to rock NaNoWriMo’s face off. Or at least its nose. Like with a belt sander.

Do Make Discipline Your Takeaway

You want to know how most writers fuck up? Seriously, here it is — the fatal flaw of the writer: we are lazy no-goodniks, forever hopping from project to project. We’re like meth addicts, our dopamine centers blown to ragged tatters, forever in search of the next high. Except, writing can’t be about the high. It can’t be about that one great day of word count. It also has to be about all the shitty ones. What NaNoWriMo will give you is discipline: the ability to staple-gun your shit-can to a chair every single day and pound the keyboard the same way a beat cop pounds pavement. It can’t get done unless it gets done.

Do Not Believe That Haste Is A Critical Ingredient To Your Word Soup

And yet, NaNoWriMo sets a very arbitrary pace: 50k in 30 days, or ~1,667 words per day. It’s certainly doable — I tend to write 2-3k a day. But I was only able to do that steadily after years of freelancing, and that’s when I have a deadline (and money) waiting at the end. Writing a novel can be a different creature, and it isn’t so easily boxed into the same schedule. Most novels I’ve written took me about three months to write from start to finish — still not a bad stretch of time, but certainly not 30 days. So, if you find that NaNoWriMo’s pace doesn’t fit your own — then stop caring about NaNoWriMo, and start caring only about the novel. Your goal is the novel. Your goal is not to “win” an Internet experiment-slash-experience. If you need three months, take ‘em. If you need six, take ‘em. If you need eight… well, let’s try for six, okay?

Do Take Time To Smell The Word Count (And Do A Little Planning)

Writing isn’t about writing. It’s a misnomer — a myth. The actual writing, meaning the pen-to-paper fingers-to-keyboard part, actually comprises a very small portion of the writer’s life. So much else exists between those spaces: planning, marketing, selling, rewriting, editing, researching, and so forth. Assuming that NaNoWriMo is very much about a taste of the job and the life, then for yourself and for the novel I’d recommend taking time in your day away from the writing to concentrate on some other elements. Hit your word count mark for the day, then attend to other matters your novel may require. Put your back into a little planning for tomorrow’s word count. Start writing up a sample query letter and treatment to keep yourself on task. Do up some character notes. Think in beats, scenes, sequences, acts. Then, when all that is said and done? Sit back, relax, and enjoy what you have accomplished so far. Take pride. Eat candy.

Don’t Stop Writing, Neither For Hell Nor High Water

And yet, despite this side prep, don’t stop writing. Writers can easily get lost in the prep. Lift your head from the murk! Clear your brain of the crazy bees. And always, forever anon, sit your ass down and write. This novel isn’t going to write itself. Unless it is? And if it is, then you need to tell me where you bought that awesome novel-writing robot. I seek to purchase a clone of NovelBot for a hefty sum. And if NovelBot one day goes nuclear and attacks the United States, I reserve the right to scowl at you. I’d sue you, but it won’t matter, because the entire infrastructure of our country — the legal system included — will be surely defunct thanks to the cruel reign of the word-crunching NovelBot. Damn you, robot.

Do The Work, And Realize That It Is, Indeed, Work

Surrounding NaNoWriMo is an existing giddiness, an airy and intrepid spirit — and that’s a good thing. Yes. Have fun with it. Smile now, you poor bastards because you may not be so giggly and gassy after two weeks have gone by. The reality is, writing is work. Like, work-work. It can at times be as exacting and punishing as dentistry, and sometimes you might feel like you’re a Chilean miner trapped in the deepest, darkest earth. This is, contrary to how it feels, a really good revelation. If you go into this thinking that writing a novel will be fun from day one until day 30, you’re fucked right in the ear. This isn’t a log flume ride, pal. This is a mountain climb. And climbing a mountain is a hard slog. And you might fall. Or encounter mountain lions. Or even cyborg bears. Point is, be excited for the thrill, but be ready for rectal misery.

Don’t Believe That 50,000 Words Is A Proper Novel

Writing a novel is work, and writing 50k of a novel is a lot of work — but it isn’t a complete work unless we’re talking middle-grade or young adult. For the most part, a novel is going to need to be somewhere around 70-90,000 words. Which means, uh-oh, you’ve got a lot more work to do. Now, this means one of three things — a) you create a complete 50,000 word “novel” now, then go back in and flesh it out and beef it up; b) you write 50,000 words now and realize that you’re going to, in the subsequent month, hammer out another 20-40k; or c) try to write a 70-90k novel in 30 days, which is all well and good until you pull a mental hammy and shit your brain-diapers and end up having to eat mushed-up peas and bananas for the next six months. Again, do what needs doing for the novel, not for the “contest.”

Do Consider This A Zero Draft

I consider a first draft a proper draft. It is your first completed draft, a draft that doesn’t need to be good, but needs to be utterly whole. Let this NaNoWriMo draft escape the pressures of that. Let it be a “zero draft.” It’s allowed to exist a little bit unbaked — soft in the middle, uncertain, still finding its feet like a goo-slick calf. That’s okay. Take the pressure off. You have time. Unless you’re dying from some terrible disease. And if you are, then, uhhh. Sorry? Good luck? Here, have a Hallmark card!

In Fact, Do Think Of This As A Very Powerful Outline Or Story Bible

Write this draft like it’s a very deep, intensive outline, story treatment, or story bible. Yes, yes, it’s still a novel, and it’s still a technical draft of your novel — but with the kind of haste and waste you’re going to make churning through this work, you might find yourself better served looking at the end result as a clumsy “first go.” This means it makes a truly excellent and highly-detailed preparatory tool. You take this draft, you finish it, you find the mistakes and mis-steps, then you rewrite the whole damn thing with a deeper devotion toward all those fiddly bits that make a novel truly great — character, dialogue, action, theme, mood. Oh, yeah, and plot. If one thing is going to get its head lopped off on the altar of haste, it’s plot. So, for now? Fuck plot. Just write. This is your outline, after all. A really big, really robust outline.

(Which Means You Don’t Need To Work So Hard This Month)

You say, “I’m writing a novel,” and (for me) that’s a lot of pressure. But you say, “I’m writing a novel that’s really just an outline for an even awesomer and ass-kickier novel,” then — ahhh. Woooo. The shoulders unclench. Your sphincter loosens (but not so much you make a mess on that most critical of implements, your writing chair). You let slip a few drops of happy pee. Now? The pressure’s lessened. This is just a plan. This is just really exacting prep. You’re not foolishly rushing onto the battlefield. This is a battlefield simulation! This is your own X-Men Danger Room. Breathe easy. And learn how to bring down Juggernaut.

Don’t Stop With Your Zero Draft

All that being said, don’t stop with this draft, whether you think of it as a first draft, a zero draft, or a really plump outline. NaNoWriMo is one month, but your novel cannot and should not be contained to a single month. It needs more time. Trust me, it needs more time. You’ve got more drafts to write. Possibly one, two, even ten. You don’t write until November 30th. You write until it’s good. (Or, put differently: drink until she’s pretty.) To continue the alcohol metaphor, it’s like a wine. You uncork it too early, it’s going to taste like piss and vinegar.

Do Embrace The Community

NaNoWriMo’s shining awesomeness comes in the form of being connected to something greater. You’re all embarking on a really weird journey together. Use that. Enjoy the camaraderie. Listen, a writer’s career isn’t formed just on what she can write — it’s formed on who she knows. It’s build in part on the backs of relationships. Make those relationships. Both professional and personal. It will not only give you the morale to keep on kicking, and it won’t only let you boost the spirits of others — but it’ll hopefully create lasting relationships that go well beyond November, 2010.

Don’t Rely On It, However

And yet! The writer’s life is a lonely one. Online relationships are only so real, after all, and your devotion is not to other people. Your priority isn’t social. It’s mental. Your job lurks in the words, not the words you write to encourage others but the words you write on the pages of this beast you call a novel. It can be easy to get caught up in other people’s drama, and the last thing you want to do is duct tape your novel’s fortunes to those who aren’t helping you — so, be a part of the community but know its limits. Know that the only thing that gets the book written is you writing the goddamn book.

Do Take Yourself And Your Work Seriously

Once again I’ll point out that the motif of NaNoWriMo, the prevailing mood, is one of fun — it’s a challenge! It’s a game! Hoot! Gibber! Eeeee! Well, okay, that’s very nice. But my assumption is that you’re serious about wanting to be a write. Otherwise — why do it? If you’re doing it “just to see if you can,” well, hoo-hah for you. Except, I’m not talking to you. You can go now. Shoo. Go on, skedaddle. You, glib dilettante, will soon learn that writing is a devotion, a discipline, a craft (and to some, an art), but it is not a throwaway piece of cake left on the counter for the ants. It’s serious business. And so those engaging in NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to take this seriously and more importantly, take yourself seriously. You are an ass-kicking, neck-throttling word jockey. You command the powers of the verbal elements. You make characters dance, fight, fuck, eat, love and kill. You can set the mood of the room the way most people set the temperature in their house. You are a god here. Accept that mission for what it is: a responsibility.

Do Not Take It So Seriously That You Start Sending It Out To Agents And Editors Immediately, Because That Makes Word Jesus Turn Evil And Doom The World

The one flaw in NaNoWriMo (and why it sometimes earns the ire of professional writers) is that it kind of floods the marketplace a little bit. November 30th rolls around and suddenly you have a world with thousands of new novels birthed screaming into an unkind world, and while that remains a truly sublime act of creation, it also means that you have a lot of writers who don’t have the sense of a tree grub, and these writers decide to abdicate their own sense of work and responsibility by throwing their unformed fetal drafts into the world. They choke the inboxes of agents and editors with their protoplasmic snot-waffle novels and they think, “Gee golly gosh, I’m a real writer now!” Except, they’re not. They’re rosy-cheeked, empty-eyed shitheads. Don’t be that shithead. Don’t just loose your garbage onto an unsuspecting world (which creates more work for agents and editors who already have a hard time finding diamonds in a sewage tank). Take time. Polish your work. Give it six months. Give it a year. Give the novel the air it needs to breathe. Give yourself, as a self-serious novelist, time to realize when this book is ready to roll or (a bigger and more mature revelation) that this book just isn’t “the one” — and that it’s time to write another better book, a book that doesn’t beg to be written only from November 1st to November 30th, a book that can be written whenever your fluttering wordmonkey heart so desires.


  • I love NaNoWriMo. After I graduated grad school (funny?) I vowed that I would commit to the word count. And I have the certificate to prove I did it. Lemme tell you, that “I did it” feeling is awesome. Write-ins are awesome. Do ‘em. The bond between Wrimos is awesome. Use it.

    Writing is awesome. Do it. And I can’t slight a single one of these Do’s and Don’ts. The thing that I find most important about this post, and NaNoWriMo, is that the product itself is not as important as the process. As hitting your numbers, of watching your word count bar fill up. As writing your draft.

    I did all that, and I loved it. It’s a few years since and I’m still editing and beefing up my draft. I’ve moved on to other, more immediately profitable or intellectually stimulating projects. NaNoWrimo helped me see that I could do this writer thing. But sending my draft to publishers? (And that year all the winners got a free chance to online publish) That would have been a sh*thead move. Why? Because it’s all about the process, and we don’t publish the process. But we should love it. It’s awesome.

    Like that certificate on my fridge.

    [Pollyanna Soapbox Mode De-activated]


  • Well, I think you’re all shitheads. Especially me. So there.

    That being said, I loved this article – like I did around last time you wrote about NaNoInnaGaddaDavida and I should have commented yesterday but, well, we got busy on Twitter (You sexy thing) and I got distracted. I stand by that I won’t partake in NaNo but I think it’s a cool idea, just not for me. More power to anyone trying it.

    And my thoughts on the entire submitting before it’s ready thing: that should be a no-brainer, and yeah, their shitheads if they try it. I was a shithead when I tried forever ago, and only now am I growing out of my shithead ways. Is it harsh? Yes. But so is life, especially if you want to support your life through excreting words. NaNoWriBff4ever is hard. It’s brutal. Why should advice about trying to sell be any different?

  • Excellent. Informative and entertaining, thanks for the post. I’m doing NaNo this year and I’m super excited. I can’t help, but be a little bright eyed and bushy tailed about it. It is, for me, an exercise in discipline. If I can get myself into the habit of sitting down and writing everyday no matter what’s going on, I feel like skill will come in time.

    I’m not delusional though. I won’t call myself a novelist at the end of the month. Just because I can do a couple of card tricks doesn’t mean I’m a magician.

    In the end, I don’t think people should get so hot collared over NaNo. We don’t go around yelling at all the little kids in Pee wee football that they’re never going to make it to the NFL. Most will keep at it while its fun. Most will quit after finding out how much work it truly is.

    And a lot of people going into it this year are just praying they can poop out something better than Twilight.

    • I’m not delusional though. I won’t call myself a novelist at the end of the month. Just because I can do a couple of card tricks doesn’t mean I’m a magician.

      Very well said. :)

      And thanks!

      — c.

  • I never said that it was okay to submit something unedited. I’m saying that many people don’t even know they have to edit. You all may think it’s a no-brainer, but you’d be shocked at how many people really, truly just don’t know. Chuck, you should be a little more careful about your wording, considering you’re writing an article for first-timers. That being said, by all means — tell them to edit, edit, edit. They need to know!

    Someone above said that agents and publishers were harsh, and yes, that’s true, but I doubt any professional would call submitting authors names. I get that this was all in fun and, like I said in my first comment, I enjoyed 99% of the article. I’m just trying to say that instead of laughing at newbies, we should be helping them. After all, if no one had taken me under their wing, I’d still be writing stories and novels and being satisfied with them as soon as I finished the last sentence.

    Now, if you continue to submit stuff without editing, even though you have been told time and time again? Then yeah, you’re a shithead. :B

    • @Elizabeth:

      My point is, being a “new writer” does not absolve you from “trying to have a clue.” Being new at anything still requires some measure of responsibility — I wouldn’t paint a picture and then try to jam it up the ass of the security guard at the Louvre — “Here! It’s my first artwork! I’m new! I don’t know any better! Hang it up!” People will look at that guy and say, “Hey, look, honey. A shithead.”

      As I said, I was a new writer, but I knew enough not to smear my sticky jam-hands on the wall and call it a novel, and then peel off that jelly-stuck wallpaper and send it to agents and editors.

      Writers who want to be writers learn pretty early on that you need to edit. Even in high school you sometimes do a rough draft of papers and stories — so, if you’re a 20- or 30-something human being and you don’t edit and you just wantonly send out your NaNoWriMo novel for publication, I’m sorry, I think that earns you a Mr. Yuck sticker smack dab in the middle of your forehead so that all can see.

      I am not, at all, in any way, insulting new writers or amateurs. (Or, at least, that is not my intent.) All writers were new at one point. All writers had to start out as amateurs.

      But that doesn’t excuse them from, when trying to move into a professional realm (which is what you do when you submit to an agent or an editor), doing the right thing and taking responsibility for the draft.

      The joy of this blog is, I’m not an agent, I’m not an editor. I can be harsh (reflecting the actually harsh conditions out there) and even still, nobody has to listen. They are free to ignore my mumbling waffle as they see fit.

      Even still, shitheads are shitheads. They don’t get the excuse of “But I didn’t know any better,” because even the most basic and essential of information will tell you to do differently.

      — c.

  • This is my third year doing NaNoWriMo. I won it the first two years and I editied my first book “almost” to the point of submission readiness. I even have someone to submit it to. I loved what you had to say. Honestly, I haven’t read it all -yet- I’m in a hurry to go deal with life. Then it’s back to NaNo. I definitely hope to build some great relationships during this process. I agree, there are so many of us, and so much potential. I’ll be back. Thanks.

  • This is the second year I’ve done NaNoWriMo. For me, what I’ve found is that the blessing of the artificial super-fast deadline is that it FINALLY makes my inner censor shut up. When there is no pressure, I have plenty of time to dither and second-guess my ideas — but when I have a one-month deadline looming, the rest of my brain goes into Deadline Panic Mode and flails about because OH NO WE HAVE TO WRITE A WHOLE BOOK AND WE NEED AN IDEA AND WE HAVE NONE OH CRAP WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WAIT THERE’S AN IDEA LET’S JUST GO WITH THIS GO GO MOVE MOVE MOVE. And I pounce on the first idea that comes into my head — an idea which, in truth, was lurking there all along, patiently waiting for my inner censor to shut up so it could come forward — and finally do something with it. For me, that’s been INVALUABLE.

    I know that what I did last year is not ready for public consumption, but…I also know that it’s a damn good start, one that’s good enough for me to think “could I…do something with this, maybe?” I know the same will be true of this years’ outing, and I already like it better than last time’s.

    finally: the phrase “That Makes Word Jesus Turn Evil And Doom The World” has been making me laugh and laugh.

  • A zero draft. I’ve never thought of that. It’s perfect for nano, which I am doing. So far I’ve managed to get up at 4 a.m. two mornings in a row to work on the novel BEFORE getting sidetracked with life stuff.

  • Good post.

    This is my fourth NaNoWriMo and I’ve never won it. I don’t remember why I even signed up for it the first time. I think that a friend told me about it and I thought it was funny. Don’t look at me like that, I was young and stupid. Damn, I’m still young and stupid but, by now, I’ve learned what NaNo is for me and how it can help me.

    Never, ever, I’ve been able to finish anything I’ve tried to write. I’m not constant. I’m always writing (I don’t know how not to write everyday, actually), but it’s never the same story. I have like a thousand different stories, all of them started, none of them finished. Most of them are kinda shitty, and it all sucks quite a lot. So this year, my goal is to finish a first draft of one of the few really good ideas I think I’ve actually had. A zero draft, as you said. Then, it’ll take a lot of time of rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and maybe rewriting some more. If I have a zero draft by November 30th, I’ll be quite happy. Gosh, I’ll be extremely happy and willing to try with something bigger (fixing up the mess and transform the draft in something that can actually be called a novel).

    I don’t know. I think I told you all that because I really agree what most of the things you wrote here. I think this is a pretty accurate description of my vision of this whole NaNoWriMo thing: a experience I’ll enjoy and that, hopefully, will help the writer in me to grow up. Not some magical formula to write the perfect novel and sell it right after the month finishes. Not at all.

    As I said, a really good post I’ll recomend to some newbies I’ve recruited this year :)

  • Loved your blog post. Thanks for the great tips! I’ve been writing for magazines for nearly twenty years, and am finding this to be a fun exercise in taking on a different kind of writing. Fiction has just never been my thing. I think this will be good practice for birthing the non-fiction baby I really want to bring into the world before long. I’ll use NaNo to get the discipline part down first and enjoy the ride. So far, I can’t believe how in 4,000 little words there’s so much to keep track of. Wait, was she the middle sibling? Wasn’t he a shitty student? Why was she such a bitch before if she’s being sweet as a kitten now? Am I rewriting The Three Faces of Eve here? Is it okay to drop lines in from the PBS show on Native American Films as I round the bend toward my word count for the day? So much fun, though.

  • Thanks for that awesome post. The fickleness of the writing mind is truly a terror to behold. Worse from the inside ( and though I mostly write music, it’s just as frustrating to try to stay on focus and ignore the floating shiny objects. Look! There’s one now!)

    I’ll read this post often and then try to get back to work. Many thanks.

  • Thank you for this post. I’m doing Nano this year because I’ve got an idea for a sequel to the novel that is coming out this month and I figured this was a good way to jump-start it. I don’t intend to finish the whole thing in one month and their “write without editing” style is definitely not for me. I’m more of an edit-as-you-go kind of person. Anyway, free writing is a great way to get something STARTED, but I certainly have no interest in finishing the whole thing in a month… the last one took me two years with editing to write about 110,000 words and I enjoyed the process, so why should I rush through it this time?

  • It’s always that kind of encouraging texts like yours that I need to go on writing. If I don’t get my monthly encouragement I lose all confidence because I think I’m the only writer in the world with my kind of problems. Though I perfectly know I’m not… It’s a vicious circle!

    Thanks a lot from Berlin! :)

  • @Elizabeth: I completely disagree with you. If you are serious about your writing (even if you’re new) then you SHOULD know that you have to edit your work. I think a serious writer SHOULD have insecurities about the quality of their work, enough to want to go through it to make sure that it is okay before letting anyone else see it. It was published for the first time at 23 and it the first thing I ever wrote. As I was e-mailing it off to an editor, I was so nervous about what he would think, I nearly wet my pants the minute I clicked the send-button. If I ever finished something with the feeling that this is wonderful and I had to show it to everyone right away, I would immediately think that there had to be something terribly wrong with it. I find that if the writing comes to easy and if I don’t question what I’m doing, then it’s usually a piece of crap not fit for anyone to read. That’s my experience, anyway.

  • Last year I wrote during NaNoWriMo to complete a novel’s first draft and I did. By November 22nd I had 67K and a complete story. However, I’d spent most of October preparing to write that first draft so I think it was a first draft in every sense of the phrase.

    This year I didn’t prepare in any way except “Oh yeah, I’d better decide what I’m going to do.” I didn’t even start writing until November 2nd, and frankly I felt really guilty and down on myself about that.

    Thanks to the blog, my head is a little higher because, dammit, I’m writing a zero draft and that’s just fine!

    Thanks, Chuck. Nice article.

  • Basically one of the best NaNo-related posts I’ve seen by far. I’ve been pretty keen on writing a novel, but I never quite found that drive until NaNoWriMo came along. Now I’m not quite sure if this post was meant to be like this but it’s like getting a very straightforward pep-talk from a friend. Although the whole process of actually writing a novel is gruelling, I like to think it’ll be worth it in the end. Anyway, any more wisdom for an aspiring writer who just wants to see her name in print because it’s brag-able (hehehe)?

  • Love your view and tips!

    This is my first NaNo attempt. I am having a blast and it has really shown me how much time I usually waste away when I should be writing. My word count each day has been nearly 3,000 and I am getting through the housework. I have learned discipline…yeah!

    I have now given myself and extra challenge to target 80,000. However, I have a game plan if the time runs out and I need to add an ending fast. ;0

    Happy Scribbling and good luck to all NaNo participants. Heck, good luck to all writers around the word!

  • I’m one of those people who have always wanted to write a novel, but never really thought they could. That’s what nano is changing for me. Now that I’ve entered nano, I’m not -just- writing for myself anymore. I’ve taken on an obligation (even though I really haven’t) and now I’m actually doing what I never believed that I could. Writing is difficult, sometimes about as much fun as pulling teeth, but at least now I’m pushing through those rough parts rather than thinking “I can’t do this” and throwing in the towel. Although I agree that 50000 words is too short for a novel and that writing a novel takes a lot more than a month, this experience is making a big difference in me.

    One thing about the article had me puzzled, though. You said that you didn’t ever “win” nanowrimo because you hit 50000 words without finishing your story? But when I read the guidelines they said that the 50000 words were a threshold, not a stopping place, and therefore it didn’t matter if you were only halfway through?

  • Very interesting stuff!

    I started in July 09, finished with 53k words and in Feb 2010 thought I had a novel. Sent 10 queries and heard nothing. Figured out that 53k isn’t a novel. Started fleshing out characters, added, tuned, fine tuned, read Donald Maass’ excellent book on writing the breakout novel. Re-read the book, re-wrote a few parts, looked for useless adverbs and action killers like was and had. In July I had 74k words, and a better story. I still haven’t queried it as I want to let it sit, sites like this make me want to tune it one more time, then tune it again and start the query process.

    Chuck, all the agents at Maass seem great…I might send to the general inbox and hope someone likes it! Do you think that’s a good plan?

  • @Elizabeth

    I did not know, yet I am very grateful for the advice. I’m such a n00b at writing, you have no idea X3 this actually helped take off some of the pressure, and I really don’t mind being called a shithead and laughing at me if it tells me something. Granted, some people are more sensitive, but that’s just my case.

  • I’m a die-hard nanner myself. I really don’t think I’d ever have completed a novel if it weren’t for nano. I’ve seen all sorts of posts all over the net about nano, and let me say,


    Every other one I’ve seen presents one side, without acknowledging the possibility that the other side exists. Some people nano. Some don’t.

    I found after my first nano, that my draft was actually a workable outline, even though I don’t seem to be able to write actual outlines.

    Also, as a nanner, I’m never ever going to submit a novel to agents in December, even if I’ve been editign it for 2 years. December’s for the crazies. My submission year runs from February to November 1, with a little break for summer. lol.

  • This is my fourth Nanowrimo and my first Nano novel that I might like. I love doing Nano because it does force me to focus on one thing and getting my “zero draft” down. It also gives me an excuse to write a lot, every day, and get up early to do so (yeah, I’m only 17 so my mom still calls the shots).
    Do you have a blog post on picking which quarter-finished story to work on?

  • I know this may sound inane, but I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the first time and all I want to get out of me is a story about my childhood. I have to get it out before I do anything else. It’s good – and I’m writing the shit out of it.

    Please tell me the writing gods still love me?

  • This is my fifth year doing NaNo, and I’m afraid I wont finish it this year because I’ve just had my first baby. However I’m plugging away with elation as well as trepidation.

    This is a great post, and I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll peek at it now and then throughout the month for inspiration on my latest work.

  • Thank you for putting the Nano novel into the proper perspective. I’ve written one published novel, which took me five and one-half years to polish and complete. I’ve written the first draft of my second novel. It’s taken two years. Now, I’m trying for a 30 day novella. In-between, I work on short stories, articles, and essays for anthologies or literary magazine. I’m also promoting my first book, In and Out of Madness on Amazon. I appreciate your very good advice. Seeing this as a zero draft does take the pressure off and leaves the mind free to plug in to my subconscious mind where my muse resides.

  • Great post! The way I’ve approached NaNo is for it to give me enough material to work with. If I even get out half on the word count then at least I have something to play around with. I’ve been giving a free pass for it to be a piece of shit, because I agree with you that there’s no way it can be good in 30 days. I find that freeing. I’m the type of write that keeps re-working the same stuff over and over so I never get anywhere. I can let all of that go and just keep going.

  • I like a person who can effectively use the word “Fuck” in a multitude of ways. FYI: The 4 letter “f” word of a sterotyped, obscene nature is my favorite word, used at least 20 times a day.
    I think this post is great, inspiring, and a good description of the crazy nature of the writer pysche.
    My noodle is currently sloshing around 2 additional stories… and I am still editing 1 novel, and working another.

    *Dumb question moment*
    Would editing a novel already completed count towards Nanowrimo worthiness?

    I will answer my own question and say “No!” So this writer will continue plugging away at one new idea for the month of November.
    Thanks again Chuck for the encouraging words provided.

  • Sweet article.
    I’m doing the young writer NaNoWriMo (Im 13) and I’m really enjoying it so far. Most of my friends in school HAVE to do NaNoWriMo in school as a project…my friend told me about the site and I had to join. But the teacher told them to write a wimpy 8,000 words this month. I think that’s kind of pathetic if you ask me.

    And my online friends on all say “quantity over quality when it comes to NaNoWriMo”. Bullcrap.

    This article helped me realize I’m not the only actually taking this seriously for the quality over quantity.

    I am a beginner writer though…so I think I’ll work on this novel for over a year, and than hopefully publish it :]

  • I’m sending all the members of my region your way. They all need to read this, not only to bring a smile to their faces for the way you put some things, but to make them really think as well (the ones who are serious “I want to be a writer” writers anyway, not the “this’ll be a fun activity for the month!” jackasses.)

  • This is possibly the best article on writing…ever. Wow *stands shaking head in dumbstruck awe.*

    Thank you for shouting the truth with style. I am now a fan and looking forward to more.


  • Excellent. Exactly the kick in the pants (and good laugh) that I needed – even if it’s going to be applied to a comic rather than a book. ;) Thanks a bunch!

    (Found this article through Kristen Lamb, just for the records.)

  • Read something similar here.
    From author Anne Lamott;
    “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”
    You need to get past the the mental block of being able to write a bestseller at the first attempt, that in order to be good at something, you are going to suck at it, for a while. The only way to get better, is to do it again, and again, and again. Over and over, honing your craft.
    But this is true of everything we do, right?

    BTW, to build any type of new habit, takes at least two years of doing it on a daily basis. At least. Or so I am led to believe.
    Anyway, great post, thank you.

  • Actually, I hate to be picky, but you can write a novel in 50,000 words. Slaughterhouse 5 and the Great Gatsby are both less than 50,000 words. Does that mean they are not real novels?

    • The definition of a novel is a work of prose/fiction that is at least 50,000 words in length. So if “Slaughterhouse 5″ and “The Great Gatsby” are both under 50,000 words then technically they are novellas. But who the heck cares? A great work of fiction is a great work of fiction, regardless of length.

      I think Chuck’s point wasn’t so much that 50K isn’t a novel as that most novels you’ll find on the shelves these days are longer. It’s an industry trend, but the actual definition hasn’t changed.

  • I’m gearing up for my first NaNoWriMo, and reading your post was a great way to get focused on the task to come. I’m trying to be realistic about it being a ton of work. It’ll be exciting as hell — but also a long slog up that 50K mountain. And your last part was a big dose of reality, too. I certainly wouldn’t consider my book finished at the end of November. All that slogging during the month will certainly result in some meh writing. So editing, re-working, polishing is definitely needed. Great advice!

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds