I’ve written four novels; one is published (Saving Grace), and three are scheduled for publication over the next few years. Of these four, guess how many I drafted originally during the annual National Novel Writing Month of November (NanoWriMo)?

** THREE **

That’s right — I gave birth to three Sagittarians, then nurtured them in the ensuing months as lovingly as I would a human baby. That got them to the point of “crappy first draft” status. From there, many more months and much hard work later, I had something I could turn over to my editor.

NanoWriMo works for me. It works for some other folks, too. It does not work AT ALL for a great number of people.

First, let me explain NanoWriMo. NanoWriMo occurs for 30 days each year during November. During NanoWriMo, participants are challenged to write a 50,000-word “novel.” They are urged to curb their inner editor and bear down until they reach the word count goal. They are not tasked to write good fiction. They are not even required to reach “the end.” In fact, you could type your name in, copy, paste, and repeat until you hit 50,000 words, and they would never know. (But you would)

So why do people do it? For me, it was a cattle prod to the haunches. I flourish under deadlines and pressure. I sit on my tush and eat bon-bons the rest of the time. For people like me, it provides just the right structure and conditions to make us work. Not necessarily work well, but work.

For others, NanoWriMo is a spirit-crushing venture doomed for failure. These are the folks who can work steadily at a middlin’ pace for day after day, but who absolutely freeze creatively or otherwise with the clock ticking. NanoWriMo for them is cruel and unusual punishment at best, and, at worst, crippling.

Thus, before you sign up for NanoWriMo, decide which team you play on, Team Adrenaline or Team Consistency. If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me, the next decision point is preparedness. I highly advocate completion of a full outline and/or synopsis before November 1st, otherwise you may spend the rest of your life deciphering the hidden meaning in your speed writing.

Next, will you be able to clear your decks to ensure success? The pace is only 1700 words per day, but life has a way of stealing writing days. My max day during NanoWriMo was 10,000. I had to wrap my elevated hands in ice packs for hours afterwards. Put off the deadline on anything else you can. Line up your support team. Who’s going to feed the kids/dog? Pay the bills? Take out the garbage? Prepare your family mentally, and run Nano drills to ready them.

Lastly, remind yourself going in that at best you will end up with a too-short-for-prime-time novel in shitty-first-draft shape. Too many novice writers think that reaching the end of NanoWriMo means you have a work worthy of pushing out to readers everywhere. Um, you probably don’t. Be patient. Work it, re-work it, and re-re-work it. You’ll get there (probably), but writing must cure before consumption. My NanoWriMo from five years ago was published this year. I can’t count the rewrites, but writing IS rewriting. Really, it is.

I believe that, for me, creativity follows productivity. Sure, inspiration randomly strikes at times, but not many of them. Mostly, I buckle down and, by pushing myself through the process, jumpstart my creative mind. As the word count grows, my brain has more to work with.

Write now. Rewrite later.

I won’t be able to do NanoWriMo this year, but not because I don’t want to. I have a draft to get to my editor by December 1st, something I couldn’t say had I never Nano’ed.

How about you?

Pamela Fagan Hutchins

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7 Responses to To Nano or Not

  1. Eric Hutchins says:

    She is SERIOUS, about the “prepare everyone around you” comments. I think there are only two ways that you can successfully do this, either be A. Single (or about to be), or B. Have a support team in place that is willing to give you as much of the month as possible “off” from all other responsibilities. Make that up in the other 11 months of the year, but in this month, you have to be able to shut the world out as MUCH AS POSSIBLE.
    I personally think its a great thing, and I am very glad that Pamela has done it (and I am kinda glad she isn’t doing it this year). 🙂

  2. Rhonda Erb says:

    Because of events I could not have predicted, I’m seven days late, thus far, but thinking I’m still going to do NanoWrimo again. I’m pretty sure life isn’t going to cooperate by slowing down or anything, but I’m still going to try. I might be a glutton for punishment. 🙂

  3. Terri Sonoda says:

    Excellent article Pamela! Last year was my one and only (so far) NoNoWriMo. I wrote the novel I am currently editing, working title “The Pretense” during that NaNoWriMo. It was fun, scary, crazy-fast, and amazing all at the same time. This year, due to the work required on my thesis, I am skipping the festivities. I am, however, missing the fun! I think that kind of “writing like the wind” permits and promotes a writer’s inner most emotion and imagination. I will be participating in NaNoWriMo next year, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

  4. Pamela says:

    Thanks Terri

  5. Vidya Sury says:

    So right. I read all this last year when I participated and succeeded, but without actually being able to delegate the other activities around me. I learned I was capable of taking more pressure than I thought possible, and thrived.

    This year, I was guilty about not rewriting/editing last year’s work.I sat on the feeling. Then on Nov 8, I went and signed up and started writing. SOMETHING will come out of it, my gut said. Maybe. But I am writing. And loving it.

    Hugs! Wonderful post!

    • Pamela says:

      I am so glad you are doing it! You will develop, and have something to edit. Who know what it will become someday? Go Vidya!