Why not just write a novel: NaNoWriMo update 1

This year, for the first time in a few years, I’m participating in Nanowrimo. For those of you who might not know, Nanowrimo stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and is (somewhat counterintuitively) an international, online community dedicated to writing novella-length pieces of prose in November. The goal: write 50,000 words.

I’ve participated 5 times so far, and reached my goal of 50,000 words each time. But I fell off the bandwagon sometime during graduate school (year 3? year 3 of grad school sounds about right) so I’m rusty to say the least.

In general, what I learned the past 5 times was this:

(1) If you don’t budget specific time for writing, it won’t happen
(2) If you don’t have friends writing with you, it won’t be nearly as much fun
(3) If you don’t have a plan going in, it will be difficult. If you have a detailed outline, it will be easy.

Of course, this time around will be completely different. Whereas every prior year I had been in-practice with paper writing and fiction writing, I’ve been on a sort-of hiatus from the written word since my thesis & paper extravaganza last April. Whereas every prior year I wrote a story I had planned for a long time, this time around I will be using bits and pieces of a variety of story ideas but I have not as much structure built into the overarching plot yet. Whereas before I usually had at least one good friend keeping me company on my writing stints, this time around I am trying to do this solo. On the other hand, whereas every prior year I had been busy with papers and schoolwork and labwork, this year I have the benefit of large chunks of afternoon time free to do nothing but write, if I so choose. And I have a bunch of friends who are mostly passing on Nano-like activities due to having too much other writing to do, so I bet they can keep me company.

So I’m hopeful. But I think this year will be more of a personal challenge re: crafting something I’m proud of than previous years.

Of course, the advantage of Nanowrimo is that it’s not supposed to be good, it’s just supposed to be written.

And also of course, I’m already behind on my word count. So I’m going to go write some ridiculous science fiction. Wish me luck!

If any of you are participating this year, please leave your experiences in the comments! I’ll be back next Monday with a recap of the week, and how my expectations will have (probably) completely changed.

Elizabeth Finn

Elizabeth is a geneticist working for a shady government agency and therefore obliged to inform you that all of the views presented in her posts are her own, and not official statements in any capacity. In her free time, she is an aerialist, a dancer, a clothing designer, and an author. You can find her on tumblr at, on twitter at @lysine_rich, and also on facebook or google+.

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  1. Wishing you the best possible NaNoWriMo experience. Please keep us posted! We are your cheering section, always.

  2. Your three lessons match my experience pretty closely, to which I would just add that having writing friends who don’t *quit* is really what one needs. It’s really easy to let yourself fall behind in your word count when your friends are just as far behind as you.

    On the other hand, when you’ve been ahead of everyone else on word count for four days straight and then someone suddenly pushes you down into second, it’s amazing how much less tired you suddenly feel. It’s a silly competitive knee-jerk reaction, but it’s a wonderful when you can co-opt one of your own silly knee-jerk reactions to make something good happen.

  3. @Donna — thanks!!

    @breadbox — YES. Or rather, having friends who are writing at about the same rate as you. I remember one year I hit 50,000 at week two, and everyone around me just cut me off, because all of a sudden it wasn’t fun or competitive for them to write with me: I had already “won”. I showed up at a write-in and they just sort of glared at me. It was awkward and sad, and was the last time I did Nanowrimo, because it put me off of that particular community. No amount of me saying “yeah but I’m just stupid verbose, and I still have half my story to tell,” would help. I hope I can find a different group, although it seems this year that I won’t be writing as quickly (I’m hitting par but not surpassing it so far) so it might not be an issue. We’ll see.

  4. That is a good point. I have a friend who consistently hits 50,000 words before the 15th, and while I would never glare at him, it does mean that lagging behind him in word count isn’t much of a prod. (I’m the opposite; I tend to get nothing written until the deadline is almost upon me. I don’t know how other people get anything substantial written before the fourth week.)

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