Let’s Talk About Nanowrimo

Nanowrimo. Just hearing the word makes me wince. National November Writing Month is the most exhausting month of the year for many writers. Why? Because 50,000 words in one month is a LOT. That’s 1,666 words a day on average.

But wait MJ, you may say, I can pump out 1,666 words easy in a sit down!

But can you do it everyday for a whole month?

Now, some people can, and many people do, and they do it successfully. For myself, when I tried doing it last year I managed to get in 32,000 words by the end of November. And gurl was it ROUGH. I actually decided to go ahead and keep up the pace through December, determined to finish my novel by the end of 2020. And I did it! Accomplishing a total of 56,000 words if memory serves.

And I’ve scarce touched my manuscript since. Why?


I have had 0 willpower to start revising that manuscript. I have spoken with others who managed to complete Nano and their stories are often similar: They managed to complete a book, but haven’t touched it since due to various “life” things that take precedence over a relationship with the novel that left them feeling exhausted, used, and undervalued after putting so much effort and investment into it.

In many cases, as in mine, the draft is just way too rough and the revision process ahead too overwhelming to really know where to begin. The technical debt we accumulate during that month in our frenzy to “just keep going” so we can “finish it” more often than not leads to many scenes, plots, and sometimes whole endings, that are completely unsalvageable. And so the “finished novel” is laid aside for “when I have time to revise (or rewrite) it.” Which is never.

And then for everyone who didn’t actually finish a novel or accomplish 50,000 words, we feel like failures, equally as exhausted as the person who did finish, but without a complete manuscript to show for it, and often the feeling that writing a novel is just too much work altogether. And so writing as a whole is put on the back burner.

So how do we fix this problem? How do we, as writers, proactively stop ourselves from forging an unhealthy relationship with our future novel and our writing practice as a whole? How do we come out of Nano feeling proud of what we accomplished; that our time and energy was well spent; and that the draft in our hands is actually something worth revising?

Think about Nanowrimo differently.

Word count is nice, but who cares about word count if at the end of it all you want nothing to do with that novel ever again and you’re surrounded by mounds of dirty clothes, crusted dishes, and neglected family and friends who are seriously contemplating a formal intervention?

Rather than word count, rather than completing a (trash) novel, focus simply on writing every day. Let this be your goal for Nanowrimo.

But MJ, that’s a no brainer. I was already planning to write everyday.

Is it though?

Let’s think about it. November is also the time when family and friends are gathering for Thanksgiving, travelling, cooking, buying Christmas presents, etc. For college students, November is when research papers and projects are starting to loom and stress us out. There’s a lot of days that are prone to 0 word counts. So let’s really be real about what our expectations are.

Do this instead:

If you are planning on participating in Nanowrimo this month, make a plan right now to devote at least 10 minutes to writing every single day of November. Clearly, this is not enough time to write 1,666 words. Get it in your head that it’s not about the word count. It’s about making writing a daily habit, practicing writing, and keeping your story present in your mind everyday. 10 minutes doesn’t have to be the stopping place, but make it where you start every day.

10 minutes is easy enough to fit in among all the business happening in November, so stop worrying about how much time you need to carve to write 1,666 words. That’s overwhelming just by itself.

Make sure you have Google docs or some other writing program on your phone, and get to writing during a bathroom break. You’ll be staring at your phone screen anyway, might as well be writing.

And if you’re not able to get to it again that day, you will still have accomplished your goal of 10 minutes. Still made progress. Still made writing a priority.

At the end of Nanowrimo, your story will have progressed, and your writing become a manageable and sustainable routine that you can carry forward beyond November.

For more on this, check out my youtube video by clicking the play button below.

Now THAT is a Nanowrimo success story.

Happy Writing!