Considering NaNoWriMo? Here’s what you need to know before making a commitment.

On Sunday fall finally arrived.

Goodbye sixty-degree mornings and balmy afternoons.  
Hello dark, cold mornings, colorful leaves, and a return of my ugly sweaters. 

My favorite ugly sweater is almost fifteen years old. The worn, faded fabric is nubbly with pills. The elbows are worn through. Wearing it makes me look like a bag lady, but I don’t care. In this sweater, I’ve written published essays and book drafts.
Ugly sweaters are probably my favorite part of fall. 

They’re a sign of productivity and perseverance—something many writers are preparing to channel as they take on one of the year’s biggest writing challenge: NaNoWriMo.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (or memoir) draft during the month of November. 
That’s 7,142 words per week or 1,666 words per day. 
In 2006, NaNoWriMo became an official nonprofit. If you sign up for the challenge on their site they’ll share their writing resources with you. They can even help you join an official NaNoWriMo writing group. 
Three years ago, I NaNoWriMo’d my way to the first draft of my memoir, How Not to Die. It was thrilling to discover I could indeed write 50,000 words over the course of a month, and that some of those words weren’t half bad. 
So how do you decide whether to NaNoWriMo? 
NaNoWriMo is great for completing first drafts of new projects. While you can NaNoWriMo your way through revisions, this can be more challenging because revision is an unpredictable beast that can leave you staring at a single sentence for hours. That musing time is an essential part of the revision process, but it can quickly eat into your word count. 
Throughout November, I’ll use this newsletter to share tips that can help you churn out your weekly goals.  
For now, I’d like to take you through my NaNoWriMo decision-making process. 
Signs you’re ready to NaNoWriMo: 

  • You’re prepared to start a new project.
  • You can dedicate at least one to two hours per day toward this goal, or you can schedule a few all-day writing sessions.
  • You have a solid outline (if you’re a plotter) or you’re ready to writewritewrite your way to a quick and dirty draft.
  • You value progress over perfection.

If this is you, recruit a few pals and prepare to NaNoWriMo. 

If you’re on the fence, focusing on revision, or not yet working on a project, you can still create a modified NaNoWriMo goal that deepens your writing practice.

Here’s what that might look like: 

  • New Writer goal: Part of claiming or reclaiming a writing practice is developing your creative discipline and stamina. If you’re a new writer, or you’re interested in reclaiming your writing habit, setting a daily goal of even one hundred words, or writing for five minutes per day, can help you develop a consistent practice.
  • Busy Person Goal: Maybe you are working on a project, but don’t have oodles of time to devote to your writing life. Could you devote 10 or 20 minutes per day, five days per week? Or could you set a more modest goal, like drafting 10,000 words? 
  • Revision Goal: If you’re working through revisions, establish a November goal that allows for some musing time. This could include revising an act of your book or selecting a 10,000-word excerpt to focus on. You could even follow Allison Williams’s advice from Seven Drafts and retype your manuscript. 

Participating in a full or modified NaNoWriMo can build camaraderie with other writers working in the deadline trenches. Commiserating, celebrating, and swapping ideas with your fellow NaNoWriMo participants can increase your accountability, and for some people, your productivity. 

But now is not always the best time to set a formidable goal. 

Here are a few reasons to avoid NaNoWriMo: 

  • Perfection is your kryptonite: If failure to come up with the perfect word causes paralysis, NaNoWriMo will amplify these feelings. This could stifle your overall progress and tank your motivation. A stifled perfectionist is likely to feel devastated if that 50,000-word goal isn’t achieved. 
  • Spending a month in a competitive win/lose environment isn’t your jam: Some people thrive in competitive environments, others wilt. If losing or getting behind crushes your motivation or causes you to fall into toxic comparison, steer clear of this event—or at least participate in a smaller, unofficial version.  
  • You’re hunting for a rainbow unicorn: Some writers mistakenly believe they’ll blast out a 50,000-word novel, query in January, and sign a six-figure book deal by Groundhog Day. Let me burst that unicorn bubble. Drafts created during NaNoWriMo are largely terrible, first takes on a story. Many of these drafts are abandoned soon after the event ends. The best ones serve as an outline for a future, well-written draft that will take months to perfect. Bottom line: agents don’t want to see your NaNoWriMo draft. If you send it anyway, they’ll likely ghost you. 
  • Your stories take longer to bake: Completing a 50,000-word story in thirty days is a daunting task for some and completely unrealistic for others. I know writers, like Bret Anthony Johnston, who can’t write a single word until they’ve completely figured out the story in their heads. It once took Bret ten years to understand a story, but the end result was an award winner. If you’re a slow baker, NanNoWriMo probably isn’t for you.
  • Your November is already booked: If you already have extensive holiday plans or intense work deadlines signing up for NaNoWriMo could easily become one more thing on your to-do list. This can lead to resentments that turn you into an asshole. Life is short. Be kind to others and yourself. If the month is already booked, skip NaNoWriMo
  • Your body calls for rest: Some people see fall as a time of heightened productivity after a restful summer. But other bodies are called to more seasonal patterns. The latter months of fall are a time of darkness, stillness, and reflection. If your body wants to fall into this rhythm, let it. You can NaNoWriMo during your more productive season. 

 are you ready to NaNoWriMo? 
If you’re ready commit, are you all in, or would a modified goal better suit your style? 
Or should you sit this one out?
Send me an email with your decision. I’d love to hear from you. 
And, I’d also love to hear about your favorite ugly clothing item. Send me a description, or better yet, a picture. If I hear from enough of you, my ugly sweater might make an appearance in next week’s newsletter. 

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