Winning at NaNoWriMo

          It’s November twenty-seventh, meaning including today there are just four more days to finish the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in one short month. As of this morning, I’m at 42,452, so it’s nip-and-tuck whether I’ll cross the finish line in time, but in my view, I’ve already won.

When I first heard of Nanowrimo a few years ago, I thought it was for amateurs. Then this year, I signed up because I needed a push. I got just what I asked for: incentive to sit at my desk and write daily, advancing the novel I’ve been working on for years.

What I’ve written isn’t a novel yet, but it’s part of a wonderful first draft that resembles a slightly overweight, middle-aged woman: blousy and untucked, hem crooked, lipstick wearing off, a bit florid in the face. Roots visible. Flabby, untoned, maybe even intoxicated, certainly out of breath – and very, very happy. At least I am.

What I have now is a fabulous mess. Oh, it started out a bit more controlled, just as I started out ahead of the curve, writing 2,000 words/day at the start of the month. But I knew what was coming: a trip that took me out-of-town for a week, followed by a week of preparing and celebrating Thanksgiving with a dozen house guests.

Given these major distractions, it’s no wonder I fell behind. But I didn’t give up. And that’s the magic.

So whether I cross the 50,000-word finish line this Friday or not, I consider myself a winner, big-time. Here’s a partial list of my prizes:

  • The knowledge that I can write fast when I need to;
  • I can write early in the morning, before the house wakes;
  • I can write at the airport, while waiting for my plane;
  • I can write in bed, before sleep, if I have to.
  • I can mark places in the text that I’ll have to go back to and check facts later – and not stop to do research (i.e. procrastinate).
  • I can spill ink, blood, sweat and tears on the page without worry,
  • Because I’ll have plenty of time to clean up the draft as I rewrite it
  • Again
  • And again.

If my nano-novel is like a blousy woman, then that makes me a personal trainer who’s looking forward to the next phase, after the rough draft is finished. That’s when I’ll work her hard to get her into shape. I’ll help her lose words, tighten her prose, improve the condition of her characters, take hours off her plot, and make her something to look at.

Did you attempt Nanowrimo this month? If so, what did you learn about yourself as a writer?

Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Listen to her Vermont Public Radio broadcast about NaNoWriMo here. Learn more at

33 thoughts on “Winning at NaNoWriMo

  1. Deborah thanks for a very vivid and funny look at your November! My NaNo goals were a bit different, but I am achieving mine too. I have to say it’s been a little bit of exhileration getting each day’s work done. At some points I could feel the dread of beginning creep down my arms and into my typing fingers, but after the initial zap of “starting” passed by, I would get my version of runner’s adrenaliin and let my fingers fly. I know its only the 27th, but I also know now that I can finish, and I am so grateful that I started ( over and over :)) Kassie Ritman aka Mom

  2. It was not this particular NaNo that was the enlightening one but my first in 2009. I had written approximately 250 words maximum up until that time – a new writer just discovering this all encompassing passion, that it is now. I was persuaded to try NaNo by a fellow writers circle friend. Of course I had no idea what it was & when I did – panic set in. I wrote like a thing possessed & completed my novel. In 2010 I knew what I was getting into. After a hiatus of 2 years I completed NaNo 2012 on Sunday. The first two bodies of work I achieved during these competitions has been revised, edited and submitted. Now I will do the same with this years. Each NaNo has taught me something about my commitment levels, that my imagination has its own direction and I should follow it and I enjoy the whole buddy support.

  3. I feel just like you do, only I know there is no way I am going to make it to 50K- I am still around 18,ooo, but that is ok because I am writing every day again. I love my characters, I love the story, and I am totally fine with writing the things I want to write in my own time. I have friends who were just writing anything, to up their word count. This is blasphemous to me! But I’ll tell you what- I am SO doing this again, next year…I know what to expect, what needs to happen, and I will not be swayed. Plus, the night of writing dangerously was so much fun, I can’t wait to go back again next year!

  4. Good for you – I think it’s really important to tailor NaNoWriMo to one’s own needs. Doing so is actually good practice for being a writer – where you have to make up all your own rules, anyway.
    Thanks for commenting.

  5. That’s fantastic. I am sure you will make it.
    I have done the mid year camp, which is better timing for me. November has so much going on. August was doable and I completed it with a few thousand to spare.

  6. I managed to cross the virtual finish line can do it! This was my first NaNo, and the key thing I learned was that, because I can type very, very fast, it was still not fast enough to keep up with the stream of thought I dumping onto the pages! But even though I had lots to type, it was still difficult to overcome the feeling that the characters were not developed well, that I had holes in my facts and continuity, that I needed to research more…but I was able to abandon these desires and just write. I did not reread anything during the month, and now, after a few days break, I shall return and see what I can pull out of the blob and decide what to do next. But the key thing I learned was that I liked it. That I want to do more. No matter the outcome.

  7. I’ve loved Nano this year 🙂 My first was the most enlightening, that I can write 50k in a month was amazing to me. But as soon as I hit 50k I stopped and have never touched that one again. This time I really want to carry on. At first it was such a struggle as I hadn’t planned it much and there was lots of research. I wrote quite a bit which will be cut in edits 🙂 But I wrote my way into my characters and the feeling of them coming alive has been fantastic!

    For ages they seemed to just sit around drinking tea, talking and reading. Nobody would want to read that! But I think that was needed for me to get to know them a bit. Then finally I invented the antagonist and sent him in. He waited outside the door for a few days while I was blocked. Then he went in and did the business! He actually acted, which forced the protags to react and they rose to the occasion brilliantly and the three of them have been running around ever since, surprising me by coming up with their own solutions to problems, solving the clues and doing the unexpected 🙂

    Who knows, maybe this one will be the first novel I actually finish…

  8. Mama – Thanks for posting this into the world. I didn’t meet my goal of writing first thing every day, but I did learn to sneak in pockets of time throughout the day. The Result: determination for next month and a wonderful stack of poems scribbled on napkins, old drafts, and staff meeting agendas.

    It was intimidating to learn about your discipline, inspiring to know you stuck with it, and humbling to watch you write after flying to Kentucky for my opening night.

    Thank you for teaching by example and for writing outside of your comfort zone.


  9. Great piece Deborah, and well done for getting this far.
    I’m in my first Nano having only discovered it through this blog a couple of weeks before the start. I’m a ‘write 25,000 words then go back and sort it out and then start another one because you get stuck’ sort of novelist, and although this was not the best month for me to attempt this feat, I’ve managed to get beyond that stage to 35,000 (I think I’ll make 40,000 but am unlikely to finish with work commitments).
    What I’ve learned is that I can just keep writing, I can forget about being a perfectionist, and if I’m bored with a scene I can stop writing it and start writing another. When I think I have no inspiration, if I start writing the very worst thing that happens is I write my way around some aspect of a character and learn more about her or him. And I’ve learned that yes, I CAN and I WILL finish my novel!

    • Wildwomanswimming – Sounds like we’ve learned similar lessons this time around. I get wilder and messier and more out of control as I approach 50k/November 30th – whichever comes first. And there’s something liberating about just writing it all down. I’m already thinking of strategies for coping with the mess when all is said and done. I figure it will take months to untangle and tame. Thanks for sharing your experience here. Deborah.

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  11. This wasy first NaNo, and I have “won.” I feel pretty good about what I have written. It has taught me I can get write a book when I set a goal and offer myself a reward. Now I can’t wait to go back to editing my other book!

  12. This was my fifth NaNo and I’ve “won” each of them, last year with well over 150K. This year it’s just over 70K. But, like most people, the first one in 2007 was the one that opened my eyes. I found out I can work to a deadline, that I can write even when I “don’t” want to, that I can write even when my partner is watching a loud, boisterous comedy on TV, that I can write around the fluff pile I call my cat, and most importantly, that I can write what someone else will want to read. That novel was published (and almost immediately unpublished due to the unexpected death of my publisher and subsequently her publishing company) in September of this year. Now, I’m working on self-publishing it and re-releasing it early in 2013. So, good luck to everyone to finish their word count before midnight!

    • Glenda –
      Congratulations on finishing – again!
      So sorry about your publisher (and one of the drawbacks of using a micro imprint). Good luck with your self-publishing endeavor. And thanks so much for sharing your story here. – Deborah.

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