Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question

Oh, my fickle writer’s heart. Make up your mind, I beseech you.

2015 nanowrimo teeIt’s that time of year again – NaNoWriMo season. Yes, for the sixteenth consecutive year, November will bring us the joys and perils, triumphs and heartbreaks of yet another National Novel Writing Month. A week from today, at midnight on the 31st, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world will come together in virtual and real-life write-ins to surge as one pen- and keyboard-wielding army toward their common goal of each writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Insanity? You betcha. Fun? Absolutely.

Though I admire the spirit of NaNoWriMo (and love its resident plot bunnies), I am always on the fence about participating. As November approaches, I hem and haw, weigh the pros and cons, and generally waffle about . As I muddle about in this year’s annual ritual of indecision, I took a moment to look back on my seven-year relationship with this ordeal tradition of the writing world.

2009 – My First Time

I captured my first (and  – spoiler alert – ultimately only) NaNoWriMo “win” during my virgin trip into the disorienting world of trying to write a novel without a plot. I was still fairly fresh off my divorce, and was living with my daughter in a carriage house apartment that had originally been the servants’ quarters on a large, old money estate. Floundering as I was in my personal and professional life, I was looking for something to anchor my existence and NaNoWriMo seemed to fit the bill.

I have fond memories of creeping out of bed in the dark of predawn, brewing a cup of Sleepytime tea, and hunkering down over my clunky old Dell laptop in the small room that served as my office. I would pull the hood of my bathrobe over my head to create a fleecey barrier between me and the rest of the world, and I would write like mad until my daughter woke up. I crossed the finish line with a total tally of 50,146 words. (Cue the champagne and ticker tape.)

2010 – Conversations in My Head

The next year was the first in what would be a long succession of will she/won’t she debates around the subject of NaNoWriMo. In Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year, I provided a frightening peek into my head and the weird conversations that take place there. In the end, despite part of me wanting to do NaNoWriMo just so I could tell my inner critique to take a leap, I wound up giving the writing marathon a pass after realizing that “winging it” was just not my style.

2011 – Radio Silence

Seems that my resolution to listen to my inner writer and stick to less pell-mell approaches to writing must have stuck because I barely whispered a word about NaNoWriMo in 2011. The whole scene passed me by, barely ruffling my literary feathers.

2012 – More Voices in My Head and Blaming Larry Brooks

In 2012, I once again leapt into the fray and joined hoards of enthusiastic (and slightly delusional) writers as they sallied forth into the chilly month of November with Big Ideas and lots of coffee. Halfway through the month, I found I’d hit a bit of a wall. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from distractions, my inner critic, or my inner editor. They were driving me crazy, and keeping me from doing what I needed to do: write.

At the end of the month, I posted about the final outcome of my battle in NaNoWriMo #Fail (I blame you, Larry Brooks). Though I had, indeed, failed to hit the 50,000 mark, I realized that there was a silver lining to my shortcomings. I realized that part of my inability to fully engage with the “no plot – no problem” approach was that I’d learned so much (in great part from the aforementioned Mr. Brooks) about story structure that I couldn’t bear to just throw stuff at the wall and see if anything stuck. In short, I was ruined for pantsing.

2013 – Another Intermission

Coming off my failed attempt in 2012, there was another brief intermission of radio silence.

2014 – A Brief Consideration and a Big No

Last year I briefly considered once again throwing my lot in with the other NaNoWriters, but in the end it was NaNoWriNope for me.  My reasons remained the same (so points for consistency), but I still felt a twinge of guilt because despite all my talk about learning about story structure and wanting to plan and prepare, I wasn’t making the time to do that work any more than I was making the time to write 50,000 words.

··• )o( •··

Which brings us to 2015.

I have been going through the usual motions, trying to decide whether to join up with my NaNoWriMo comrades, or not. I ordered the 2015 winner’s t-shirt in a burst of late-night hopefulness, but in the morning I was full of doubts and second guesses again. I wrote down a pros and cons list (for the record, the “yes” column won by one), but still failed to make a decision.

Then, as I sat down to write this post I decided to take a minute to dig up the “50,000 words of crap” draft that I wrote in 2009. It only took me a couple minutes to locate the behemoth Word doc in my digital archives. I read the first chapter, and though I saw many (glaring) craft errors, I was actually drawn in enough to keep reading until my daughter got off the bus from school.

Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe there’s something here after all.

The characters that I developed (mostly on the fly) for that young adult urban fantasy have stuck with me over the years. I recall their names, and can almost see their faces. Though November 2009 is (and always will be) a blur, and even though this is the first time I’ve ever re-read a single line of that “manuscript” (and, I use the term lightly), I still remember certain scenes quite clearly.

So, after much internal debate, my decision for 2015 is this: I will not participate in the 2015 NaNoWriMo. Instead, I will re-read the mixed up mess of a story I patched together in 2009, and I will then take it apart and put it back together using everything I’ve learned about story structure and the craft of telling a good story. I will use this abandoned not-quite-a-novel as a guinea pig of sorts to see just what I can do to try and bring this thing back to life.

We’ll see … we’ll see …

P.S. I’m keeping the t-shirt. 

P.P.S. If you want to go out for your own NaNoWriMo win, by all means charge ahead. Doing NaNoWriMo (or, not doing it) has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you are a real writer, a good writer, or a committed writer (though you may need to be committed on November 30th if you choose to take the NaNoWriMo assignment). 😉




unlost logoUnlost by Paul Jarvis and Jamie Varon

In my past, I was something of an online course junkie. I signed up for way too many audio courses, digital workbooks, and virtual workshops. Don’t get me wrong. I love learning, but at some point you have to stop consuming and start creating.

I’ve been on the wagon for quite some time now, but then this little course came across my radar. It caught my eye for three reasons: 1) it’s called “Unlost,” which is a cool name, 2) it’s being offered by Paul Jarvis, whose blog I really enjoy, and 3) it’s only $34 ($49 after October 31st). The course description begins like this:

Have you ever been so frustrated at yourself that you can’t seem to do the creative work you know you’re meant to do? Have you ever felt like all you need is more time and at least a million dollars in order to have the freedom to create the things that you stay up at night dreaming of creating?

Well, the bad news is that we’re not going to give you a million dollars or unlimited free time. Sorry.

The good news is that you don’t need either of those things to do incredible creative work.

I’ve only listened to half the audio recordings, and I haven’t even touched the workbooks yet, but I think this is a course some of you may find helpful in an encouraging kind of way. This isn’t a pitch. I’m not a partner or affiliate. I don’t get a dime if you sign up. I just thought you might like the chance to take a look. I did, and I haven’t regretted the purchase. The lessons aren’t exactly rocket science, in fact they are mostly common sense; but sometimes a little dose of common sense if exactly what we need.

A Writer’s Manifesto by Joanne Harris

joanne harrisI could have included this one with the rest of the blog posts, but I felt it deserved to be highlighted. I enjoy Harris’ work (novels like Chocolat and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), and have also admired her more in-the-moment writings such as her humorous Ten Rookie Writer’s Mistakes post and her #storytime mini stories (told via tweets).

In this piece for the UK’s Writer’s Centre Norwich, Harris navigates with grace and brass tacks talking points through some of the most treacherous writing-related territory – the relationship between writers and readers and the perceptions of the value (as in cold, hard cash) of writing. It’s an interesting read that serves up much food for thought along with a healthy dose of pragmatic (but not dour) reality.


And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin not a competition

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you a barrel-full of enthusiasm and inner fire to get you driving ahead on your writing projects … at your own speed and in your own way. Your finish line is a unique and personal thing. 
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

44 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question

    • Part of me wants to say, “Don’t do it until you’re ready.”
      The other part of me wants to say, “You’ll never have the time. Do it even if you’re not ready.”
      I guess I’m still conflicted. 😉

      • I’m glad it’s not just me lol
        I don’t have the time, but I have ideas, I think I need to pick an idea and mature it even a little in my mind first.
        How about we try it next year? We can make a pact and keep in touch to make sure we’re on course to it something?

  1. I did it for the first time last year, but since I hit the goal, I figured that I didn’t need to do it again. Instead, I’ll be working on quality, since that seems to be my main issue. 🙂 Plus, I don’t have a lot of time this year.

    • I feel kind of like you do, like once I did it, I didn’t need to do it again. Not sure if that’s good or bad. (It’s probably neither, it just is.) Either way, I definitely want to focus more on quality. And, I want to be able to take my time.

  2. I’m never likely to do this and it’s a big no for this year. I already have a book project working and don’t want to distract myself. So for Nov, I’ll be stressing over editing my poetry book rather than trying to write new words that will need to be edited later.

  3. Hi Jamie – loved your timely post.
    I’ve been waffling these last few days/weeks about whether to throw my writing hat into the NaNoWriMo ring this year, too, and as yet haven’t made a firm decision either way.
    One minute I’m all gung-ho (even though I failed miserably in my one previous NaNoWriMo attempt), and the next minute I question my always-precarious sanity over contemplating that crazy writing challenge at all.
    I do think that being encouraged to write 50K words in 30 days would at least make me sit down and write SOMETHING during that time period (which is more than I’ve been doing lately other than restarting my blog this month), so that would be a good thing. But could I handle my inner-critic, inner-editor and inner-doubter if and when I likely fail again by mid November? Hmm.
    I’m still on the fence about this, but know I have to make a decision soon.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this fascinating topic.
    And to everyone who does join 2015’s NaNoWriMo community – I wish you nothing but good luck and great words!

    • It’s true. Saying “yes” to NaNoWriMo would likely jumpstart your writing some, even if you didn’t cross the 50K-word finish line. There is that possible advantage to put in the “pro” column. 😉 I’m trying another tactic which I’ll probably share in next week’s weekend edition – a 10-min writing practice. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much, but it’s better than nothing, and once you get started you often decide to keep going. Interesting experiment.

      Whichever choice you make, good luck!

  4. I’ve participated every year since I discovered NaNo, and even though I haven’t won them all I stand by my decision to take part because even on the years I lost I still wrote more during that month than I would have otherwise. 🙂

    • Yep. As Sylvia said in the comment above, even if you don’t “finish” NaNoWriMo, it does usually have the ability to push you to write beyond your normal output. And that’s got to be a good thing, right?

      Good luck in your venture this year. May the words be ever in your favor. 😉

  5. Pingback: Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question | The William Tell...Life and Everything Else

  6. I did Nano for the first time last year, and only got to 25,000 words. But I did go on to finish the first draft of that novel over the winter, so I feel it was a good way to get me going. Also, I learned to make better use of my time for writing, so I didn’t see it as a failure at all. This year, since I know I can only write 25,000 words at most, I’m going to use NaNo to finish a manuscript I’ve been working on for awhile now. Is that cheating? I don’t see it that way. Reaching your goal is the point, I think.
    And it’s fun to feel part of a writing community.

    • I don’t think it’s really possible to cheat at NaNoWriMo, unless you start typing before the official start at midnight on the 31st. 😉

      I love the idea of using your NaNoWriMo time to finish a manuscript. I think it’s less about what you do than about the fact that you do something. I’m not officially “doing” NaNoWriMo, but the energy surrounding the event has inspired me to get started on a fiction project. And even though I’m not on the roster, it’ll be fun to know that I’m working alongside all those other writers.

  7. That’s awesome that you won the only time you did it! I am excited to try it for the first time. It’s just what I am needing to get out of the bogged down editing process I’ve been in with other novels and just have fun! Thanks for writing this and letting me see a bit of the other side. I still don’t quite understand what ‘winning’ it means? Could you shed some light of this? Thanks! Love your blog!

    • “just have fun” is the perfect way to approach NaNoWriMo, Catherine. If you can keep that mindset, you’ll have a blast, even when the going gets tough. I think that keeping myself in that mode was what got me to the finish line that first time – I just didn’t stress about any of it. I let myself be as silly as I wanted, and it was much easier that way.
      TKS for being here!

  8. Pingback: Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question | izzieberry

  9. Fist pump! Yes! Awesome 🌟🌟🌟 love, love, love that you are reworking your nanowrimo story. I am not a pantser, as I have discovered :). Except for blog posts, where I am a total pantser! I thought about it one year, but it has never crossed my mind since. I’m cool with that :).
    Loved the writer unboxed article too – very timely. I felt like all my self discipline and structure just dissolved over the past month, and I was directing all kinds of self loathing thoughts at myself…but after acknowledging what was hoping on to a friend yesterday, it has just slipped away. Thank goodness!

    • I was comforted by the Writer Unboxed article, too. It was a firm but gentle reminder that was much needed. 😉

      I love that you’re cool with NaNoWriMo participation not crossing your mind since you realized that you’re not a panster. It’s good to know who you are, and even better to be cool with that. 😉

      Here’s to all our angst and self loathing slipping away like water off a duck’s back.

    • You can write whatever you want for NaNoWriMo. Technically, it’s “National Novel Writing Month” (even though most novels are at least 75 – 80K words long), but people use the NaNoWriMo time to write essays, short stories, nonfiction, etc. As long as you’re getting the words down, it doesn’t matter what they are. 😉

  10. Thank you Jaime. I like the idea of writing ceaselessly for a whole month. Heard about it last year but it was already late then. Will try this year. Fingers crossed. I would also appreciate any comments or critique of my writing work – lostprose.wordpress.com

  11. 1st of January, 2015, new diary. I go to 1st of September and write “2 months to NaNoWriMo”; I skip forward to 1st of October and write “1 month to NaNoWriMo”, followed by a weekly countdown throughout October. I’m not going to be caught off guard like I was in 2014 or 2013, the year I discovered NaNoWriMo. I have ten months to get my s**t together. Come the 1st of November 2015 I will be ready.

    [Cue sound of screeching brakes]
    I’m not ready. The manuscript I’m working on is behind schedule and I so want to have it ready for a publisher before the end of the year. I’m moving country, with my husband and two kids, on the 10th of November. And novels don’t pay my bills; newspaper and magazine articles just about contribute to paying some of my bills. So spending a month working on a novel when I should be working on 1000-2000 word articles that will put food on the table seems foolish to me. So, for all my advance planning I’m not ready. Maybe next year.

    But maybe I can still aim for 50,000 words next month – in the form of the epilogue of my manuscript and first drafts of the many short form article ideas swimming around in my head.

    • Love the way you told this little story. Such fun. 🙂
      Perhaps I should add some “ticklers” to my 2016 calendar. I often have grand ideas of spending the month of October outlining a story so that I am ready, come Nov 1st, to dive in and start writing. But the end of October always seems to get here so fast, and the days slip away before I’m able to make the time to get myself organized.

      It’s okay, though. I’m not going to beat myself up. I’ll just start outlining now, and maybe hold my own NaNoWriMo after the holidays!

  12. I will be, once again, participating in NaNo. I got involved several years ago when a creative writing student of mine proposed the challenge. I didn’t “win” (or rather make the word count that year), but I have the manuscripts of my attempts (at least twice “won”). All those manuscripts attest to the fact that I can pen the number of words required for a work to be considered a novel.

    Are the manuscripts any good? Nope, probably not. But like any artistic project, they are the seeds of which polished artistic projects come from.

    After several revisions, I even attempted to pitch one of the manuscripts to a couple of agents/editors. I was greeted, not with a request for the first 10 pages or the first few chapters, but with the idea that I need to split the story into a trilogy OR eliminate 2/3s of the story. I’m still working on that manuscript.

    To me, NaNo is no different than applying to earn an MFA in creative writing and working with a timeline for your manuscript, or being asked by an agent/ editor to develop an idea and write the manuscript within a specific time period.

    To me it validates that I am able to write the number of words for a given project and stay on task until said project is completed.

    Happy NaNoing everyone.

    • I love the “rubber-to-the-road” aspect of NaNoWriMo. You’re absolutely right that it’s a great way to demonstrate your ability to generate a steady output and “stay on task” until the project is done – both very admirable qualities in a writer, and both skills that require regular practice.

      Good for you for putting NaNo to work in a way that works for you. Good luck in this year’s adventure!

  13. I love your rundown of the prior nano years that have gone by! Congrats on winning it at least once. After a couple years of my own hiatus, I felt compelled (er, sucked into) doing nano again this year. I’ve won 2 and lost 2, so I’m hoping to break the tie for the win. I’m recycling an old character of mine and combining her with a recent plot that’s been mulling about. We’ll see how they mesh!
    In the meantime, I wish you all the best in looking over your old work. It’s fun and depressing, but ultimately a good learning experience — and it’s an awesome feeling when you see how far you’ve come! Something good will surely come of it.

    • Good for you – going for the tie-breaker! 🙂
      And, it sounds like you’ve got something to work with, so that’s good. I hope the pieces and parts mesh for you.

      And thanks for the well wishes for looking over my old work. You’re so right – fun and also depressing, BUT since I’m looking at it with a certain amount of detachment, I think I’ll be okay.

      Good luck!

  14. Pingback: NaNoWriMo or NaNoWriNope? | Live to Write – Write to Live

  15. Thanks to your post. I have put my legs in, got it wet, got it dirty and I’m loving this month. In addition to participating for the first time in NaNoWriMo I’m also reading Anne Lamott’s ‘ Bird by Bird’ which has been – in my opinion – a perfect pick for the month. Thank You!

  16. Pingback: Live to Write – Write to Live

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s