Thinking Of Joining The Annual NaNoWriMo Madness? Here's What You Need To Know

Posted on 20th October, 2017

November is nearly here, which means all over the world, writers are flexing their fingers, ready to get typing as they join in the annual frenzy that is NaNoWriMo - National (actually, International) Novel Writing Month, in which the aim is to get 50,000 words written in a month. And to make it a tiny bit harder, November has 30 days, not 31.


So if you're thinking of joining the fun this year and you're wondering what it's really like, I've asked some of my writer friends to share their experiences. But I'll start with my own very first NaNo:


50,000 words in a month - it's a considerable undertaking. I remember how, at the end of October 2011, I agonised over whether to take part. Could I really commit myself to that? Eventually I signed up - and then immediately panicked. What had I let myself in for?


That November 1st I spent the day at work, then came home and wrote 1,400 words, which on any other day would have been a splendid achievement; but in NaNo terms, you need to produce a daily average of 1,667. So there I was at the end of day 1 and already I had fallen behind.


Did I hit the 50,000 word target? Good grief, no. I managed 32,000 words. I could have written more (though nowhere near enough to get me within reach of the magic 50,000) except that I fell into the editing trap. When you do NaNoWriMo, the one piece of advice you are given over and over is not to stop. Keep going. Save the editing for later.


* * * *


Jan Baynham is in the process of submitting her debut novel to agents and publishers while she writes her second novel. On her blog, she shares her writing journey and also gives support to fellow writers. She and I became friends through a mixture of Twitter, the RNA... and NaNoWriMo.


Here's what Jan says:

When I first heard about NaNo, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to complete 50,000 words in 30 days and was very impressed with anyone who showed that kind of commitment. I’m the queen of procrastination and I take forever to do things through overthinking. In 2014, that was what was happening to my attempts to write my first novel. It was taking an age so when all the publicity for NaNo came around, I thought I’d give it a go. I registered and set myself a goal of getting up a couple of hours earlier than normal and to try and write every day.


I found other NaNo writing buddies, one of whom was a certain Susanna Bavin! Another Sue taking part that year was my now writing buddy Sue McDonagh, whom I’d just met at a new writing group in Cowbridge. Having NaNo buddies like these was a wonderful support. They encouraged and motivated me to keep going.


Seeing the tally of words written each day was another huge motivator for me. I got immersed in the story and apart from checking through what I’d written each day, I left serious editing until after NaNo was over. In 2014, I exceeded the 50,000 word goal by a couple of thousand and I feIt I had really achieved my target. I used the next NaNo to actually finish the first draft but my saga was finally written. I set the novel aside until a month later and then I started the editing in earnest. Did I make that editing stage harder by just writing non-stop for the whole of November? I don’t know but NaNo was one way for me to complete the initial draft of my first ever novel and it was a great feeling when I got to the end. The advice ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’ seems to be right for me and that is why I shall be registering again this year.


* * * *


My next contributor is Jane Ayres. Jane and I are part of an online writing group, giving one another lots of support. Jane organises The Place To Write writing retreats. Here is what she says:


I planned. I bought a new note book, announced my novel on the web site, and I was ready.


November 1st came and I was off like a bullet from a Japanese railway station. The word count was everything. Dishes were left unwashed and the family began to wonder who I was. I loved entering my efforts on the graph every day. I told myself needed this month of NaNoWriMo to ‘make’ me churn out my story.


But 25,036 words in I stalled. I struggled on but I couldn’t keep it up. I began to hate my characters. In the end couldn’t bring myself to write another word. I was downhearted, sick of the constant competition. I had failed.


Now I realise I’m a not failure, but just a naturally slow writer. My way is to let things stew away in my head for a few days, rather than get words down in a hurry and change them later. But that’s just me.


If you’re someone who likes a fabulous writing community with meet-ups, pep talks and branded coffee mugs, or just needs a reason to get writing, then NaNoWriMo could be for you. Enjoy!


* * * *


Karen Coles, writing as K E Coles, is the author of the 5-star rated Mesmeris Trilogy, a darkly compelling YA series about a malign religious sect.


Here's Karen's view of NaNo:

I took part in NaNo last year, although I must admit I gave up before reaching the

50,000 limit. It did push me into writing more words, but a lot of those words were dreadful, and were consequently deleted as soon as nano had finished. I haven't

been tempted to do it again as it knocked my confidence rather than boosted it.

I think it is probably more useful for 'natural' writers, who are able to write

wonderful prose instinctively. I'm more of a slogger and have to really work at it,

so not for me.


* * * *


Catherine Boardman, a former BBC producer, now runs the wonderful 

Catherine's Cultural Wednesdays website and blog, featuring news and articles

designed to inspire everyone to get out and about. Her piece about doing NaNo

last year made me laugh. Hope you enjoy it too.


1,667 words a day, that’s not many.  I can do that.  A target, that’s what I need.  
Nothing like
a deadline to focus the mind.Turns out that, yes, I do respond well
to a deadline, but 30
days is too much of a deadline. I fiddled around
‘researching’ for the first five days. Ended up talking to a Norwegian professor about
Viking sailing techniques. Really really interesting. Word count 3,000. The next day
I tidied the house, I never tidy the house. Then I gardened. After two weeks I had
10,000 words. I stopped looking at Twitter. It was awash with word
sprints and
people completing all 50,000 words and going back for a bit of a polish. At 15,000
words I quit. Will I be doing NaNoWriMo this year? No, but I will be cheering others
on from the Twitter sidelines.


* * * *

So there we have it, a whistle-stop tour of the joys of NaNoWriMo. Are you a NaNo writer? Do you recognise any of these experiences? Or, if you are thinking of signing up this year, has all this helped? 



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Comments (14)

A fascinating post, Susanna, and so interesting to read different perspectives on the NaNoWriMo experience. I've never done NaNoWriMo as it doesn't fit with my life or writing style, but I know it has helped others. I'll be cheering on all participants come 1 November!
This was a great idea, Susanna, to gather other people's experiences of NaNo.

We're all so individual and it makes sense that our writing approach and methods will vary widely. I think the main benefit of NaNo for me, when I do it, is to make it work for me and the way I write.

Like Jane, I am naturally a slow writer who definitely likes to stew over things over time! I know that if I approach it as a mission to write every day, I will end up feeling I've failed. It's happened before.

So now what I do is, I treat it like a diet! On a good day, I stick to the word count and when I can I exceed it. That way, on a slow day or a day when I fall off the wagon and don't write because it's just not there, I try not to beat myself up about it, but just wait for the next day. I often enter words only every three or four days, but gradually I get there by making those good days work.

As for trying not to edit as you write, that's a whole other challenge! ;)
Glad you enjoyed the blog, Tara. I'm sure lots of people will recognise what you say about NaNo. Yes, it's important not to stop and edit, but that in itself can lead to problems. One year, whenever I thought of an edit, I popped a post-it note onto the relevant page and carried on writing. This worked fine until the time came to write a scene that I couldn't write because the scene it sprang from existed only in post-it form. Did your random chapters make it into the final book? Congratulations on achieving the 50,000 word count.
Great post, agree with what everyone said. I did it in 2015 when I was still sleep deprived and time poor. I made it to the 50k (just) but while I had six fairly put together chapters I hadn’t planned any of my novel and really needed to go back and edit it because it didn’t make sense but, of course, you can’t stop. In the end I wrote scenes which I thought would be included in the various chapters to make the word count. It was a big boost in one sense because I’d never gone beyond three chapters before.
I'm so glad we were able to help you, Julie. I know that Catherine, Jane and Karen sent their advice and support via Twitter. It's good to know you feel you are back on track. Best of luck with NaNo!
Thank you all so much for your helpful suggestions. What a difference a bit of support makes - I've powered through the editing of one non fiction book today to send back to my co-author and I'm actually excited again about getting back to my novel. The power of the writers' community... it can't be beaten.

Good luck to everyone trying NaNo. There seems to be a good selection of meetings around Tees Valley so I am going to try to get to some of them to access the encouragement I no doubt will need. Now my creative brain just needs to wake up!
Hi, Kirsten. Yes - do join in this year. We can fail to reach 50,000 together!
Maddie, thanks for commenting. I didn't know you had had a go at NaNo or I would have asked you to take part in this blog! One of the marvellous things about NaNo is the way people join up with one another both online and in real life - though that didn't quite work out for you. I think my nearest real life group is in Chester and I do love writing on the train...
It’s fascinating to know how other writers view NaNoWriMo. Julie, as you’ve said your editing involves a complete re-write, I would use the discipline of NaNo to get writing again after a long break. Good luck with it. Kirsten, that’s what I’m doing, using November to finish the second half of novel two. It worked in the past for me so lots of luck to you, too. Thank you, Susanna, for including my NaNo story on your blog and see you all on the other side! By the way, my NaNo name is JanBayLit1 if you’d like to be my buddy. 🙂
I've always quite fancied it and think I might give it a go this year to try and finish the first draft of Novel Two. I can be such a procrastinator that even 30,000 words would be a huge step in the right direction. Wish me luck .....!! x
By the way, Julie, I agree with Susanna. If you've had some useful editorial feedback on your current novel, I'd be inclined to press on and revise it. Good luck xx
Great blog Susanna and very interesting to see how people deal with NaNo. I tried it once and it just didn't work for me, also I was attracted by the idea of local groups meeting up to give encouragement during and after NaNo. It never happened, the meetings were always cancelled! Still I think I agree with Catherine, one month is too restrictive for me, I prefer to just get on with it. But anything that gets people writing is a good thing IMO. So bravo NaNo writers!
Thank you Susanna - that makes sense. It has all been going round and round in my head and I don't have any writer friends locally to mull it over with, or even anyone who understands like other writers do.
My.main problem is plotting - especially endings. I like to plan but haven't time to focus solely on that - I need a clear.mind and relaxation time for ideas to flow and as you can tell, that is in very short supply. But you are right - having lots of half finished drafts won't get me anywhere. The time I spent getting the first draft self edited to send to an editor will be wasted if I don't plough on with it. So I am going to schedule time (even if it is on the train to work) to sketch out an outline and see how much existing material will fit then build the new story around that. Many thanks for your help.
First of all, many congratulations on passing the 50,000 words finishing line, not once but twice, Julie. That's a remarkable achievement. You are obviously very busy with work, your grandchild and the two non-fiction books... but if you feel like you are procrastinating, then you are, and clearly you aren't going to be happy writing-wise until you do something about it. Since you have had all the helpful feedback from York, my suggestion would be to do the re-write of that book rather than embark on a new one. My personal experience of new drafts is that they feel overwhelming until you get started on them. Capitalise on that feedback!
A really timely post Susanna, and I hope you don't mind me asking for help with a dilemma linked to it. I've done two NaNoWriMos and achieved 50k words each time, but have only finished one of the books. Since getting my edits back on it at the end of August, I've not been able to write at all. The edits were spot on and agents etc at York Festival loved the concept and complimented me on my writing style, but it needs a complete rewrite to simplify it, and I just don't know where to start.
Granted, I've just had a two week holiday and am finalising two non fiction books, doing all the formatting and self publishing as well as working on a consulting assignment 3 days a week and looking after my granddaughter for one day. But I feel like I'm procrastinating, and even on holiday I just couldn't progress any of the tentative ideas I've had for other books.
So, should I do NaNo and just launch into one of the new ideas and try to pants it, to get back into the groove? Or should I do a new draft of the current novel? Or just take a break until I have more time?
All ideas appreciated! It's driving me mad...