On Writing

On Writing

October, or “NaNoWriMo Prep Month”

3 Oct , 2017  

Some of us don’t like to color inside the lines, and November isn’t the time to start. At its core, National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo,” is about writing fast enough to drown out the sound of the inner critic in the frantic clacking of fingernails on a keyboard. 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1667 words a day – every day in November – is just challenging enough to accomplish that goal.

It’s important to lay the groundwork for NaNoWriMo, but more importantly, it gives us something to do while waiting anxiously for the sound of the starter gun at midnight on Halloween. It would be cheating to pen a single word of our tale at 11:59PM, so have another leftover Trick-or-Treat candy, and watch the second hand sweep the clock-face…

Meanwhile, happy October! As a 15-year veteran of NaNoWriMo, with absolutely nothing publishable to show for it, I encourage everyone to give it a try. Because, as I’ve said, it’s not all about “writing a novel,” though there is that. To the naysayers who scoff at the idea, calling it a waste of time for “serious writers,” I like to point out that Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants began its life during NaNoWriMo. Here are eight more popular books started During National Novel Writing Month. Just as importantly, the Young Writers Program (YWP) has helped to turn young people into more confident, and more enthusiastic, writers. Whether any of them write a novel matters less than that leap of confidence. With that, I give you my first two tips:

It’s your time to “waste” as you see fit. Each of us gets one life to live, and life is too short to waste it being nothing but a touchstone or a support system for someone else’s life. Take care of others; only narcissists and sociopaths don’t care about their loved ones and friends. But take care of your own needs and wants, as well. They have no less merit. Your creative soul needs nurture, too.

Never listen to the naysayers. They’re only there to feed your inner critic. November is the time to send that little nag packing. Perhaps their inner critics are feeling lonely; yours can couch-surf at their place. This leads me to my third tip:

Give your inner critic, your fears, your courage, your creative urges a voice. Personify them on the page. Punish and reward them as they deserve. I did just that in my as-yet-unfinished novel, Eradicating Edna. Now I know where little old blue-haired ladies come from. I know that I have two Muses: a gorgeous vixen named “Fred” whose hair spontaneously combusts, and an ill-tempered fuzzball that lives under the bed and sounds just like Paul Lynde.

It’s interesting to me, after 15 years of “doing NaNoWriMo,” to watch newcomers’ approach to the event. Just as there are “plotters” and “pantsers” among writers, there are rule-followers and rebels among NaNoWriMo’s participants. “Does it have to be fiction?” one asks. “Must we write exactly 1667 words a day?” asks another. “Is there a posting schedule we have to stick to?” You’ve heard the expression, “Cheaters never prosper”? Nowhere is it more true than NaNoWriMo, but it’s only “cheating” if you’ve cheated yourself out of the whole experience, like the smart aleck who wrote, “One, two, three, four, five…fifty-thousand” and declared himself the first “winner” of the year. There are no tangible prizes, so you’re not really competing against other participants – we can all “win” NaNoWriMo together. While I don’t get to redefine the NaNoWriMo mission or “rules,” such as they are, even the program itself defines a novel as “a lengthy work of fiction” and goes on to say, “Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of ‘novel.’ In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel, too.” Shakespeare wrote plays in iambic pentameter; if you want to write an epistolary novel of creative non-fiction, expressed as a cycle of villanelles and sonnets, I’m not going to discourage you from trying. If it’s your first time participating, I suggest that you throw yourself into the true and original spirit of the thing and try to write “50,000 words of a novel” during November. But you do you – no one’s going to put you on display in the public stocks or chuck rotten tomatoes at your head for making your NaNoWriMo experience serve your needs. And no one’s going to die if you fail to write 50,000 words. Remember that.


I’m also taking part in the Write Tribe Problogger October 2017 Blogging Challenge #writebravely #writetribeproblogger

The “prompt” for today’s post was “pattern.” From that first, disastrous “Reading Readiness Test” to devilishly difficult number sequences to unintelligible diagrams of a crochet seahorse, patterns often prove problematic for me. Paradoxically, I love the patterns of letters and sounds and syntax that make up our language. I have learned to follow patterns that let me create three dimensional objects and clothing from a strand of yarn. And while I prefer not to follow blogging prompts – and often find writing prompts, in general, too confining to stimulate real creativity – I’m going to give you a free “pattern” you can use and adapt for your own NaNoWriMo manuscript. It will save you time, later, to format your novel in a way that is acceptable to publishers. Here’s your first NaNoWriMo warm-up exercise: Stop thinking, “I’m not going to write anything publishable!” Think positive thoughts! You probably won’t, and that is OKAY. But this will save you time later – you know, if your thing turns out to be adequate and worth editing come December.

If you have Microsoft Word, this template (simple-template2.zip) is one that you can start with and adapt to your own needs. If it free to you for personal, non-commercial use. If you don’t know how to use a Word template, see my post about Using Styles, Not Direct Formatting, in Microsoft Word – that should get you started.

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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30 Responses

  1. Apeksha Rao says:

    Thank you! I needed this! 😊

  2. Thanks Holly .Excellent advice in delightful style.Will try to use the template.Tried and failed Nano last year .Will do this year again.

    • I don’t think that you can exactly “fail” NaNoWriMo. There is “winning” and “not winning,” but participation – any participation – that’s fun and gets your creative juices flowing for a little while is not a “failure.” Some years, I know I’m not really in the running (we have our Thanksgiving holiday during November, and sometimes it’s just a really busy month!) but I join in anyway for the collective, creative energy that comes from hanging out with so many writers around the world.

  3. mahekg says:

    Sometimes we need inner push it may work or not atleast we give it a try

  4. Akshata Ram says:

    Wow this sounds exciting – the word count makes me arrrrgh. But the positive side is I am travelling and have ample time as the toddler is not around when I desperately trying to type, screaming “Mumma”. Do I need to write everyday?

  5. swatiabhi says:

    God… Just what I needed I was totally clueless how to go about it. Your blog is real saviour

  6. Meha says:

    Seems like a great initiative. But, writing daily is a bit daunting. Nevertheless, it can help you push your boundaries as a writer!

    • It depends. Writers…write. What we don’t always do well is apply butt to chair and FOCUS. The discipline of writing, daily, with an objective in mind – a novel – is something above and beyond the joy of writing daily. We all write emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, to-do lists. Now focus. AND have fun.

  7. Shalzmojo says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I tried NaBloPoMo last year as I found NaNo too daunting but your advise has made me rethink it!
    Letters as a pattern are an intersting thought. I used to love going through my old letters for the longest times till they all got chucked out in the name of declutttering!! 😉

    • Do give it a try! It’s really less constraining than trying to write a good poem every day – storytelling is flexible and broad and gives you elbow-room. In any case, have fun with it!

  8. Lata Sunil says:

    Next year for sure Holly..

  9. thelattemom says:

    Your honest and highly motivating post makes me to participate in Nano Wrimo. 50,000 words sounds intimidating but let me give it a shot. Thanks Holly 🙂

  10. Thanks Holly. As usual, these are excellent tips. Best wishes to you. Happy to join with you for #writetribeprobloggerchallenge!!!

  11. vinodinii says:

    I have taken part in NaNoWriMo twice but it wasn’t with the intention of publishing anything just like you! It was around the time I had also participated in the A to Z Blog Challenge and the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

  12. Hi Holly! I always start NaNoWriMo to get my writerly juices flowing, but only once out of maybe five tries have I made a full 50,000 words. Don’t know yet what I’m going to work on this year to challenge myself. Good luck to you.

    • As long as it accomplishes that much, and serves YOUR needs rather than simply serving as a source of stress, it’s a win, right? 🙂 I love the creative energy in November. Sometimes it’s just “party in the forums” and sometimes it’s a serious attempt. The only way to LOSE NaNoWriMo is to stress out over it and not have fun.

  13. Natasha says:

    1600+ words a day is daunting, for some odd reason. Though I’m trying to don the skin of Courage the Cowardly Dog! :p

    Also do we have to visit other blogs, comment and share?
    I want to write without the additional baggage of stress. I want to enjoy the process of writing. So though it is good to set a daily target, but writing over a weekend as well, doesn’t seem doable for me. After all I’ll have to make up for those 3800 words, if I don’t!

    I’m not too sure if I’m ready for this yet, but then let’s see. Who knows, I may just manage to gather my garb of courage and give it a shot!

    • I’m going to answer this in my next blog, but remember what I said – nobody dies or even gets hurt if you don’t manage the full 50k words in Novembr. It’s a goal. Enjoy the process; set a different goal if you like. 🙂 But there’s a trick to this “make-up” business that too few people remember – I like to call it “NaNoWriMo Math.” I’ll share that in my next post.

  14. Hi Holly, thanks to Write Tribe I got to know your blog. It’s wonderful. You make NaNoWriMo so tempting but I’m already sweating bullets at the thought of 1667 words a day! Wasn’t even aware of it till I read your post. Will now use this month to plan out a theme and if all goes well I’ll participate in my first NaNoWriMo!

    • Remember: Have FUN. If you’re “sweating bullets” over the word count, it may be a sign that you NEED to do NaNoWriMo. If you’re a writer, 1667 words is nothing. It’s a medium-ish blog post. To me, getting intimidated over 1667 words is symptom of different problems… and this is going to come up in my next post. 🙂 Thank you to all who’ve expressed concerns…

  15. […] little nagging voices in your head: the perfectionist, the editor, and the critic. I suggested, in my last post, that you personify them on the page – then beat the tar out of them. Tie them to the chair, […]

  16. Kavita says:

    I am all pepped up to participate in this November challenge and hopefully finish it too. Your blog is really helpful especially for the people participating it for the first time. Thank you for sharing this.

  17. I did register for Nanowrimo last year, but didn’t do more than two days of writing. I hope I can be more disciplined this year.

    • Here’s what I suggest you set for your goal: Write daily. It doesn’t matter if you hit 50K words; give yourself permission not to, and not to think of that as failure. Last year, you “gave up” after two days? OK. If you write for three days, this year, that’s progress. But if you write 250 words, every day, for 30 days, that’s a WIN – right? Don’t make it into some onerous CHORE. It should feel a LITTLE stressful – enough to get your adrenaline flowing, but not enough to make you feel bad about yourself if you CHOOSE not to complete the task. Think to yourself, “I CAN do this. I WILL do this. All these little blogging challenges have prepared me.” And remember, it’s really okay to write utter rubbish that makes little sense. Or to write a great literary work (I mean, that’s okay, too, if it turns out to be GOOD – but if you’re aiming for anything like 50K words, it’s kind of setting unreasonable expectations for yourself that it’s going to be Pulitzer-worthy or something.)

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