NaNoWriMo Reality Checks by Patty Blount

You may have heard that November is National Novel Writing Month. We're blogging about it all month long. You've heard from authors who've won, like Jody Casella and Maryanne Fantalis and authors who won't touch it, like Alyssa Grosso. You've heard authors defend NaNo and others tell you how they bend it to suit their needs.

I thought I'd go back to basics, discuss what NaNoWriMo is and what it's not. First, let me say this: Yes, it is possible to write an entire book in 30 days.

I know this because I've done it. (If you're curious, head over to Wattpad and read Past Perfect.)

I nearly killed myself writing that story but I did it. Here are some things I learned about the NaNoWriMo process, back in 2012, just after I signed my first publishing deal.

Myth 1: NaNoWriMo emphasizes word count --> Writing 50,000 words in thirty days requires that you write at least 1667 words each day. This isn't arbitary. This reflects the real world. You see, like most aspiring authors, I wrote my first novel in my spare time over a period of YEARS. After it sold and I had a contract in hand, it came with this newfangled concept -- "the deadline."  I was expected to deliver my second novel in just six months. I cannot fully express the panic that this inspired in me. Six months to write an entire novel? It cannot be done! Oh, it can and it must and it was.

Managing a deadline means you work backwards. NaNoWriMo success means splitting that 50,000 word count minimum by the 30 days in November to arrive at 1667 words per day. I could do that.

Reality check: There are days I can barely write a paragraph which, luckily, are often followed by days where I write entire chapters. For every project since my first novel, I still take that deadline, the expected length of the novel, and compute my daily target. Even on the days I don't want to write, I know I can do this because I did it before. NaNo teaches you how to meet your professional and contractual obligations. But -- and this is an important but -- it's not DONE. The first draft is done, yes. Repeat those words.

The FIRST DRAFT is done. A first draft is so named because it is intended to be followed by more drafts.

Myth 2: NaNoWriMo doesn't emphasize quality --> Is it true that NaNo forces you to turn off your Inner Editor? Yes. Is it true you should never pitch your NaNo projects on December 1st? Also yes. Remember that this is called National Novel WRITING Month. See Point #1: This is just the first draft. There really should be a month for rewriting and another month for revising because those are essential steps in the process of getting a book to publication.

Reality check: First drafts are never good. (They're called first drafts for exactly this reason.) The goodness comes from the rest of the process -- rewrite, revise, edit, improve. NaNo teaches you that getting the story down and on paper first is the only way you can ever hit those next two critical phases -- rewrite and revise. You can't do that to a blank page. Quality isn't something that simply pours out of us. Quality requires thought. Deliberation. Consideration.

A book is a large effort. There are a lot of moving parts to keep in mind. NaNo helps you compartmentalize those moving parts by putting focus on what's often the hardest part -- finishing the first draft. It's up to you to track the rest of the moving parts.

Myth 3: NaNoWriMo favors pantsers over plotters --> I have a theory about the write by the seat of your pants vs. plot it all out first debate that's been going on for centuries. I believe everybody plots to some extent. Some of us are extremely precise about it, employing spreadsheets and vision boards and charts and graphics. Others are more laid back and just keep it all straight in their heads. At a minimum, I believe all authors have at least a general idea of what their stories are about in terms of the characters' goals and conflicts and maybe even their arc so that they know (generally) how each character's story will end.

I am a plotter by nature but did not have my typical extensive outline for Past Perfect but that is NOT why I never published this book. I didn't publish it because I never did reach the rewrite and revise stages. The first draft is done, but that story requires more effort before it would be publication-worthy.

Reality check: NaNoWriMo doesn't particularly care how you write. The how is entirely up to you. NaNo taught me it's okay to just put notes in my manuscript like <<insert burn treatment here>> and then move on with the story. I can fill in those details later. Why is this important? Because it redirects our creative energy on getting the first draft out of our heads instead of caught up in the minutia of details that should still be fluid.

Am I doing NaNoWriMo this year? Unofficially, yes.

I set a goal for myself to write two books a year. Back in January, I began plotting a new YA called SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, which is an ambitious companion story to SOME BOYS, exploring rape and rape culture NOT from a traditional romance perspective (because romance is what I typically write), but from a familial one. The main characters are siblings and the book explores how their relationship is impacted by rape. This was not an easy novel to write. I finished the first draft in September, the rewrite in October and a massive revision in November. Copy edits will be next, followed by galley proof-reads.

I also started plotting a contemporary romance called NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY, which is a single father romance that's been an absolute joy to write. First draft of this is due in December. For me to deliver both books and keep my fulltime day job, I routinely apply the things I've learned from my NaNo experience writing Past Perfect. I stick to daily word count goals. I bind and gag my Inner Editor. I leave notes all over the book for research I haven't yet performed. And I build in time for rewrite and revision, frequently leaving myself bookmarks in the middle of a WIP that say "MARK NEW MOTIVATION HERE" that pinpoint exactly when and where I changed my mind about my story. I write from that point on as if the whole manuscript already reflects that change. That speeds up the rewrite process later.

So if you're wondering what good NaNoWriMo is, I'd say it helps aspiring writers figure out what their unique process is and work it even when deadlines loom. In short, it teaches us to be professionals. know what? Sometimes, when the pressure sucks the joy out of creating words, it's okay to say, "This isn't working for me." That's another lesson NaNo taught me and why I haven't formally participated in it since Past Perfect.

For those celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving! I'm grateful to all of you who read and contribute to YA Outside the Lines. I'd love to hear how those doing NaNoWriMo are making out... tell me in the comments!


  1. Great post, Patty! I'm actually 100% pantser and don't have the faintest idea what will happen in a book until I write it. It's mildly terrifying!

    1. Thanks, Mary! Rock your pantser-bad-ass attitude!


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