NaNoWri…No? (Bill Cameron)

Well, it's November again, which means it's time to write the novel I'm going to send to my agent on December 1st. Haha, just kidding. It'll take me a day or so to run spellcheck and tidy up the formatting a bit, so I'll actually send on the 2nd or 3rd.
Not really.
But seriously, folks, I actually am starting a new novel, and I eventually will send to my agent—but probably not for a long time. I delivered the "final" (hahahahahaha) draft of last year's NaNovel on October 31st, just in time to start the sequel at midnight on November 1st (at a NaNoWriMo write-in held at a local 24-hour diner). On November 30th, I hope to have a significant portion of this book roughed in, at least 50,000 words worth. That's the point of NaNoWriMo, after all.
It probably sounds like I'm all in with NaNoWriMo, but my history with it is a bit checkered. My first attempt was seven years ago. I dutifully signed up for an account at and got started on my project on the evening of November 1. Upon finishing that night, my word count was 1,665—an excellent number for someone who often struggles to write a few hundred words a day. I logged into my NaNo account and entered the word count in the tracker provided. 
And got a message that I had failed to meet the daily minimum word count. To hit your 50K by the end of November, you need to average 1,667 per day, you see. And I'd missed it. By two. Anyway, I don't remember the exact wording of the alert, but it was fairly brusque. In my mind, it read something like, "You failed, you failing failure who will always fail."
I used some very strong language, logged out of the NaNo website, and didn't come back for five years. The project I started eventually did become a finished book, the fourth in my adult mystery series. I don't remember exactly how many words of it I wrote during that particular November when the NaNo word count tracker judged me for coming up two short on the first day. It wasn't 50,000, but it was more than 1,665. NaNo or no, I got the book written. 
Afterward, I carried a lot of resentment toward the very idea of NaNoWriMo. I often described it using words like "counterproductive," "arbitrary," and "destructive." Even "bad for writers and writing." Not that I put a lot of energy into it, but when the topic of NaNoWriMo came up you could say I was firmly in the camp of NaNoCritic.
Yet, up above I talked about how I just finished last year's NaNo project, and just started a new one. So what changed?
The big thing that changed is I started struggling to write any words at all. I had books in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011, and then nothing for years. Oh, I chipped away at a couple of things, and eventually managed to claw my way to the end of Property of the State, which came out in 2016. But it was bloody and painful and included a period when I thought I might never write again.
The reasons are many and mostly boring (except to me), but one thing that came out of it was I reached a point when I said to myself, "Either I'm going to write or not, but if I am, I need to change my process. I need to develop a habit of productivity." And around that time a friend talked about how they were going to be doing NaNo, and after my blood pressure dropped and I stopped swearing, I thought, "Maybe I should give it another try." I figured I could play the game but ignore the judgy website. I even remembered there being some write-ins, and I thought I would look a few up and maybe give that a try. I'd done some informal write-ins with friends and found them helpful. So why not?
So I looked up the local events and went to a NaNo Kick-off Party, a week before the November 1 start. There, I made some new friends and even chatted with a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison who said, "Yeah, the website used to be kinda harsh about the whole word count thing. But I think it's better now." Turns out they were right. The word tracker is more trackery and less judgy. Or maybe I'm less likely to jump to seeing criticism and judgment in a string of characters on my computer screen.
The thing I didn't understand about NaNo my first time around is that it's simply a tool. It's a way to generate words quickly. Sure, there's a lot of focus on 50K, a word count you have to reach in order to "win." Of my criticisms during my NaNoDark period, the one I still believe holds true is it is arbitrary. 50,000 words isn't a novel, it's a number. Depending on your genre, 50K may only get you halfway to done. Or it may get you a novel with words to spare. The important thing to remember is you don't need to "win" NaNoWriMo to write a book. All "winning" gets you is a badge on the website and the right to buy a t-shirt.
But if I believe NaNoWriMo is arbitrary, I no longer believe it's counterproductive or destructive, or nor do I believe it is bad for writers and writing. It's simply a process that may (or may not) help you be more productive. If that's what you need, then it's good for you as a writer, whether you hit the arbitrary 50K mark or not.
So two years ago, I returned to NaNo and "won," which is to say I wrote that 50,000 words in 30 days. That novel remains unfinished to this day. I may never finish it. But what I learned in the process is I'm capable of being more productive. Last year, I took a project that had languished for several years and grew it from 20K to 75K in 30 days. It's the one I turned in last week (final word count 116,000). This year, I hope to hit that 50K again, but if I don't, I won't beat myself up. I just won't buy the t-shirt.
But what I will do is keep writing. In the end, if you want to write, that's what really matters.


  1. Nice look at the beast. I'll share this on Facebook.

  2. I feel like a giant NaNo fake because I never sign up for the website or do any events or do anything but sit in front of my computer and churn out 2000 words 25 days out of the month. I call it a win if I get a first draft out of it. (My first drafts are short.)

    1. A friend of my wife's is doing NaNo this way. In fact, she didn't even know there was a website or events or anything like that. She'd just heard of the concept and decided to give it a try on her own. As of this morning, she's at 15,000 words. My wife suggested she take a look at the website and maybe go to some write-ins, but she said all that stuff wasn't for her. :)

  3. I love the sometimes Draconian nature of the NaNo website, especially the line that says: "At this rate you'll finish on." A couple of days ago (I'm barely writing so far this month) mine said: July 27, 2020. Excellent! :-)

    1. I remember Lawrence Block once said, "If you write one page a day, you'll have a novel in a year." By that formulation, if you write one word a day, you'll have a novel in, um, 136 odd years. Wait. :D

  4. I've never done the Nano thing, so I can't relate, but that website reprimand cracked me up. Sorry to laugh at your pain!


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