NaNoWriMo, The Truly Masochistic Endeavor

Free-For-All Friday:  NaNoWriMo, The Truly Masochistic Endeavor

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  We are 17 days away from the beginning of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, when a few hundred thousand people crawl out of the woodwork to participate in a month-long, high-intensity challenge to write a 50,000 word novel.  All sorts of people participate: students, housewives, full-time writers, published and hope-to-be-published-soon writers, people working two jobs…  It is always amazing to me how many people who have very little free-time still make the commitment necessary to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which comes out to approximately 1,666 words per day.

Last year I participated for the first time.  I had thought about it before, but I was in grad school and crazy-busy and it just didn’t seem possible.  But last year, having taken the year off from school before starting my PhD, I had plenty of free time to just write, so I did.  And I completely the NaNoWriMo challenge with approximately 70,000 words though I didn’t actually finish the whole novel until this past June (with 165,000 words).

It was an absolutely exhilarating experience.  I had a few friends who were also participating and we encouraged each other on Facebook and over messaging.  I also went to a few local write-ins and met some of the other participants in the Houston area, which was a lot of fun.  And it led me to starting and finishing an entire first draft of a novel for the first time ever.  Which was AWESOME.

This year, I’ve been very unsure about doing NaNoWriMo again.  I have started my PhD, and as some of you know, I’ve been very busy.  I’ve had difficulty keeping up with the blog, let alone any other writing.  And since finals week starts Dec 7th, which means that the month of November is when the scramble to survive the end of the semester kicks in.

And yet… I’ve got a fun idea for a strange retelling of the Little Mermaid story that would be an absolute BLAST to write for NaNoWriMo.  So, in a show of true masochist stubbornness (which I am fairly famous for among my friends), I have decided that I will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.  It will be interesting to see if I can actually reach 50,000 words in the midst of everything else.  I might just end up in a padded room instead.

‘Cause let’s face it: we’re all masochists at heart, right?  We know we’re not going to get any sleep, we’re going to get carpal tunnel, and live on coffee (as if we don’t already), and our families are going to alternate between being supportive and being downright irritated, and we’re going to frazzled and stressed out and lose what little sanity we have left.  NaNoWriMo is a truly masochist endeavor.  And we all love it.  Because we’re masochists.  And that’s what we do.

One of the things I think it is vitally important that people remember about NaNoWriMo is that this project should be considered a first draft.  Or even a zero draft as I and many other writers call it.  NaNo advocates just sitting down, shutting up, and writing.  You don’t worry about quality, you don’t back-track to change things or edit, you don’t pretty it up.  You WRITE.  Every day.  Period.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach as long as you don’t think this is the final project.  There is not a single person who has ever written a NaNo project novel in 30 days and immediately sent out to an agent or editor, and actually had it published.  The idea is RIDICULOUS.  This is your zero draft: your “I’m going to get all my ideas down on paper without worrying or second-guessing or revising or editing or anything right now, because I know I’m going to have go back later and work on structure, and probably change/rewrite half of it, take things out, add things in, fix details, develop the characters more, etc” draft.

On that subject and others, here are few posts that have some great tips and information about preparing for and doing NaNoWriMo:

NaNoWriMo Cometh by Suzan Isik

The Ultimate NaNoWriMo Checklist by Suzan Isik

25 Things You Should Know About NaNoWriMo by Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds

NaNoWriMo 2011 by Ashley Prince of Byron’s Curse

The Whole “Nail Your NaNoWriMo” Series at by Larry Brooks at

So! Who’s doing NaNo this year?  Have you done it before, or is this your first time?  If you’ve done it before, how were your previous experiences?  If you’ve never done it before, what made you decide to try it now, and what do you hope to get out of the experience?  It’s time to sound off, folks!


5 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo, The Truly Masochistic Endeavor

  1. Hi Amanda, really great post, I for one am NOT going to do the nanowrimo for the basic reason that I’m a professional writer. I write every day, and think about what I write every day. 7 days a week. For me, the concept of seeing whether I can churn out 50,000 crappy words in one month just seems so counterproductive. I want to work smarter, not harder.

    I don’t want to discount the value you received from having done it, ANY time you can get a new draft out is good. You will be a better writer after having done it. I guess, for me, having worked in television news for so many years and having literally, minute by minute deadlines, enforcing this kind of thing on my cranky muse feels counter productive. But, that said, best of luck to you. I hope you have a great ride and I look forward to seeing your posts.

    • I completely understand that when you work as a full-time writer it isn’t really necessary and possibly not productive to do something like NaNo. I know that when I have free time, I also write pretty much non-stop, without the need of a deadline or a challenge or anything like that. But there is something rather invigorating by the push of NaNoWriMo. And I’m the kind of person who sometimes needs a deadline — illusory though it is — to help keep me moving.
      I have also discovered that having this specific goal makes it easier for my family to take me seriously. Most of the time, if I say I can’t do something or I’m busy because I’m writing, they just laugh it off a silly hobby that I can put on hold and do later. It’s just this thing I do in between classes and grading papers when I could be spending time with my mother, or going to a family dinner at my grandmother’s house, or whatever. It’s not important to them, and its generally equated to the way my brother plays video games: its a fun harmless hobby so long as it doesn’t consume all my time. But at least for November, with an actual goal that THEY at least can wrap their heads around, they take it more seriously and generally leave me alone. Even one month without them hounding me is totally priceless.

  2. Hurrah for you! I can’t wait to read it when you’re done. Although I still can’t wait to read your last one either. xP

    I think that by December 1st of last year I had pretty much decided that I would not be doing Nano this year. I love what it made me do. I’m glad for how it made me think about writing. Time isn’t really any more or less of an issue this year than it was last year…and I probably will do Nano again in the future. This just isn’t the year for it for me.

    I’m actually thinking maybe every other year. Or maybe every third year.
    I don’t actually have all that many story ideas that I could use that I haven’t already started writing scenes for or have other material for that would be “illegal” for Nano. And well…as I know I’ve told you before, I’ve got enough other projects to work on still. FFJ is taking longer to churn out the episodes these days. I now have two fanfics that are haunting most of my waking moments. I STILL haven’t finished Simulc. And most importantly, I really have no more excuses when it comes to TN. I have absolutely got to get that going going and keep it going. Oh, and there’s the IS Halloween project coming up that needs writing too. xP

    I did for a brief moment about a month ago consider adding Nano on top of it all, but I’m going to use my better judgment and not. I may still make it a goal to try for 50k in November, just not on a new story. Just to keep myself going. We’ll see.

    But more power to you and everybody else going for it!

  3. Hi Amanda,
    I am also a professional writer, but I’m thrilled to say that I am taking this challenge! Writing at work and writing for pleasure are two totally different things. And while sitting at a computer is the same, I still want to do it. Can’t wait for November 1!

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