The Joys of NaNoWriMo: You Have Permission to Suck

nanowrimoKate Flora: A pretty provocative statement, yes? So I guess I should explain. Yesterday was a cold, rainy, miserable day and I was wrestling with a manuscript that felt like an octopus with a thousand legs. Or arms. Or both. I couldn’t handle it, subdue it, make it behave in any way, and the process was making me grouchy. Then I decided I’d write this blog post, and stared at the blank screen and couldn’t come up with an idea. So I went to my friends on Facebook and asked for help.

Help they did, of course. I now have enough topics to carry me through to the New Year. And the first one was so absolutely timely that I decided to take it up: Tips for NaNoWriMo.

In case there is a soul somewhere on the planet who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month. Every November, writers sign up to write a 50,000 word novel during the month. Signing up means you’ll probably be put into a group where you can go to meetings if you want that for support, and you will be able to log in to chart your word counts and your progress, and get encouraging e-mails throughout the month.

The internet is absolutely full of advice about how to prep for NaNoWriMo, how to do pen dripping inkNaNoWriMo. So much advice, in short, that you could probably write a novel using the tips as prompts or just aggregate the advice into a short book. Or is that aggravate? Because with so much advice out there, it can be aggravating. Confusing. Overwhelming. And pretty often, those who are offering the advice are quite certain that they are right.

Should you outline in advance? Have the plot of the work all sketched out? Perhaps have it all storyboarded and taped to your office wall?

The possibilities are endless. And the bottom line, in my opinion, depends entirely on what kind of a writer you are. Or, if this is an early foray into the world of writing, what kind of person you otherwise are. Do you like to do a lot of prepping or do you like sail into an adventure and wing it and see what life brings?

On your behalf, I went out and waded through a bunch of those advicely blogs. And like a retriever, I have brought back the wisdom that speaks to me. You can snap up my thoughts and make them your own, or go atrolling for yourself.

pen-paperSo here, in no particular order, are the bits of advice that I think are most useful if you are going to have fun with NaNoWriMo.

Embrace a new mindset.

Answer “YES!”

Just start and keep going.

Silence your editor, that picky little voice that tells you you’re doing it wrong. If necessary, draw a picture of your editor and stick pins in it. Be silly if you need to be. This is your adventure. Own it.

Write fearlessly.

Write “TK” for missing facts. Don’t stop to look things up. Don’t obsess over what you can’t remember. You can fix all that later.

Embrace Anne Lamott’s advice: it’s okay to write a shitty first draft. You can edit a draft and make it better. You can’t edit a blank page.

Embrace the word discipline.

For once, elevate quantity above quality. Don’t edit. Just keep going. Do keep track of your word count. It’s part of the game.

Keep telling yourself: The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

Remember that you’re not trying to win, you’re trying to be

Don’t let the risk of obsession scare you off

You have permission to suck. Who cares. You may make amazing discoveries in the process.

Unplug. No phone calls. No checking e-mail. No selfies.

Exception: You can make yourself, or your story, a playlist. It can become part of the ritual.

Write in the same place if you can, because the ritual of place can become part of the ritual of writing.

Finally, a bit of heretical advice. The rules say you’re supposed to write something new. But you are writing for you, not for them. If you’ve got the half-finished story in the drawer you’ve never had time to get back to…you are allowed to take it out and finish it. (Don’t tell them I said this.)

November. Your month. You’re the writer. The only thing you have to do is honor your desire to write by giving it the time it deserves. And see where story takes you.

A lot of advice is about prepping…but hey, you’re out of time, and about not bothering agents or editors with your unedited glop at the end. But you wouldn’t do that anyway.

Here are a couple of blogs I used to compile the above. And below, a snippet from a book I wrote during NaNoWriMo one year.


Air-horn blaring, the eighteen-wheeler came barreling at her out of the dark. Callie yanked the wheel, adrenaline surging, as she rocked back into her lane. The Jeep fishtailed wildly as she fought for control. Horn still blaring, the truck rushed past and disappeared into the night. Her breath quick and shallow, nerve-trees tingling, she clung to the wheel. Adrenaline carried her on its sharp, acid flow for another mile before it faded, leaving her drained and alone in a night as dark as Galen’s heart. Then, arms trembling, she abandoned her determined press forward, pulled onto the unpaved shoulder and parked, numb from exhaustion. All she could feel was the biting pressure of her nails–hard, sharp slices of sensation–against the palm of her hands. She had no idea where she was or where she was going. Her only plan had been to keep moving, putting time and distance between herself and the mess her life had become.

How long had she been driving? Ten hours? Twelve? Drive too long without a break and your eyes start playing tricks. You see things that aren’t there, like patches of blood spreading across the road, and you don’t see things that are, like eighteen-wheelers coming at you like Leviathan from the depths. She should get out. Stretch. Walk around in the cold night air and wake herself up. Her body resisted the urging of her brain, stayed inert in the seat.

The night was pure black. No streetlights. No house lights. Wind battered the car, rattling the wipers, panting to get at her as it tore away dried leaves that had sheltered in the depression below the windshield. She watched, eyes at half-mast, as they rustled across the glass like the small animals. It was cold out there. Before she shut off the engine, she’d seen the outside temperature was 38.

She’d left Pennsylvania running on an instinct born of desperation. Get out of town, away from the suspicious looks, the comments, the humiliation. Out of her ransacked apartment and her shredded life. Several hundred miles later, she’d run out of gas—spiritual gas, not petroleum—here on this lonely roadside somewhere in Vermont.

The whole ugly mess had exploded on her a few weeks ago, when she’d woken one morning feeling drugged and groggy, not to her fiancé Galen’s head beside her but to a barren apartment, a stripped office, emptied bank accounts, and note, pinned to his pillowcase by a chip clip that said, “Thanks for everything.”

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6 Responses to The Joys of NaNoWriMo: You Have Permission to Suck

  1. Karen Whalen says:

    Thanks so much for the reminder that November 1 is a few days away! This was going to be the year I headed into NaNoWriMo with a complete outline of my book. So much for good intentions….I am on my third draft of my outline, made it to about the fifth scene, with a collection of character sketches. I’ve won four (?) times without an outline but I’ve never gone back and finished those 50k word novels. That, for me, is the real issue’with NaNo. Any ideas??

  2. Hey, I read and commented on that book! (didn’t I?) Still waiting for it to come out ;^)

    Every month is NoWriMo for me, national or not. And following those guidelines is key to writing three novels a year under contract. And now, back to my fearless no-internet same-place-every-day ignore-internal-editor hour!

  3. Kate Cone says:

    Thanks for this, Kate! I’m reading your post on a dark, cold, rainy morning, half wrapped in a huge wool prayer shawl clutching a cup of coffee. I was on the fence about doing Nano this year. After all, I have 3 chapters to revise to get to an agent at Crimebake and and and…I did sign up (been on there since 2008) and did finish one 50K novel I can’t seem to liberate from Scrivener. So taking your advice, I’ll start that new novel. My husband wants me to go back to one I left dangling, but I told him, “Nano is about playing.”

  4. Peter Murray says:

    A great blog, a good day’s work. You saved a soul

  5. Beth Clark says:

    Great job! And you cooked some pretty nifty recipes.

  6. Tina Swift says:

    Two years ago, I quit on my NaNoWriMo beginning when I had Zorro jump into a modern day car in western Mass. I think I went a little too far with “just write!”

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