How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love NaNoWriMo

Okay, so that title’s not entirely accurate, but in NaNoWriMo, you can’t edit while writing (save that for December; writing’s in November). So, in that spirit, I’m not going to edit this post as I go. I’ll leave that heading, orphans and weird sentence structure just as they are, for good or ill, this post will be done in record time – just like NaNoWriMo intends.

I’ve “won” National Novel Writing Month every year since 2007. So have thousands of others. That’s because NaNoWriMo isn’t a contest against each other, but a challenge for yourself. It’s simple and daunting: write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

That’s 1,667 words per day. Round up to 2,000 to give yourself a bit of a buffer.

You need the same skills for NaNoWriMo that you need to get most things done in life. And guess what? Skill in writing isn’t one of them. No, it’s mostly about sticking to it, wanting it, rolling with the unexpected and seeking support when you need it.

NaNoWriMo’s about quality, not quantity. All you need to do is smash out those words. They needn’t be grand and glorious prose of the ages. They can be rubbish. But they’re your rubbish.

They’re like turning on a rusty old tap and waiting for the dirty water to come out. If you never turn that tap, that dirty water is going to stay in there, so you’ll never be embarrassed. But you’ll never clear it out and get to the cool, clear crystal waters of inspiration, either.

NaNoWriMo lets you abandon your perfectionism and give yourself permission to just write. It’s an amazing feeling. Sometimes it works out really well… sometimes it leads to a 10,000 word fight scene. Either way, you’re doing something.

When was the last time you wrote 50,000 words? When will be the next time?

It could be this November.

One of the mottos for the month is “No Plot? No Problem!” and I think this applies to life, too. Sometimes you just have to go with it. Risk looking like a fool to get to the gold.

You need not plot nor quality. Here’s what you need: Support. Commitment. Consistency. Flexibility.

To me, those also sound like some of the top ways my coaching clients reach their goals.

Doing NaNoWriMo at the same time as tens of thousands of others is fantastic. You know they, and the email pep talks, and the cafe meetups and the website counter are all there to support you through it.

That helps you commit, but the commitment is really up to you. Do you want this? Go for it. If you don’t get it, who is to blame but yourself? There were several years I thought I wouldn’t make it. We had a death in the family. I was sick. We were on holiday. Even this year, I’ll be at PAX and travelling for the first 3 days of November. But if you want it, you’ll find a way.

Consistency is one of those ways. Write every day. Write when you don’t want to. Write through the sick and the cold and the tired and the busy. You’ll find, like I have, that if you want to find time to write, you will. Other time-wasters will fall away. You’ll realise you’ve always had more time than you thought. You’ll value your free time even more.

You need the flexibility to bend but not break. When the unexpected comes up and you need to be able to rebalance commitments. You need to schedule, but not so rigidly that you can’t change it: who knows what the month will bring? You need to know yourself and when you do this work best and try to do it at that time. You need to know you may have to roll with unexpected changes. Even good ones, like your novel taking on a life and direction you hadn’t anticipated.

One final tip for that is to keep that buffer. If you’re consistently writing 2,000 words, you’ve got a buffer for if that consistency somehow slips, such as when the unexpected occurs. And if it doesn’t? You’ve written a longer novel! Congrats!

So, I hope you’ll either:

A) Join me in writing for NaNoWriMo this year, and/or
B) Join in the spirit of NaNoWriMo by committing to getting something done this month

Maybe not done well, but done. Something you would otherwise not have done. And now, I leave you with the manifesto of the Cult of Done, as inspiration on your quest.

The Cult of Done Manifesto

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Open Chat

Have you won NaNoWriMo before? If so, how’s this year going to be even better? If not, how are you going to make sure you win this year? What’s held you back before? What can you do about it? What are some NaNo skills you feel you need? How do they also apply to everyday life?


When Jarrod's not writing about personal development through pop-culture, he's helping people like you reach their goals through fun, empowering coaching.

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