Tuesday 2 November 2010


Last year, I blogged about NationalNovelWritingMonth, NaNoWriMo. My views haven't changed, so, before I say what I want to say today, please go and read it. I'll wait for you. (And if you don't know what the whole thing is, here's the main website.)

Dum de dum de dum, tra la la. *whistles and writes 167 words while waiting*.

So, you get the message: doing a NaNoWriMo can be inspiring, exciting and hugely useful. It can get a first draft down more quickly than you're likely to achieve on your own; it forces you to switch off your internal editor and is often a very good way to remove a writing block, because it doesn't matter what you write as long as the words are there. (Within reason.) It can also be fun to be part of something that others are doing and the encouragement and friendship that participants offer each other is wonderful.

And, in a minute, I'm going to give encouragement to some writers I know who are doing it. And a treat for everyone...

But. First. Hang on.

Here are some other things about NaNoWriMo:
  • It's entirely optional.
  • It is not right for everyone.
  • You should only do it if it suits your life, your writing, what else might be going on for you, your mood at the time.
  • It is not the only way to write a first draft and for many people it is not even the best way.
  • It doesn't make you a better person. Or, quite possibly, a better writer.
So, do not feel you "should" do this or that you are somehow inadequate if you don't. And, if you've started and find that it's not working, or that life has got in the way, or if for any other reason your heart and/or head tell you to stop, STOP. For goodness' sake, there are people dying around the world and whether anyone begins or completes this mad and exhausting but often enormously fun, exciting and fulfilling exercise is neither here nor there. Calm down - it's not even a commercial. (OK, so some people raise money for charity doing it, but obviously there are many other ways to raise money for charity, so don't cite that as a reason for feeling you should give yourself RSI and caffeine addiction.)

Why am I saying this? Because there's been a suggestion that some people feel pressurised into doing NaNoWriMo or guilty for not doing it. I can't imagine why anyone would feel pressurised, because it's not the sense that I get from the participants. Yes, they get a bit carried away sometimes, and yes, the internet in November is full of them sending messages to each other, but so what? Why shouldn't they? They're part of something difficult, something they want to do, something they're proud of. Why shouldn't they talk about it?

No, I suspect that if any writers feel pressurised it's not because of anything the NaNoWriMoers have said or done, but by something internal. A misplaced feeling of inadequacy or a lack of understanding about the point of NaNoWriMo. There is no good reason why you should feel you "ought" to spend a month of your life writing something you don't want to write in a way you don't want to write it. That's pointless. There's enough pressure on us as writers without feeling that we have to do something which may not be right for us. NaNoWriMo is not a rite of passage. It was cleverly and pointfully created by people who wanted to do it, for good reasons and with good results for them and many others.It was never intended as a tyranny except as a voluntary and self-imposed one

I feel it's rather like marathon running. It rightly gives some people satisfaction but doesn't suit everyone. I don't believe runners run marathons because they think they ought to. They want to; it suits their personalities (and their bodies); it's difficult and lots of people - me, for example - don't want to and couldn't do it, which gives a sense of achievement to those who can, and who make the effort.

In conclusion: do a NaNoWriMo if you actually want to. Personal satisfaction, desire to experiment, enjoyment of camaraderie, an idea that is ready to be wrenched from you and spewed out in a month of mayhem - whatever, you have to want to. And if you don't want to, don't. But don't waste time feeling that anyone else thinks you should. No one cares whether you do it or not. If you do, they'll welcome you; if you don't, just go away and write in your own way. Besides, what successful writers do you know who do it? Nowhere in any publisher's submission criteria does it say, "Do a NaNoWriMo".

And now, let's hear from a few mad Nanoers! They do, in my view, deserve our encouragement. It's not an easy thing they're doing, and if they're in it for the right reasons, they'll get a lot out of it. You'll see from their comments the variety of feelings and reasons and stories.

Kirsty Stanley @kirstyes on Twitter
I've signed up for NaNo since 2004 and have never completed. I've planned more this year and for extra inspiration I'm writing for Cancer Research UK. If this is a charity close to your heart please check out my justgiving page. http://www.justgiving.com/Kirsty-Stanley.

Xandra James
I'll be doing Nano for the first time this year - not quite sure what I've let myself in for yet but I'll be regularly updating my blog with my triumph and pain at www.xandrajames.com

Sheila Perry @ceciliapeartree
I am doing it for the 5th time in a row, have succeeded all the previous times but it is still an uphill struggle at the start, and a daunting thought with (now) 49,393 words to go! My working title is A Reformed Character and it's a mystery with the underlying theme of 'can people really change?' I live in Edinburgh and there is a lovely NaNo group here with lots of real world meetings and write-ins.

Sally Quilford @Quillers
Sally's NaNoWriMo novel is The Thirteenth Passenger, and started as a joke, when she said she intended to write a romance about a Martian Trillionaire. Sally is also serialising her efforts on this blog http://thirteenthpassenger.blogspot.com/ and asking people to give her plot ninjas. You can find out about them on this page and see a selection of those already given on the sidebar of the blog. Her intention is to try and cram every plot ninja into her story by 30th November.

Rebecca Brown @rebeccaebrown
I'm about to tackle NaNoWriMo for the first time, with a teething six month old and a three year old and I need all the encouragement I can get!

Lev Parikian  @LevParikian
You may remember that when we met you mentioned NaNoWriMo. I thought little of it at the time, but when I got home I developed acute NaNoWriMo fever. It took me a couple of sessions to put down an outline, and I realised that I couldn't wait for November. So I started. 30k words later other things took over and I put it to one side. As this is what NaNoWriMo is designed to avoid, I decided to crack on and finish what Emma Darwin calls the 'shitty first draft' during November. It will be shitty. It will almost certainly be unpublishable, even when polished. But it will be finished. And it will be mine. And at least a little bit of it will be your fault. [NM cackles madly.]

Christine Mosler @christinemosler 
I am doing Nano and need all the encouragement I can get!  I am chrismos at Nanowrimo and I blog at

Catherine Hughes @CatONineTales
Here's my NaNo page: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/524796.  As you can see,
the novel has a title already, which is a very positive feeling for me (I struggle with titles).

Joanna Cannon @Sethsmummy
This is my first nano and it feels like a terrifying interview for a job I've wanted my whole life ....

Kath Eastman @katheastman
I'm taking part in NaNoWriMo for the first time, largely thanks to encouragement from Twitter pals. I'm looking forward to being part of the NaNo community. Most of all, I'm looking forward to having fun with my writing and seeing where turning off my internal editor gets me. Hopefully not in a whole heap of trouble! I'm writing a psychological mystery/thriller about a stalker who infiltrates and manipulates a celebrity fan forum.

Louise Kelly @mllouisekelly
I'm doing it. The characters and setting I've got in my head might end up being a YA novel, but won't hold them to it if they think otherwise. The whole nano-concept has already helped as it made me get two other projects finished for the end of last month so my decks were cleared for this - I'm a real deadline junkie.  But I'm procrastinating now . . . better go!

Denyse Kirkby @djkirkby
Participating in NaNo forces me to put writing at the top of my priority list every day in November.  I am not foolish enough to believe that I will produce writing of publishable quality during that time but I do believe that no writing is ever wasted.  The words I write during NaNo may someday end up as part of  another novel or short story I am working on.  I like having words written that I can dip into like the literary equivalent of a savings account.

Lisa Ward
This is the first year that I have done NaNo. I used to be a staff nurse in A&E, then I qualified as a solicitor and I am now attempting to write! I am planning to write a YA novel about first love across two different centuries, with a few smugglers and pirates thrown in. It sounds a bit strange, but the area where I am from was rife with smugglers and wreckers a few hundred years ago, and it is an area of local history I am rather fascinated by. The story will be loosely based on it. Oh and I have managed 1889 words today, so off to a good start!

Louise Santa Ana @louloulou
I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the first time. I have an unfinished novel sitting in my Scrivener projects so am procrastinating, obviously. I'm writing a chick lit novel with a geeky heroine, set in London today. Heroine meets Mr Oh-So-Very-Wrong. He breaks her heart. She refuses to recognise Mr RIght for what he is. Tries online dating, speed dating, flirting with her brother's gay housemate etc. Tears, trauma, everyday challenges, obnoxious co-worker, steadfast friends and so on. All working its way to a happy ending. Aah. 

Joanna Robinson @joellaviscount 
This is my first ever NaNoWriMo and I'm both nervous and excited. Good Luck and happy writing to all those taking part. We can do it!

And a good news story from Julia Crouch

My second Nanovel, written in 2008, is Cuckoo, which is being published in March 2011, as part of a three-book deal with Headline. (It did take the subsequent year to bash it into second draft shape, though) Today, the start of the new Nanowrimo, I'm off to meet my editor and publicist at Headline, which seems fitting. I thought it might be nice for people to know that it is possible! [Indeed! Hooray!] This year, I am sticking with Nanowrimo, but using the impetus and camaraderie to really finish off the first draft of novel #2. But I'll be missing the arc from start to finish of a story that the novel in a month gives you.

Ans now, a treat for all of you, whether you're a Nano Nutter or not: 


catdownunder said...

Thankyou Nicola! Purrfectly put.
Everyone else - I am not doing NaNoWriMo. It is not the way I write things but, if you are doing it and you need a paw held or a whisker to cry on or a tail flicked at you, purrowl on over and I will sympurrthise without commenting.

Quillers said...

Thanks Nicola for understanding what it's all about. (I see I'm the only pretentious person who did my blurb in third person. Cough cough.)

Good luck everyone!

Kate Kyle said...

Thanks for understanding, Nicola.

I've always felt guilty for not doing NaNo and this year decided that 'ynuff is ynuff'.
So I'm doing Nano. :P

I was going to email you with my details but then got lost with the time zones and clock going backwards and forwards (I'm in NZ). Can I still have a little encouragament, please?
http://scribocin.blogspot.com/ @gone_writing

Unknown said...

That is the thing, external motivation comes in all shapes and sizes. I love the purpose NaNo gives to writing. It turns "whenever" into "now."

Dan Holloway said...

Good luck all mentioned, and scribocin. I'm really rather excited about doing my first Nano. It couldn't have come at a worse time. I'm launching my new monthly literary night in Oxford on the 18th, jusdiging the Oxford International Women's Festival Poetry Competition the previous week (entries still open, everyone), and yesterday my micropress published its first two books. I am already in negative time equity. But that's probably exactly why it's also the very best time to do it - as Elaine said, it turns whenever into now.

I'll also be updating regularly, and hoping to post the first draft of the novel I've been intending to write for over a year on my blog as I go. The Things We Talked About While She Was Bleeding Out will, therefore, appear at
And if any of you is in the Oxford area, there appears to be a good number of real life Nano events, and I am intending making The Albion Beatnik bookstore a general Nano drop-in zone.

Keris Stainton said...

Really excellent post, Nicola. I got my agent and book deal with a book I wrote for NaNo and I wrote the first draft of my next book (out next July) during NaNo last year.

Also? Meg Cabot does it http://www.megcabot.com/2010/11/nanowrimo-witchery-and-signs/ (and if it's good enough for Meg, it's good enough for me).

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Hahaha, I love that vid!

I love the idea of NaNoWriMo but I'm still waiting for a year in which my life allows it. November has been a busy and stressful month for me for a few years now, for various reasons. One day, though. One day.

sheilamcperry said...

Dan - it works best if your life is really hectic and/or in ruins. The first time I did it, I was at the end of a terrible year in which my mother and brother had both died suddenly, my two cats had died, I had inherited two cats and a dog from my brother... At the same time as doing NaNoWriMo I was working full time, studying databases at the OU, serving on a local committee and my son and I were adapting 'A Christmas Carol' for youth theatre then producing it. Looking back, that year's NaNoWriMo marked the turning point between a life that was in chaos/ruins, and the green shoots of recovery!

Allie Hammer said...

This is a great post. This year is my fourth nano, having completed all but last year's for some of the very reasons you mention. Sometimes, life is too demanding!

It's lovely to hear a balanced viewpoint amidst the frenzy of nano. Thank you.

Thomas Taylor said...

If I wanted to write something nano, I'd stick to Twitter fiction, ho ho ho, etc.

Sally Zigmond said...

"A misplaced feeling of inadequacy."

Now, Nicola, if you could find a way for me to rid myself of that, I would be forever in your debt. Why I suffer from it, I don't know, but it's there, leering at me all the time.

I wish everyone doing Nano all the very best but, as some may already know, I am not writing a word this month. Not in a response to Nano but because I need the break.

Catherine Hughes said...

I wrote just over 3100 words yesterday, despite a tummy bug, and despite having had a rotten time generally lately.

NaNoWriMo helps me to maintain some purpose even as things become increasingly difficult for me. It is the best way (for me) of writing a first draft, and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy it.

My own blog post on the subject is here.

Cat x

Ellen Brickley said...

Brilliant post Nicola. I'm doing Nano this year and I'm a Co-ML for my region.

My reason for doing Nano is that I find I often get very caught up in the business side of writing. I worry that at my pace, I won't get published for years and years (if ever). I have been known to get ideas for books and jettison them because they aren't publishable. Nano takes me back to the sheer joy of writing, of doing it for its own sake and for the sheer love of it, and reminds me that if a genie told me right now I'd never be published, I'd write anyway.

It works for me, anyway. But Nano is very definitely not for everyone, and every writer has to do what works for them. So to all writers NOT doing Nano - you're great too :)

Elen C said...

I'm in this year too. In fact, I'll be trying to write two first drafts. But before anyone panics on my behalf, I write for children so they'll be 30k words each.
Word war anyone?

Karen said...

A very timely post. I was already feeling guilty and like a bit of a failure for not getting off to a good start yesterday, because our Internet connection went off and I spent the best part of the day trying to get it sorted!

You're absolutely right, it should be fun and if it doesn't feel right, don't do it.

Dan Holloway said...

Sally, I love the way you write that you are not writing a word. There's something of Bertie Russell's cataloguing librarian in that.

Sheila, yes - in the day and a half so far not only have I been writing, I've done more of the other stuff too. I think it's a perfect brain cleanser!

Rebecca Bradley said...

Thank you for the brilliant post Nicola, it was definitely what I needed to read right now. I started writing about a month ago and wasn't willing to stop so I could participate in NaNoWriMo. Having a twitter account, however, made me think that absolutely everyone on the internet who writes, is doing it. It's good to know I'm not the only one not doing it, but I wish everyone that it, all the luck in the world!

Stroppy Author said...

Ah, Sheila, well done. I have 'a life that [is] in chaos/ruins' so perhaps I should do NaNoWriMo after all, though I've never done it before. But I have a novel to edit (due end of summer, victim to the ruins) so perhaps I'll do a NaNoEdMo instead. Does that count? I'll have to do more words as the novel's 70K, but editing is quicker than writing (sometimes). Anyone else want to do a NaNoEdMo?

Stroppy Author said...

Sheila, I've just credited your comment in my blog post on launching into NaNoEdMo - so thank you for the inspiration :-)

Krista D. Ball said...

NaNo is an excuse for me to set aside a month to work on the low-priority projects. This year, I'm working on 3 short stories and 3 novellas for NaNo.

I write close to full time, so I'm generally working on novel-length projects or freelance.

But the truth is, I love novellas. November gives me the chance to break out the love of my life, have a torrid love affair, and I can confess in December.

Jesse Owen (Reading to Life) said...

Great post Nicola :)

Good luck to everyone taking part in NaNo this year.

sheilamcperry said...

Thanks StroppyAuthor and I'm glad to have been of service - hope it works!
Forgot to say thanks to Nicola for such a good post about NaNo - there are all sorts of sides to it.

Sally Clements said...

This is my 9th nano. I'm addicted. I had no story idea before I started, except that it would be a romance. Its coming along nicely 2 days in, and I'm having fun. I only write to my target of 1,666 per day, and try to leave at an exciting point so its easier the next day. I do it because I like it.

Tony James Slater said...

Outstanding! And good luck to one and all. For me, NaNoWriMo is an excuse to cheat; I normally write non-fiction but here is a real opportunity to indulge in a bit of novel writing on the sly!
I think I'll love it for that, if not for the sinking desperation that will lodge in my stomach in roughly 20 days time...

The Most Curious Rambler said...

Very interesting article. I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year. It was an excellent motivator and the community aspect was fun. However, the output was terrible - I then decided not to retry.

I have been planning my new attempt at a novel for seven or eight months and found that as I was ready to start pressing keys, NaNoWriMo had almost begun. So I waited a couple of days and attached the start of my writing to the project. I may or may not complete the 50K words within the time-limit, but I certainly will not finish the novel. I am taking much more care over what I write this time (I know there will be countless re-writes, but it's easier to polish a rough diamond than the proverbial t**d) and am correcting as I go, breaking one of the cardinal rules of NaNo.

Nicola Morgan said...

Quillers - not pretentious at all! I did consider turning it into 3rd person just to make it like the others and then I decided not to as it's perfect anyway.

Scribocin - indeed, good luck! And to those others doing it for the first time.

Keris - I'd forgotten that - hooray! I wish it was as easy as that for everyone.

Sally - NaNoNoWriMo? I didn't know actually, but it sounds very sensible. It's pretty much what I'm doing, though I hadn't expressed it like that.

Stroppy - good luck with your NaNoEdMo!

Everyone - such a variety of good reasons for doing (or not doing) a NaNo novel. Good luck to all.

David John Griffin said...

Excellent post, Nicola! Always tempted every year to try NaNoWriMo but consider I won't succeed, so don't; then again, even if I wrote 20,000 words in a month, that'd be an achievement, I guess! Maybe one year...

Funny vid!


Xandra James said...

Thanks for the lovely mention - and LOVED the video. It reminds me of a friend; the facial expressions are diamond!

Nano is going ok for me so far, not started on day three but total is over 8k so very happy with that. Let's just hope i haven't peaked too soon huh? ;)

Happy writing everyone!

Emma Darwin said...

I'm not doing NaNo, but I write at NaNo speed anyway, and for exactly the same reasons.

So may I post a link to my take on the whole question?


Glynis Peters said...

I am doing my first NaNoWriMo. I am loving every moment of the challenge. My writing is flowing better than I thought.

I wonder if I will say the same on the last day. :)

Happy Scribbling to all!
Glynis Smy Blog

Kath McGurl said...

I'm standing on the sidelines waving my pompoms and cheering on all you incredible nanoers!

If I didn't have a full time job, I probably would give it a go. If I ever manage to reach retirement age (seems to be a moving goalpost at the moment) I'll do it!

OSMWylie said...

Agreed! I don't see how anyone could feel they NEED to do it, it's great fun and a great feeling if you do, but it's not like entering is a contract signed in blood...

I'm doing it around my first year of uni. It was going great on the till I learned I had a writing portfolio due in next week!! I've managed to keep on top of both thus far, as well as my other work, but if my work looked to be in jeopardy, I'd drop my NaNo. It's not like I can't finish the story later! NaNo is fun, but it's not precedent or important. Heh, mines not even going to end up a novel. It's a comic. I'm writing it a form familiar to me to get the pacing and figure out what goes panel by panel, page by page.

Good luck to all the other NoNo's out there!

Yvonne Johnston (Whyjay99) said...

I am not doing Naa,naa,noo,noo (as I call it). I know that, given the way I write, I could never do it. However, I am finding myself writing more this month as so many of my regular Twitter friends ARE doing it and are spending less time tweeting - so I am too!