Dana's Dojo: Surviving NaNo

Today in the Dojo: How you can write 50,000 words in a month and not drop dead.


I said “Never again,” and I meant it. I will not be doing NaNoWriMo this year. Not exactly. More like NaNoWri2Mo, because I’ve determined I must complete a book of short stories by the end of this year. And yes, I’d do NaNo, despite a solemn vow never to do so again, but ye olde wrists may not be up to the task. The spirit is willing. The flesh has thumb tendonitis and very likely a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome to boot. Let’s not push it.

But some of you are young and sound of wrists, although your minds might be suspect, considering you’ve signed up for the madness that is NaNoWriMo. So I figured I’d tell you how I survived my one and only time doing it officially, and all those times I’ve done it on the sly.

Perhaps it will be of some service.

1. Set aside healthy chunks of time. Every day. Every single day. As much time as you can carve out of your schedule, because you’ll need every single last minute. Determine how much time you can devote, add a bit to it, and set it aside as sacrosanct. And during that time, you shall write.

2. Tell the people in your life that, in the interests of keeping them alive and you out of jail, they had better respect your writing time. No exceptions. Unless someone is engaged in the act of actively dying, or the house is burning down, they are not to bother you no matter how urgent they think it is. Tell them this right now.

3. Remember to eat. Have healthy snacks ready at hand by your writing space. Eat energy foods: lean protein, potatoes, carbs. Eat your veggies. This is not precisely the time to diet. Keep fueled, but don’t gorge, because gorging makes you tired. Don’t under-eat, because that can kill your productivity. Have as much food pre-made as possible, ready and waiting in the fridge. You won’t have much time to cook. If you have friends and/or family members who are willing to help, enlist them to feed you.

4. Keep writing. I don’t care how awful the words feel. Write them down anyway. This is the one time when quantity trumps quality. Fuck spelling, fuck grammar, fuck punctuation – that shit can be fixed later. If you get stuck somewhere, don’t linger – jot a note, put in brackets, and move right the fuck on. You will have plenty of time to revise in the future. And it probably isn’t as bad as you fear – I’ve actually read back over the crap I wrote during NaNo several times, referring to it for other works, and it’s never proved as horrible as it felt during the writing of it. Some of it was actually quite good. A few bits verged on brilliant. And the bits that didn’t, well, they’ll feel the wrath of my editing pen when it comes time to finish that bastard, so all is well.

5. Take a hike. Get up and stretch. Yes, you need to write, but you need to get the blood circulating, too. Schedule in the occasional walk and time during writing to break off, rest your eyes and wrists for a few moments, do a few turns round the office so that your legs don’t take on a permanent seated position.

6. Have a cheerleading squad. There are other writers doing this. There are friends and family members who can jolly you along. Have people available who can help you push through the pain.

7. Do not despair. You will quite likely have days when even craptastic words won’t come, and days when life gets in the way, and toward the end you may realize you’re behind. This is where you must quote Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!” I don’t care if you’re 30,000 words behind on the last day, sit the fuck down and write until you bleed, until you wish someone would shoot you to spare you further pain, until that clock runs out. You never know but that you might pull a miracle there at the end.

8. If your Inner Editor says a single damned critical word at any point in this process, shoot to kill. Show no mercy. Inner Editors are not allowed during NaNo. They damned well know it, but they’ll try to horn in anyway. Kill them dead. Don’t worry, they always rise from the dead. And there are as yet no statutes against killing a construct of your own mind, so the prohibition on murder does not apply here.

That’s pretty much it. This is an endurance game. All you can do is put one word in front of another, as fast as you can, every day for the whole month, and try not to perish in the process. This isn’t about quality writing. It’s about proving to yourself that you can get the writing done. And knowing that is immensely valuable. Carry it over into the other eleven months, because if you carved out time for writing and got words written during the month of NaNo, you sure as shit can do it the rest of the year.

Ready? No? Too bad.

Write anyway.

Dana's Dojo: Surviving NaNo
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7 thoughts on “Dana's Dojo: Surviving NaNo

  1. 1

    My hat is off to those that complete this NaNo-whatever-the-hell it’s called. I have a hard enough time keeping up with one post a week on the blog. Doing 50,000 words would be a damn near impossible task.

  2. 2

    A novel that my wife drafted during NaNo three years ago will be in paperback next February — and is already scheduled to be the first volume of a trilogy. And so I’d say that the effort can indeed pay off.

    Like anything worthwhile, writing is about sustained effort and dedicated time.

  3. 5

    Also, whatever you do, do not sign up to host the family Thanksgiving, as I do every year. Yeah, I never do NaNo, although that luckily hasn’t stopped me from writing fiction. Though I do really need to get a couple new pieces done…. Right. December.

    Katherine, for some people, editing the first book can turn into that thing they do that feels like writing but isn’t. If you’re on the second or third revision without having written anything new, it might be time to take a hard look at how much progress you’re really making. If the answer is “Eh,” then writing during NaNo may be a really useful change. If you’re doing fine work on your own toward your writing goals, you may not need the push that NaNo was designed to provide.

  4. 6

    Could never do it, and especially not this year; yet I’ve written a lot of words at times. For me, it comes in flashes, and then the story MUST BE TOLD — even if it keeps me up ’till odd hours of the morning.

  5. 7

    I “won” two years ago with a novel I had great fun writing and editing and adding to since. Last year I had chronic headaches, which is a real creativity killer. This year … I didn’t spend as much time preparing by plotting and making characters, so last night when I sat down to write, nothing happened. Perhaps instead of reading blogs I should read that novel and remember how much I like writing.

    It’s like playing hockey. Driving to the rink, lugging the gear in, strapping it all on, warming up can be a chore … but once I’m on the ice and moving and focusing and being in the moment of playing, it’s fun.

    Now, Timber, enough writing about writing. Write.

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