To NaNo or not to NaNo?

I got off the phone on Tuesday with some of our Writer’s Circle participants for our mid-session coaching call, and I was left with this question: to NaNo or not to NaNo?

Several writers in my sphere are wrestling with the question of whether to dive in and participate in National Novel Writing Month or not. And even just a few days from “GO!”, we’re asking things like:

  • Will it be too much in my already full life?
  • Will it give me the boost I need to get going?
  • Can it help me feel like I’m getting a jumpstart on my writing (again)?
  • What if I get burnt out doing it?
  • What if it’s a ton of fun and really inspiring?

Even I’m thinking about it, despite the reality of my current personal life circumstances (A 5 month old baby! A new script to write! A business to run!). I’m especially tempted because we’ve developed some extra supports on the Writer’s Circle site for those who will be participating in both the Circle and NaNo and want more personal, intimate support than what NaNo itself offers.

As I talked about last week, there are some real pros to participating in NaNo. And what strikes me is that so many of us in the Circle are thinking about doing both, which speaks to an underlying desire to see rapid progress and to get a jumpstart on a big writing project.

Making the decision

Mary Montanye, one of our Writer’s Circle coaches and author of the recently published memoir, Above Tree Line, and the coach that will be running our special Writer’s Circle NaNo support group, approaches NaNo with a delicious spirit of fun and exploration, primarily with the focus on creating a “discovery draft”. (More on discovery drafts here and here.)

About making the decision to NaNo or not to NaNo, Mary says:


“The writing we do in NaNoWriMo can really kick up a writing practice habit, something we are committed to helping writers do in the Writer’s Circle. And you don’t have to write a novel! If you’d rather write a longish piece of non-fiction, it can help you do that, too.

“I have written non-fiction, even journaled extensively during past Novembers. I love the challenge and the camaraderie that occurs when I participate. And through the years I’ve amassed a bundle of tricks that helped me survive and thrive during this world-wide write-a-thon and on into my writing life after the month of November is over.

“This is the way I look at it. I hold my commitment very loosely. I want it to be fun. And I want to be surprised by the words that make their way from my brain to the page. Fast writing, without thinking about it too much, is how I am surprised. If you look at it as creative play, it might be just what you need right now. And, when we are writing fast, it doesn’t take more than about an hour or two to chalk up the words. We can write more on freer days, and less on the others. You may never use much of what you write, but you may, or you may have a breakthrough that might not have come another way. And, if you begin, decide there is absolutely no way you can do this, you can stop. Most do, so there is nothing wrong at all with that.

“But, and this is a very big but, if this is just going to feel like one more draining commitment, don’t do it. Or, if you think it would be very hard for you to hold it lightly and have fun with it because that’s not your way, then don’t do it.”

Isn’t that useful?

Learning from the NaNo experience

On another front, one of our writers shared some thoughts about the value of participating in NaNo, which really spoke to me:

“I participated in NaNoWriMo last year and finished. It was great, taught me a lot about writing in general and about my own way of writing.

“It taught me the value of writing daily and of aiming high (2000 words a day). It taught me that most of the time the first 300 words were hard, and the first 500 even harder, but that after 700-800 it got easier as I kept going. It also taught me that if I switch off my judging brain I can still write and that how I feel about the writing, while I’m doing it, says nothing about how it turns our or whether I will be able to use it later. Sometimes ‘writing blind’ like that resulted in pieces of writing that were better than they would have ever been if I would have been consciously trying. I mainly joined to see if I could establish a habit and because I liked the challenge, but I was surprised at how much of what I wrote during that month actually ended up in the novel draft I am working on.

“Being part of the Writer’s Circle at the same time meant that I had a forum and a group where I could log my progress and reflect on the process, which helped me keep going and helped me notice what I was learning.”

What I find most fascinating about this is how she learned that the later words come easier. Isn’t that the truth? It’s usually the first that come painfully, unless we’re totally fired up to write (which by the way, is so much easier when we’re writing every day!).

I also noticed that the experience seemed to raise her level of what’s “normal” for her in terms of daily writing. So not only could NaNo be a way to crank out one project in particular, it can also be a way to take your writing habit up a notch.

Are you in?

So what do you think? Will you go for it? What’s factoring into the decision for you? Will you NaNo or not, this year?

Let us know what you think in the comments.


NaNoWriMo Writer's Circle special


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  1. Max Davidse says:

    I am seriously thinking of going for it. I am a Dutch guy, and will attempt doing this in English and it will be my first ever attempt at writing anything serious and longer than 4 pages.

    All I hope is that I won’t suck completely. For me it will be something entirely new.

    To anyone else going for it, good luck, know that you can’t be worse than me. ;)

  2. I say go for it! Especially Jenna! You already have a new script that needs to be written – how great to have the support of 100,000s of people while you’re doing it – it may be just what you need to eek out those final words. I actually enjoy April NaNo even more with “Script Frenzy” or the camps they have in the summer to choose your own word count, but use the November NaNo to work on the multi-media and marketing skills I can use too – want to cross media lines – make an old screenplay a novel. ISA has a job assignment out right now for writing back stories for their gamers – you can add that to the fun. I’ve been successful each time (since 2010 when I learned about NaNo) and think success begets success. I work 10-13 hours/day and today is day #38 of 63 and work to get at least two hours of writing or learning in around my work day and work outs. I know I’ve got an end in sight for the day job since I’ll spend a month in Italy starting day 63 (God bless daughters that travel abroad for a year in college and don’t mind Mom showing up for American Thanksgiving!) and am fully committed to completing my next script during the month of November, and then the marketing materials, too. Trust me, if I can make the time, you really can too! Best wishes to everybody! If anyone else needs additional support with Jenna’s Writer’s Circle and NaNo, check out Scotty Cornfield’s 30 days screenplay FaceBook group – we do a script in 30 days four times a year and it’s a really great group full of positive encouragement and almost at 1000 writers.

  3. What a great group support system! NaNo sounds wonderful for those of us ready to dive into writing with the commitment and energy to back it up. I can totally understand why you would be tempted, Jenna. However, it really is OK to say no at this time and focus on your new baby. NaNo and your writing aren’t going to go anywhere–it’ll be there to try when you and baby have left babytime. Like Mary said, don’t do it if it’s going to feel like a draining commitment. xoxoElaine

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