so, what are you doing in November?

Taking a few moments to come up for air . . .

The other day, this quote landed in my email inbox, care of the Sierra Club’s Daily Ray of Hope email:

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ? C. S. Lewis

Naturally, I thought of National Novel Writing Month, set to begin again on November 1, and I wrote an email to my mother to encourage her to give NaNoWriMo a shot this year.

But what about you, too? Want to give writing a novel a try?

You could write a romance novel, YA fantasy, historical saga, whimsical comedy, science fiction epic, or really anything you want. 50,000 words in 30 days sounds like a lot, and it is. But it’s just a first draft, and it’s guaranteed to be crap. So don’t worry about turning out the next Anna Karenina or Great Gatsby.

?The first draft of anything is shit.? — Ernest Hemingway

But it is a place to start.

Valhalla was my 2008 NaNoWriMo project. Iduna’s Apples — set to release (I hope) in December — was my 2009 project, and I’m getting ready to write the third volume in this series this November. I also have a collection of other first drafts I plan to rewrite and whip into shape for publication.

Water for Elephants got its start as a NaNoWriMo project.

You don’t have to publish if you don’t want to — although many of these manuscripts do get self-published even when they shouldn’t (look for another blog post on that subject). Many people who participate in NaNoWriMo do so just so they can check “write a novel” off the bucket list.

I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but most people who start NaNoWriMo each year don’t make it across the 50,000-word finish line by midnight on November 30th. Some of those projects end up languishing for months or years or are never completed; others get finished a few days or a few weeks past the deadline. There’s no prize for “winning” NaNoWriMo, other than having a completed first draft of your very own. So if you’re hesitant to sign up because you don’t think you’ll be able to finish, rest assured you’ll be in fine company.

I first tried NaNoWriMo in 2004, a few months after I relocated to Portland. Writing a first draft in 30 days like this was a revelation. I’d spent a good year — or longer — on the first draft of my previous novel, Rhythm (2001). That first NaNoWriMo attempt, I relied heavily on a meticulously researched outline. In the years that have followed, however, I’ve become increasingly comfortable beginning with a very rough idea of plot and a few characters I’m interested in exploring. For me at least, I find this leaves more room for spontaneity, humor, and delightful mayhem.

It’s a challenge, but it’s certainly not insurmountable. I’d shied away from NaNoWriMo when I first heard about it in 2003. I thought it would be too hard. I was completely intimidated by the idea of writing 50,000 words in a single month.

And now I honestly look forward to it every year.

Whether you’re thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo or just are curious about writing a novel at any time of year, I highly recommend the book, No Plot? No Problem! written by Chris Baty, one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. In this “NaNoWriMo survival guide,” Baty gives excellent advice on the first-draft writing process in general — which is mainly to get out of your own way.

Anyway, if you register on the NaNoWriMo website, you’ll find online forums full of helpful and enthusiastic souls from all over the globe ready to help each other with plot bunnies, writer’s block, and research — not to mention my favorite forum thread, “NaNoisms.” You can connect as “writing buddies” with other participants and find NaNoWriMo write-ins right in your own neighborhood, so there’s a social element as well for those who want it.

Posted in writing & publishing.


  1. I am giving it another try. I finished in 2004 and 2005, but only lasted about five days in 2006. So here I am on Nov. 1 without a clear idea of what I’m going to write about, but I think I will revisit a favourite character who does not have a home. I’m going to give it a try in Scrivener for fun. How is your first day going?

    • I didn’t have the most auspicious start to NaNoWriMo this morning. I usually start my project first thing in the morning (not at midnight) on the first day, but this morning I had some printing to get started first for the ORYCON convention that starts tomorrow. Only, my printer crapped out on me in spectacular fashion. It had been working brilliantly last night, and this morning no amount of head cleaning, cartridge replacements, nozzle checks, alignment checks, or physically cleaning the machine with alcohol and q-tips can get the ink to come through the nozzles properly. It’s really a mystery.

      In the midst of all of that stress, I headed out for the Day 1 Write-in I was hosting at a nearby coffee shop. What I wrote this morning is not particularly good. I couldn’t get my mind off the printer situation, and was worried over how to make my daily word count during the convention, too. Not the most productive thoughts for writing! But I did exceed my daily wordcount quota, and it looks like we’re buying a new printer, possibly even this evening. So there is light at the end of this day’s tunnel.

      How are you liking Scrivener so far?

    • I have loved working with Scrivener. I met another writer — at the write-in this morning — who is also trying Scrivener for the first time during this year’s NaNoWriMo. I hope you’ll find it as useful and supportive of productivity as it has been for me. And have a great dinner! That sounds lovely.

  2. Sorry you had such an anxious day. Technology is wonderful until it doesn’t work.

    I spent the past two hours getting to know Scrivener from the built-in tutorial. I used the Beta version several years ago, but the software has changed a lot. I think it’s going to be fun, and might help motivate me to stick with NaNo.

    So as a result I haven’t written a single word yet. We have a roast in the slow cooker, so I think I’ll go take a sniff and then come back to write for a little while.

  3. Sure enough, inspiration visited. I had no idea what my story was going to be until 5 pm, but this evening I got an idea and used the Scrivener character sheets to work out my main characters. I have only written the first two paragraphs, 200 words, but tomorrow I’ll be ready to dig in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prove you're not a robot! * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.