NaNoWriMo: Nah, I’m not writing a novel in a month.

What a diabolical invention is National Novel-Writing Month.

Oh, NaNoWriMo sounds grand and glorious when you first hear of it. You think the ban on the backspace will give you unbridled creative freedom. You convince yourself it’s all about producing, not about being precious. You’ll just have fun! If Philip K Dick could knock back a fistful of drugs and hammer out a novel in eight days, you can do it with coffee in a month!


Or, if you’re anything like me, you’ve just set yourself up for a massive disappointment.

Some things should be done quickly, like CPR or teppanyaki. A novel isn’t one of those things. Trying to write a novel in a hurry is like trying to build a woodpile in a hurry: you’ll skimp on the foundational aspects and the whole thing will come crashing down. You’ll have to either give up or start over – and since you don’t have to write a novel to be warm for the winter, you’ll probably just bum yourself out.

I can’t write 2,500 words in a day unless I’m writing my own stream of consciousness, and that would be a load of boring drivel. None of the other writers in my writing community (which includes several wonderful and quite successful writers) would even dream of trying. Typing fast isn’t enough. You want to craft a good story? Take the time to put in the thought it deserves, or you’re not doing it justice.

Instead of sending the narratograph into overdrive, here are some things you can do for NaNoWriMo that are more rewarding and worthwhile than either giving up on a novel, or wasting a month on a project that probably isn’t viable. If you’re already writing regularly, every month is Novel Writing Month anyway. And if you want to use NaNoWriMo as your first attempt ever at writing a novel, be kind to yourself. A deadline like that is basically self-flagellation.

  1. Enrich your writing by attempting National Novel Reading Month. How many books do you normally read in a month? If you’re a normal busy adult, maybe not as many as you’d like. See if you can double your usual number.
  2. Set yourself a daily word count goal that’s within your reach. More power to you if you can tap out a whole novel in a month, but also, you should really cut back on those amphetamines, Ghost of Philip K Dick – and what the hell were you on when you wrote Oh, To Be a Blobel?
  3. 2017 is just around the corner. Apply for fellowships. Apply for residencies. Enter contests. Opportunity calls!
  4. Today you’re going to edit. Give your book a beach bod and cut that flab!
  5. Stuck? Switch forms this month. Write a short story. Write a ten-minute play. Write the memoir that your child self would have thought you’d have.
  6. Instead of tapping out the first cliché that comes to mind when you reach a narrative crossroad (I know it’s tempting when a deadline looms), why not spend an hour or two setting up mini-narratives today? Take a couple of characters, plonk them in a situation, then think of at least six solutions to their problem. It’s around idea number three or four that I find the most interesting options emerge.
  7. Did you really want to start writing a novel this month? Maybe your first one ever? Good. Write yourself the outline of the thing. Work out who’s in it and what kind of themes you might be working with. You can do that in a month, easy.
  8. A whole month of research. Read as widely as you can about the topic that you’re writing on, and keep a record of which ones you’ll use. Even if you’re writing realistic fiction set in the present day, your character should have life experiences that you haven’t. Get to know their hobbies, the countries they’ve travelled to, the movies they watched growing up. And if they’ve got so much overlap with your own life that you feel you don’t need to do any more research, pick another character… or better yet, rewrite your character until they become their own person.
  9. Got some old pieces sitting around that you just haven’t got around to finishing? Did you leave something sitting in a drawer? Go back to them. Greet them as long-lost lovers. Revive them.
  10. You could even go on a writing detox this month. Sure, you’ll fall out of practice a little bit, but you’ll have to find something else to fill your time. That could mean going out with friends, exercising more often, joining that class you’ve always wanted to try or returning to an old hobby. It will give your novel (or project of choice) the space that it might need, and you’ll have more life experience to inform your work.

So there you have it, my lovelies. Make this NaNoWriMo about quality, and you’re sure to come out of it with a better work and a greater sense of satisfaction.


3 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: Nah, I’m not writing a novel in a month.

  1. rubberlotus says:

    Hey, PA. Sorry I didn’t comment earlier – just saw your ad on Mouse’s blog a couple days ago, and only got around to following it now.

    I’ve never really done NaNoWriMo, mainly because I don’t have a creative bone in my body and can barely kick myself into writing fanfic on most days. But all this is good solid writing advice for any time of the year, and for better or worse, I’m trying to build up my Classic (Genre) Fiction repertoire – little bit of Fleming here, little bit of Chandler there, plus some Robert E. Howard on the weekends…

    Hope all’s going well in the Land of Oz…


    • Amelia says:

      Good to see ya, RL! Things down here are hot, crisp and busy. I’m about to go away to Vietnam but the blog won’t go dead while I’m gone. My reading list is woeful when it comes to classics although I have studied a few. Hope to see you around a bit more!


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