Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Contemplating NaNoWriMo and Keeping Promises

by Paula Gail Benson

For the last few years, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, not always by planning to complete a 50,000 word novel, but by setting writing goals I want to accomplish for the month. I didn’t register on the website this year, but I did choose a few projects to finish. So far, I’ve made good progress.

I wondered why November was selected as the designated month. According to Wikipedia, the founder, Chris Blaty, began the observance in July, then moved it to November to “take advantage of the miserable weather.”

Perhaps November might be a month when fewer activities would lure a person outside and writing by a warm fire could be encouraged, but it’s also leading up to an action packed holiday season. With so many events on the horizon, so much added to an already overloaded schedule, why would people want to add one more obligation, particularly one of dedicating oneself to writing more than 1,600 words per day?

Could it be because at Thanksgiving we tend toward an retrospective mode? As the end of the year approaches, we take stock of what we’ve accomplished and what we have left to do. We contemplate what we want to be remembered for as we gather with family and friends. Maybe we even recall those holiday times when the congregated children were asked to play the piano as entertainment, with each selection being measured against the others for achievement.

With Thanksgiving, we are grateful, but also observant. We appreciate what others have done and try to figure out the legacy we’re meant to create.

Several articles I read about the benefits of NaNoWriMo mention that it emphasizes prioritization. Rather than putting other obligations first, participants are encouraged to place primary focus on writing and let others in their lives know writing will take priority. Group support helps participants make the practice a reality.

Yet, why choose this time, when so many other tasks loom large--like holiday shopping, food preparation, gift wrapping, and mail--to put writing first? Maybe it’s to take time to affirm, in the rush of the season, that what you have to contribute through writing is important. It’s your own work, your own voice being heard--even if only by yourself.

NaNoWriMo originated in San Francisco and a significant group event is held there each year. The Night of Writing Dangerously is a fund raising “write-a-thon.” The first 250 people who contribute a set monetary amount to the organization are invited to the party, which features food, speeches, and bouts of writing. An invitee who reaches 50,000 words during the event is invited onstage to ring a bell and be recognized.

Gigi Pandian, a writer I greatly admire, hails from San Francisco and used NaNoWriMo to achieve her goal of writing her debut novel. The fact that she wrote Artifact during a time when she had been diagnosed with a serious illness and was facing many life changes makes the achievement all the more commendable. Since that time, she’s gone forward to create a second series and win an Agatha this year for her most recent short story.

How do we let people know what our lives stand for? Through the work we do. And, by work, I mean the labor of our hands, the contributions of our hearts, the communication of our ideas, and the stories we feel obligated to tell.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? Whether you did or not, what promises have you made to yourself about your writing?


  1. I did NaNo summer camp one year, in Nancy Eady's bunkhouse. Great camaraderie with my fellow writers: houseguests, the heat, the rain, the word count.

    November is a busy month for me. I reserve Jan-Feb-March for my most productive writing time. I'll spend December getting organized for it.

  2. Good plan, Margaret. Like giving yourself a Christmas gift! Happy writing to you!

  3. I did the NaNoWriMo one year and completed 50,000 first draft words. It was an interesting experiment, but I found that the emphasis on new words over everything else had some downsides, as I didn't plan my marketing efforts as well as I should have during that period.

    I set annual, monthly, and weekly goals to guide my progress.

  4. I haven't participated in NaNoWriMo, but I need to. LOL I think I'll devote January to digging in and writing like crazy. Too many distractions in November.

  5. I haven't participated in NaNoWriMo, either, but I try to keep writing throughout the year although there are periods when I don't write much. I do tend to write more from January to spring though when there isn't much to do outside other than take care of my barn animals.

  6. I wrote Death by Blue Water during NaNoWriMo in 2006. It was my first Nano and the only one I completed. I meant to sign up this year, but it my day job schedule convinced me it would create more stress than it would relieve. I have, however, declared private Nano months throughout the year and have completed those. Sometimes with other writers, other times on my own. The concept is great for getting words on the page!

    I have always wondered why the creators of Nano selected a 30 day month. Seems...cruel. Sometimes even one more day can make a difference.

    Good luck to the Nanoers everywhere.

  7. Jim, that has been my difficulty with NaNo. I like to continuously revise as I write, so the new words are fewer, but the overall product increases and develops more levels.

    Grace, I'm sure it will be a very productive year for you. Congratulations on your contract!

    Gloria, I agree. Winter months seem to be more productive for me, too.

    Kait, congratulations on your NaNo achievement! And, you're right, at 1,600 words, another day can make a difference!