4 Reasons You Should Do NaNoWriMo … and 4 Reasons You Shouldn’t

by Ali on October 25, 2012

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If you read blogs about writing, or follow writers on Twitter, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the word “NaNoWriMo” recently.

In case not – NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month”. It takes place every November, where writers all over the world (256,618 last year) aim to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days.

Maybe that sounds crazy to you. Maybe it sounds like an exciting challenge. Either way, NaNoWriMo – or NaNo – is definitely worth thinking about.

Although some writers are evangelical about NaNo, and others are scathing, I fall somewhere in the middle. I believe NaNo has huge benefits for many writers … but I don’t think it’s right for everyone.

So here are four reasons why you should jump on the NaNo bandwagon … and four reasons why you shouldn’t.

Why You Should…

#1: You Want to Build a Great Writing Habit

If you haven’t been writing much recently, or if you struggle to be consistent with your writing, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to establish a strong writing habit.

Once you’ve written an average of 1,667 words per day for 30 days, you’ll find it much easier to keep going (even if you don’t carry on at such a breakneck pace).

#2: You Want to Make Serious Progress on a Big Project

Is there a novel idea simmering away in the back of your mind? Do you have a great outline for a book? Have you got a bunch of short story competitions to enter?

Whatever your big writing project is, NaNo is a great chance to make dramatic progress. Although the “rules” say that you should be writing 50,000 words of first-draft fiction, there’s no reason why you can’t use NaNo as an excuse to work on something else.

#3: You Want to Meet Other Writers

For many writers, NaNo is a social occasion. With supportive online forums, Twitter “word sprints” and local meetups, there’s bound to be an online or offline event that you can attend.

Writing is generally a solitary activity – and that means the writing life can be a lonely one. Support from other people who “get” writing can make the difference between quitting and staying the course.

#4: You Want to Put Your Writing First for a Month

Does your writing always seem to end up waiting until another day, despite your best intentions? It can be really hard to make writing a priority when you’ve got a family to look after, a house to clean, a day job to go to…

NaNoWriMo is an excuse to put your writing first. It’s only one month, so your partner / kids / cat can cope with a little less attention than they’re used to (and you can let the laundry pile up).

 

Why You Shouldn’t

#1: You’re at the Editing Stage of a Big Project

Last November, I was doing the final edit for my novel Lycopolis. My priority was to get Lycopolis ready for publication as an ebook … and I wasn’t prepared to take on a totally new project.

If you’ve got an almost-finished novel, book, short story collection or other major project, then you might want to hold off on NaNo until next year.

#2: Your November is Looking Crazy Already

Perhaps you’ve got a ton of work or personal commitments during November. (If you’re in the US, for instance, you’ll probably be celebrating Thanksgiving.) Although I’m all for big goals, there’s no sense in taking NaNo on if it’ll leave you feeling exhausted and stressed-out.

Again, there’ll be another NaNo next year … or alternatively, you can pick a month that suits you better and have a personal NaNo (perhaps roping in a few friends).

#3: You Like to Write Slowly and Carefully

NaNo suits writers who enjoy getting words down fast – never mind if they end up scrapping half their novel in the rewrite. This is how I like to write fiction, but it may well not be right for you.

If you’re the sort of writer who creates careful, meticulous first drafts that require very little editing, then NaNo probably won’t be a good fit for you. (If you do want to give it a go, I’d suggest setting a smaller word target goal – maybe 20,000 or 30,000 words instead of 50,000.)

#4: You’ll be Crushed by “Losing”

Last year, 256,618 people entered NaNoWriMo, but only 36,843 (about 14%) went on to “win” (that is, complete 50,000 words between 1st and 30th November). However keen you feel on Day 1, you may find that your motivation flags as the month goes on – or real life might conspire against you.

If you know you’d be really upset to take on a challenge and “fail” then NaNo probably isn’t for you. Again, you could still take part if you’re willing to set  yourself a slightly less ambitious goal.

 

If you do tackle NaNoWriMo this year, best of luck!

I hope you have a wonderful time, and regardless of whether you end the month with 50,000 nwords, you’ll learn a lot about yourself as a writer – and you’ll have some great new writing too.

One quick tip: Don’t feel that you have to stick slavishly to the “rules”. If you want to write non-fiction, or redraft an existing novel, go for it. If you want to aim for 25,000 words instead of 50,000, that’s fine too. Just be clear with yourself what your target is … and then you’ll know when you’ve reached it.

I’d love to hear about your NaNo-ing plans for next month, or your NaNo experience in past years. Just pop a comment below…

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Pwassonne October 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I’ve been hesitating for a while now… I have a bunch of projects I could work on, but at the same time, well, it’s just as you put it, my November is looking crazy already. I’m thinking of doing it without really paying attention to the word count – that is, just write as soon as I have free time, and see where it takes me. ^^”

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm

I think diving in and seeing how it goes is a great approach — just enjoy the ride, regardless of whether you write 50 words or 50,000. Good luck!

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Joe October 30, 2012 at 10:30 am

Sometimes the problem is when the “mood” to write prematurely lost, can you help me?
Joe’s last blog post ..Inhaling air Freedom In Life

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Ali October 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Tricky one, Joe — I think sometimes you just have to press on regardless of mood, and tell yourself you’ll at least write for ten minutes. It can also help to have a writing ritual (e.g. you always make a mug of coffee, put music on, etc) to prime your brain for writing.

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Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. October 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Ali,

Thanks for the encouragement and sound reasons for whichever decision we made re: NaNoWriMo.

I especially like two of your suggestions:
1. use the opportunity to work on any type of writing, not necessarily a novel
2. if November is too busy already, pick another month and have a NaNo with personal friends

You’ve taken the pressure off and still given us doable alternatives.

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Thanks Flora! Really glad those suggestions were useful … I don’t think anyone should feel uncomfortably pressured into writing (and I know it can be a bit difficult at NaNo time when lots of friends are getting excited…)

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Suddenly Jamie October 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Morning Ali!

I was a Nanowrimo “winner” in 2009, but jumped ship for 2010 and 2011 … just too busy and crazed and not in the right place. BUT … this year, I’m jumping back in and I’m pretty excited.

I agree with all your logic around the whys and why nots, but I would also encourage anyone who is on the fence to throw caution to the wind and just give the challenge a whirl. If you have an itch or an urge to write, Nano can be a great way to motivate yourself and enjoy the company of other crazies … er … I mean writers along the way.

My first Nano was done in the full spirit of the “game” – no plot, no characters, no idea what I was doing. This time around, I’m going to be a little more prepared (currently reading Storyfix by the fabulous Larry Brooks – I’m obsessed with story structure), BUT I’m also going to take your advice to heart re: not following the rules. Though I may start out with a novel in mind, I’m not going to freak out (or be remotely disappointed) if I also work on some short stories or even dabble in a non-fiction piece I have in mind.

The idea is to write – keep writing – and then write some more. For me, at least, that’s the end game.
Will I hit the 50K mark? Probably. I’m a little OCD and that kind of goal is like catnip to me.

Mostly, though, I will love waking up each day (even as I grumble that it’s too early and I wish I drank coffee because I could really use some) feeling like a writer … and not just any writer, but a writer on a mission.

SO … are YOU doing Nano this year? Love to connect there if you are. I’m “JamieLee.” Look me up! :)
Suddenly Jamie’s last blog post ..You have a right to be here – Marketing Mindset 101

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Jamie, thanks for the wonderful enthusiasm here! My first NaNo was done in a similar spirit (back in 2007) and I had a wonderful time. And like you, I was determined to reach that 50K goal and did.

I will be doing a shortened NaNo — aiming for 20,000 words of fiction (which should get me to the end of the first draft of my current novel) and around 20,000 words on a new non-fiction ebook (which should again give me a complete first draft). I won’t be signing up officially, though, since I’m not going for the full distance!

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Layla_AlAmmar October 26, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I just signed up for Nanowrimo last night. My writing has been lagging a bit the last couple of months and I want to get back into a strong habit.

Great post!
Layla_AlAmmar’s last blog post ..Pet Peeves

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Congrats on signing up, and good luck with it, Layla!

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Joel D Canfield October 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I wanna NaNo this year but I’m in one of those “shouldn’t” categories: wrapping up my newest mystery.

I’ve been bummed that I can’t do it, so thanks for permission to bail this year.
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..Comment on A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck by Caitlyn

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Heck, Joel, you don’t need permission from anyone … but I’m glad I could help anyway. NaNo will come round again — and good luck with finishing up the mystery!

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Penny J. Leisch October 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm

I’ve thought about it several times. These are all good points on both sides. November won’t ever work for me, maybe in the middle of the summer heat when I have to stay inside and no one has a cold or the flu. That’s a busy time for people with kids out of school, but it’s a saner time for some of us too. I’m long past the point of being able to deal with holidays and take on this type of commitment. It’s great fun to hear about others who enjoy it.

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm

That’s a great point, Penny, about being able to enjoy watching other people NaNo — and I’m sure NaNo-ing writers are thrilled to have some cheerleaders.

What I think would be great is if NaNo picked a different month each year to try to give as many people as possible a chance to take part — I know November is a hectic time for my US friends, with thanksgiving. Though perhaps moving NaNo around would get a little confusing!

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Cyn Rogalski October 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I’m trying NaNo this time (first time!) to make myself get into the habit of writing something everyday. The habit is more important to me than the actual finished project. Having something at the end of this exercise is an added bonus!

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Best of luck, Cyn! I think you have absolutely the right attitude here — for me too, the habit built up by NaNo is more valuable than the 50,000 words (though it’s great to have those as well).

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Jeanne October 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I have taken the plunge to to NaNoWriMo–my first time ever. I could really use a mentor and no one has stepped forward to take me on the NaNo site. I am a non-fiction girl, that may be problem #1. And everyone I see posting on their site is under the age of 25; that may be problem #2.

So, if you are reading this and think a middle aged, rebel–non-fiction writer might be a gamble. Mentor me because I have no idea what I am doing or what I am in for.

Blessings,

Jeanne

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Jeanne, good luck! I’m sorry you’ve not found a mentor — I’ve never had much involvement with the NaNo site (too busy to post in forums while NaNo-ing) so I’m afraid I don’t have any tips there. I suspect the under 25s are more likely to have extra time and also more likely to be into forums / online networking … but I’m sure you will find some middle-aged folks there too.

Or if anyone reading would like to give Jeanne some mentoring support, do leave her a reply here!

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Sarah Wolf October 26, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I’m taking the plunge again and intend to have my first “win” with NaNo this year. I’ve tried three times prior and fell flat. This time I’m using the month to create the habit of writing each day and to just get back into the groove. I’m actually planning plot and characters this year, which should help. I’m excited. I expect to write crap, but it will be *my* crappy first novel. :-)
Sarah Wolf’s last blog post ..Keep On Keepin’ On

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Good luck, Sarah! Hemingway famously said that “the first draft of anything is shit” … though I’m sure you’ll find that there’s plenty of good stuff in yours too. (And you can’t get to a great final draft without going through a few so-so intermediate ones.)

Planning the plot and characters ahead of time sounds like it’ll definitely be a help, and getting into the writing habit is (to me at least) far more important than hitting the arbitrary 50,000 word goal.

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Donna Brown October 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm

I love NaNoWriMo! This will be my fourth year and I intend to win AGAIN! It took believing in the possibilities that I was able to make it happen. I know that not everyone is going to Nano this year, but if there’s a novel in you, if not now, when? If now isn’t good for you, decide when that time is that you will finally take the plunge. Schedule a month to do it, then do it. You will be so glad you did!

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Woo, good on you, Donna! Best of luck (though I’m sure you don’t need it) for a fourth win. :-) And great point on deciding on a time to start … it’s so easy to keep saying “not yet” to a novel, but we can all carve out some time by looking ahead.

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Allison October 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I’m in high school, and I have orchestra, and trying to join Science Olympiad, but…
I’ve been wanting to do the “real” NaNoWriMo ever since I’ve heard about it in middle school, so I’m going to aim for it. At least I’ll have some percentage of a novel done.
And it really gets me going to have an “official” time to really write. I’m truly a “splatter everything, edit later” sort of writer. Cut and Paste is my best friend. XD
Actually, all the reasons for doing NaNoWriMo apply to me. *shame* But maybe I’ll make it. *shrugs* Who knows?
Where exactly would I be able to connect with other writers?

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Ali October 26, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Definitely give it a go — I know high school has plenty of its own demands and pressures, but getting anywhere towards a novel is a great achievement. :-)

The NaNoWriMo website has forums where you can connect with other writers — or do drop by the Writers’ Huddle NaNo forum, too (if you haven’t already — I’m losing track of who’s said they’re NaNoing)! There are also local meetups in many areas, though I’m not sure if these tend to be 16+ or 18+ or anything.

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Donna Webeck October 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I am so glad I read this. I’ve been contemplating doing NaNoWriMo the last 2 years and finally feel ready to take the plunge. However in order not to scare myself and cry off half way through, I’m setting a much more reasonable beginner target of 15,000 words for the month. Sure, it’s well short of the 50,000 but when I think about trying to balance it out with everything else on in that month, it is either than or nothing at all. And I’d rather be 15000 words closer to the finish line than not at all
Donna Webeck’s last blog post ..What I know about writing

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Ali October 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Donna, that sounds like a great target for the month. 15,000 words/month would be 180,000 words, or two full-length novels, in a year — easily as much as many full-time professionals write!

Best of luck with your words, and enjoy November. :-)

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Gary A. Swaby October 28, 2012 at 9:50 am

I plan to do NaNoWriMo for reasons 1,2 and 4. I never take part in NaNo competitively, I mostly do it for my own personal reasons as I like to force myself to write more often to finish off my projects.

I tried to do it last year but failed horribly, but this year I definitely want to take it more seriously so I can finish off my second ebook project. Which is already shaping up to be better than the first.

Great post Ali.
Gary A. Swaby’s last blog post ..Write In Scrivener, Edit In Word

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Ali October 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Gary, best of luck for this year. I think the extra writing discipline comes in handy for many of us!

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Maria Smith October 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Excellent post! NaNoWriMo rocks as far as I’m concerned, I certainly wouldn’t have got my story out in such a short space of time, any other way. Okay, its a rough cut first draft, but its on the page.

After doing two years on the trot, I’ve learnt the only way is to keep going. Forget the critics, I’ll tell you straight, the biggest one will be the one inside your own head! Switch him/her off! And another thing, don’t look back, even when you know you’re writing rubbish, because you’ll write through it. Your creativeness will pull you through…you’ll find out amazing things about yourself too.

I’d urge anyone thinking about NaNoWriMo to just do it! You never know, you just might finish up with a published NaNo novel one day, and you’ll feel amazing when you hit that 50k!

I’m going for your suggestion this year, number 4, I’m putting my writing first, and although not officially doing NaNo, I’ll be re-drafting my novel, with word targets. Working every day on some aspect of getting it done! I need accountability so, each day I’ll be keeping a count in my journal.

Good luck everyone!

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Ali October 29, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Thanks Maria! And really great tip on turning off your internal critic … I know Chris Baty (NaNo’s founder) is very strong on that.

Best of luck with your redraft — hope you have a great November! :-)

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Lena Ameri October 30, 2012 at 2:21 am

Cool! I actually hadn’t heard about NaNoWriMo before coming across this article! What an awesome idea! My greatest struggle with writing is that it is hard for me to get started. Once I finally get started I pick up momentum and can keep going. I probably won’t write a novel this month as I have a few too many projects going on right now, but I think I will challenge myself to write a certain number of words per day.
http://www.liveitmag.com/

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Ali October 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Best of luck, Lena — I think a word goal per day is a great idea. NaNo is awesome for motivation!

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Emily McDaid October 31, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Great tips thanks! I always worried NaNoWriMo was a little gimmicky for me. But, this year, I have a novel (my 2nd) burning a hole in my conscious mind and I really need to get the majority of it down on paper so that I can determine whether it’s any good. So, I’m giving NNWM a try. Let’s connect everyone! I’m emcdaid and writing from Boston. (Well, Cambridge).

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Sarah Wolf October 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Emily, I’ve just added you as a buddy. My ID is sarwolf for anyone who would like to buddy up this year. I’m determined to have my first “win”! :-)
Sarah Wolf’s last blog post ..Keep On Keepin’ On

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Ali October 31, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Emily and Sarah, best of luck with NaNo!

(By the way, since a few people have asked — I’m not actually registered for NaNo as I’m not aiming for 50,000 words … so I can’t buddy up. But I’d love to hear how you’re getting on — feel free to pop back to this comments thread any time!)

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Sariah November 1, 2012 at 5:32 am

Hi, Ali. :)
I registered for the site… and I am planning on writing a novel (however it comes out) of at least 50,000 words – by Nov. 30. Yet, I’m very competitive… too competitive, even if I’ve never done something before, like in this case. I think it might kill my creativity, knowing that there is any competition in this. Also, I’m very private about some ideas, at least when I’m exploring them, as I plan to do with this novel. My inner critic is already bad enough, but then if I know there’s a chance someone else is going to critique it, I’d probably feel less free to express thoughts and feelings that have never seen the light of day.

Still, I LOVE the motivating – kick your but in gear – idea of writing a novel in a month! So, what I might do is just estimate my word count on my own… maybe chat here & there with people on the forum, but mostly just race against myself. If I understand correctly, there are about 650 words per page, 12 pt, 1 inch margins. So, that would be about 77 pages… or maybe if I space between paragraphs, I should just round up to 80.

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Ali November 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Best of luck, Sariah! You don’t have to show your novel to anyone unless you want to — and you certainly don’t have to show anyone your first draft. The only person who ever gets to see my unedited first drafts is my husband! (My former MA tutor used to, too — but only after I knew him well enough that I was comfortable with giving him first draft material.)

Competing against yourself, rather than worrying what others are doing, sounds like a great plan. If you’re using Microsoft Word (or pretty much any word-processing program), you should have a word count facility built in — or of course you could just estimate, as you suggest.

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Morgan Eckstein November 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Year eight for me–so far seven losses.
Morgan Eckstein’s last blog post ..How not to use a PDF to advertise yourself

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Ali November 2, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Best of luck this time round, Morgan!

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Archan Mehta November 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Ali,

Thanks for contributing this remarkable post on your amazing blog: it is always a treat to read your writing.

I am a procrastinator and often get lost in thoughts. So, it is difficult to sit down and actually do the writing that needs to be started and finished. Instead, my feet itch to move around and I can’t wait to be in the outdoors.

What helps, therefore, is to take regular breaks. If I feel bored, I can spare a moment to do the laundry and then I can return to my writing. Next, I can wash the dishes and once again return to work. After a while, I can go out for a short stroll and then return to work. Regular breaks help to clear the mind and the cobwebs that infest your mind. At least this is what has worked for me, but it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Cheers to you.

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Ali November 2, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Thanks, Archan! And I think your tip on taking regular breaks is a great idea — I find that working hard for short spurts (maybe 30 – 45 mins) then taking a short break definitely helps me stay focused and motivated. Sometimes, too, our minds simply need a bit of time to wander!

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Rebecca November 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

This is my first year doing NaNoWriMo. Two things that really make it work for me:

1. Word Counts

I’m a competitive person, so I like the ability to compare my writing progress to others. Having writing buddies on NaNoWriMo is a fantastic motivator for me since I don’t have a online writing group to fall back on for motivation.

2. JFDI

I’m kick-starting my writing again. I stopped writing in university and for a long time I had been positive that I peaked then and all my creative juices were depleted. Now I realize, is what I was missing was the time to sit down and write every day. It’s amazing how quickly 30 minutes of writing becomes 2 hours.

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Best of luck, Rebecca! And congrats on getting back into writing — I think a lot of people (me included!) write as teens / students and then drift away as life gets more hectic. I’m sure your best writing days are ahead of you, not behind! :-)

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Rebecca November 8, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I think people, especially once they hit those more transitory stages of life, tend to get bogged down in the day to day and then forget that writing is a skill. Meaning that it takes practice. Honestly, it felt like a light-blub popped up when I realized that it wasn’t that my university writing was necessarily better, it was that I had more time to develop those skills.

I think a lot of people tend to view writing as something romantic. It can be a romantic experience (there’s passion and anger and tears) but the idea of constant slogging – that writer’s block isn’t a good excuse for not writing – isn’t something that’s brought up. I think that’s part of why NaNoWriMo is so interesting, because it encourages people to writer whether they want to or not. To, ideally, learn how to pace plot and learn how to write through the boring stuff.

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Ali November 8, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I think that’s a really good point: the image we have of “writing” and “writers” is often a million miles away from the day-to-day reality. Like anything worthwhile, writing can be a real slog at times (I think of it a bit like walking — I love long walks with my husband, but there’s inevitably quite a bit of just putting one foot in front of the other…)

Of course, inspiration matters — it’s wonderful to feel sucked in by the story you’re writing — but perseverance and stamina are crucial too.

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