The Non-Rules of NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) whips aspiring writers up to writing a 50,000 word draft of a novel in the month of November.  I’ve been doing it off and on for ten years and I have about a fifty-percent success rate.

By success, I mean I finish 50,000 words by November’s end. I can tell you on the years I “win” NaNoWriMo, I am psyched up, excited, and salivating to write every day. I can also tell you, on the years I didn’t win, I was not excited about it, knew I would be too busy, and didn’t really have a story I wanted to write.

So, the question I want to ask anyone who is wondering whether he or she should do NaNoWriMo is this: Does it sound like fun? Or does it sound like a chore?

Well, obviously, I would say if it sounds like a chore, don’t do it. Or at least change how you view it. Some people dread it because they are afraid they’ll lose. Don’t do it, then. Or at least relax and not see it as something that measures your worth. It’s just a contest with no tangible prize.

And since it is a contest with no real prize, a non-contest, so to speak, I have these non-rules I live by when it comes to NaNoWriMo:

  • Have fun.
    If you dread it or see it as a chore, don’t do it. If you are excited about writing a story, even though it most likely will be a rough version of a so-called novel, then do it. If you’re afraid you won’t make the 50,000 words by the end of November, don’t do it. OR just do your best, see how you can do better next time and try again next year. Your worth as a human being should not be vested in NaNoWriMo.
  • Stop in mid-sentence.
    I’ve come across this strategy several times. The best way to keep going the next day is to write an incomplete sentence at the end of a writing stint. You can pick it up the next day.
  • Don’t edit yourself.
    Thus is the hardest non-rule for many people. Think of NaNoWriMo as a month long writing stint for stream-of-consciousness prose. Just keep writing each day until you reach 1,667.
  • Write in both short and long stints.
    Many successful NaNoWriMo participants break the daily 1,667 words into two, three or more short writing stints. 500 words before work, 500 during lunch and the rest at night. Or 800 before work and the rest after work or classes. Also, you may get behind a day or two. Or more. If you have a free Saturday morning, spend several hours getting as caught up as possible. You may have some 3,000 words days.
  • Plan just a little, but not too much.
    Participants of NaNoWriMo can prepare for November by doing everything except the actual writing. I have made list of characters with short personality descriptions. I have also made a list of scenes. I’ll tweak both lists until November 1st, but I won’t write a word of my story until then. Here’s the thing: A little prep is helpful, even for pantsers (those who just write off the top of their heads); but too much prep may stifle the fun of NaNoWriMo, even for planners (those who plan their story before it starts). I believe in a little bit of planning, but not too much.
  • Jump-around or write linear.
    It’s up to the writer to just write straight through or to jump around. Some may first write the scenes most solid in their minds. Some will follow their outline in order. Either way is okay. Pros and cons exist for either, but mix it up. Write linear unless a certain scene is just aching to be written. Then go ahead. Write it. If you write several important scenes that skip around, then you can fill in the gaps later.
  • The story doesn’t have to be complete.
    The object of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words. If you reach the goal and the story isn’t over, that’s okay. You’ve won. You can finish your story later. If you plan ahead and outline 30 scenes at 1,667 words each, you’ll have a complete story you can plump up later. (A full novel is at least 80,000 words)
  • It’s actually a rough draft.
    It’s called National Novel Writing Month, but it’s actually a rough draft you’re writing. So don’t fall in love with it right away. Put it away when you finish, pull it out in January and start fixing it up.
  • Don’t erase; just rewrite.
    If you finish a scene and immediately think of a better way to write it, don’t delete what you have! Just start the scene over and use both versions to build up your word count to 50,000. It’s just a rough draft, after all.

Well, those are the non-rules I live by when it comes to NaNoWriMo. I probably take it too seriously, but these rules keep me in check. Ultimately, I believe NaNoWriMo should make the writing process a fun experience.

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