NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us: How to Get Inspired Even If You’re Not Participating

A day before it begins, NaNoWriMo, the November novel write-a-thon that boasts half a million participants rushing in tandem towards 50,000-word rough drafts, is already giving me a major dose of writerly anxiety. Writers love it, agents supposedly dread it, but one way or another, a lot of writing gets done.

I’m anxious because, as enticing as it is to seize my share of the momentum I see gathering online, it’s not a good move for me. With a manuscript or two waiting patiently for my attention, multiple short stories and essays begun or drafted but not yet polished, and my outgoing submittable queue having dwindled down to zero, embarking on a new novel would actually be a form of procrastination.

What I require at this moment as a writer is a National Editing Your Stuff Month (or, you know, a National Editing Your Stuff Year!), complete with the array of rubrics and goals and pep talks and all-night group write-a-thons that the NaNoWriMo folks will soon be utilizing— courtesy of NaNoWriMo central — as they bang out their daily word counts (more than 1,600 a day if they’re going to make it, or “win” in the parlance of the participants, and no, they don’t stop for Thanksgiving).

Of course, there is no such thing as a national editing month. You can’t really quantify editing the same way, and it wouldn’t work as well if you could. The thing about NaMoWriMo that makes it seem so enticing and aggravating all at once is that it’s just this intense spree of joyful wandering in the realm of what Anne Lamott calls “the shitty first draft,” the arena where the rational brain hasn’t come in yet and said “delete this sentence.” In fact, conventional wisdom says you’re not supposed to edit at all while you try to “win” NaNoWriMo. You just write, and write some more.

I have to admit that that sounds liberating. Even if first drafts are easier to do in sprints than final projects are, I’m still rather envious of the tremendous discipline the people who will complete the month’s project are about to exert. And I’m also curious about a process that removes all the annoying psychological blocks and cobwebs that plague us scribbling types by simply forcing butts into seats, hands onto keyboards.

So I’ve decided to try to maximize my NaNoWriMo. I’m calling it NaWriSoMo. National Write [or edit] Something [seriously, anything] Month. My goal is just to write, futz around with, or retool, something creative every single day this month, from ten minutes’ worth of scribbles to a few hours of story revision, with a particular focus on getting early-morning writing time onto my calendar.

That’s my plan. We’ll see if it works, although I’ll consider myself having “won” if I do this more than half the days in November. If, like me, you want to spend your November getting more creative and not feeling intimidated or bested by the NaNoWriMo hordes, here are a few more ideas for how to use November to do just that:

  • National Flash Month! Write or work on a short essay or story every day. Google “daily writing prompts” to get started. Or spend the first two weeks writing, the second two revising.
  • Work your way up to a certain number of submission-worthy pieces, and get them ready to send out. Let’s call this National Journal-Ready month.
  • Make it your goal to find an accountability partner, critique partner, or writing group. Promise yourself that in November you’ll search for and find people who will text you early in the morning and say “write!,” who will read your drafts, who will help push you as NaNoWriMo month pushes its participants.
  • National Get Your Shit Out There Month. Maybe your work is actually ready, but you’re scared to let go. Send out a certain number of submissions to journals or agents or your friends or whomever by December 1st.
  • National Get Out of the Rut Month. Boring yourself to death? Try another genre. If you’re sick of your usual dark micro-fiction, try your hand at, oh, epic poetry or movie criticism. Whatever moves you right now, just plunge in. Get going on something that inspires you, and commit to it for one month.
  • National Take a Breather Month. Maybe you’re not like me and you’re already disciplined with your writing, but you’re just feeling stuck. Use November to do all the things that inspire you. See a movie every weekend, take lots of walks among falling leaves, and read, read, read. Let the rest of us crazy people try to write all month long while you store up serenity and inspiration for the New Year’s writing resolution season.