Plays With Words: What to Expect When You’re NaNoWriMo-ing


plays with words feature

Talk to anyone who successfully emerged unscathed from NaNoWriMo’s challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and prepare yourself to be doused with gushing praise of the community that makes it possible—fun, even—to endure the month.

Of course, if you try to chat with any of these same folks during the month of November, you’re likely to receive icy glares because any pauses for conversation cut into their time, that precious commodity these writers cannot afford to squander if they want to achieve their daily goals. Worse yet, you may break their concentration and later discover a character bearing an eerie likeness to you is senselessly decapitated in the middle of the story.

Participating in NaNoWriMo is very much like running a marathon (or even a 10K, if we’re going to be honest here). You spend the days and weeks beforehand training, perhaps jotting down character traits or figuring out which caffeinated product gives you the biggest boost without making you jittery. You’ve got all kinds of pent-up excitement and can’t wait to start the race to the 50,000-word mark.

Just like in any long-distance race, when you start, it’s a mad flurry of activity. If you’re following along on Twitter or Facebook, you can practically see the flares signifying the starts for each of the time zones before you. And when it’s finally your turn, when the clock strikes midnight and the calendar page turns to November, it’s a huge rush. Words seem to pour from your fingertips and coat the pages (or screen) with sheer brilliance. You are unstoppable. It seems so easy!

Until it’s not. That easy beginning is just as likely to turn into a laborious middle and torturous ending. It may hit you on Day 2. It may not happen until you’re 15,000 words in. But it will happen, and when it does, it sucks. You’ll have moments—maybe even days—when you’ll stare at your screen (or page) and swear you will cry if you have to write another word. And when that happens, the only thing to do is grab a tissue and write word after word after word until you get to your daily goal. Just take comfort in the knowledge a few hundred other writers (probably even thousands of them) are feeling the exact same way.

If NaNoWriMo is a marathon, then write-ins are the pace cars. They exist to keep you going, and your fellow writers will be there to help you stay on course. This is why writing groups are invaluable, especially when disaster strikes. If there isn’t a writing group nearby, you can always find some kindred spirits on Google+ or Twitter. And if you happen to go to local write-ins, be warned: You might encounter some writers who use these events as an opportunity to socialize. More often than not, though, your fellow novelists will have their heads down, their fingers on the keys (or grasping their pens), and their headphones on to drown out the ambiance. The room will practically overflow with creative energy, and you will know you are with your people.

You’ll soon discover there is something oddly motivating about being surrounded by like-minded folks. When everyone else is writing furiously, there’s a feeling of urgency to hurry and get those words written, if only to ensure you aren’t being left behind.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that no one expects you to pen a masterpiece in 30 days. Oh, sure, Rainbow Rowell wrote much of Fangirl during NaNoWriMo 2011, but that was its (presumably) first and rough draft. So while, yes, it does happen, it doesn’t happen often. And that’s okay. The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to create the next best-seller (though that would be nice). The point is just to write. It may be the ugliest draft of anything you’ve ever written and will never see the light of day. It could be a freaking masterpiece. You’ll never know unless you get it—ugly parts and all—onto the page (or screen).

The last few days of NaNoWriMo are the worst. Your deadline looms, and words may refuse to flow as easily as they did at the start of the month. You might even declare this the worst idea ever and swear you’ll never do it again. But when you emerge with your finished (or mostly-finished) novel, after you’ve caught up on sleep, you’ll be like thousands of others who can’t wait for the next one. And after you’ve weaned yourself from needing 14 cups of coffee a day to function like a normal human being, you may find yourself gushing about the experience to everyone you know.

And when your schedule is suddenly free of write-ins and daily word count deadlines, you’ll probably discover you miss all the craziness that comes with NaNoWriMo. And you’ll start counting the days until the calendar turns to November once again.

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About Author

E.M. Caines

E.M. Caines writes as Ella Martin and is the author of Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?.


  1. Kaye

    And you were worrying about your columns! This is brilliant, and I’ve added you on the NaNo site! 🙂

    • Thanks, Kaye! I’m a little neurotic with my writing. It’s a curse. LOL I’ve added you back, as well. 🙂

  2. One thing that isn’t ALWAYS true: a tortuous ending. I have found that after many years participating in NaNoWriMo, it DOES get easier! My writing improves, time management improves, and most of all my plotting improves. Last year, (my third year) I found that I was adding to the 50K well into December. Sure, there are pitfall moments. Caffeine helps most of those. But if you set small goals and take a break to celebrate each, it can keep you “ahead” when others seem to be falling behind.

    • You’re absolutely, right, Juli: The ending isn’t always tortuous, at least not for everyone. Sometimes it’s the beginning that stumps people, and they’re able to write the ending with no problem. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. …and… Great Post! Keep spreading the joy and love that is NaNoWriMo! Completely agree with you about the community aspect of writers (especially for NaNo). Blog posts, the site, twitter feeds, facebook groups and local coffee-shop groups keep me motivated!