Love it or hate it, it’s that time of the year again: the dreaded or beloved National Novel Writing Month.
For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a community writing event wherein writers of all levels of experience are supposed to start a new project and hit daily word counts in the hopes of writing 50 000 words in 30 days. There’s a website where you can log your daily word counts and connect with others either online, or even in-person, for sprints, morale boosting etc.
I’ve been participating on and off in NaNo since 2010. I have never ever ‘won’ and for years, that made me feel like a failure. I desperately wanted that ‘winning’ badge to stick on my NaNo profile. I wanted the external validation. There were years where I went into the challenge not even caring if what I wrote was absolutely gibberish so long as I could hit the word count, but not even that approach worked for me. It just stressed me out and made writing a chore until I came to resent it . I felt a failure. Not hitting 50k, or anywhere even close, made me feel like I wasn’t a real writer or committed enough. Absolutely none of that is true, but it took me far too long to realize that.
These days, more and more people are foregoing the whole ‘write 50k on a new project’ and becoming NaNo Rebels (there’s even a badge for this!), deciding what NaNo will be themselves. That’s fantastic, but I still see so many people (myself included) almost apologizing for not taking the traditional approach. This has to stop.
If the traditional process works for you, that’s awesome and I wish you all the best in hitting that 50k! But if it hasn’t been working or you’re up for trying something new, here are just a few different ways you can ‘win’ at NaNo. Also, you are not less of a writer or somehow less committed to your craft if you choose to ignore NaNo altogether, but if you do want to use NaNo as motivation for more writing this month, here are some different ways to do it…
1. Set your own word count goal
Set something realistic that will keep you motivated and not become demoralizing. The goal shouldn’t create stress or make you feel defeated.
2. Ignore word count; write daily
This is my approach to NaNo this year. I’m chipping away at a novel WIP and my only goal is to work on it every day, whether that means I add 50 words or 5000 words. It doesn’t matter.
3. Finish it!
Finish your WIP, whether that’s a 100k novel or a 500 word flash piece. Again, the word count is completely irrelevant when completion is the main objective.
4. Get Started!
If you’ve had an idea rattling around in your head and you feel like you just haven’t had the time to get started, make this your NaNo goal. Write the first chapter of your novel. Write the opening paragraph of that short story. Add five more lines to the two lines of that poem you jotted down during a coffee break.
5. Don’t worry about writing at all
Sometimes we focus so much on the actual writing we forget how much pre-planning and thinking goes into the stories we want to tell. Maybe your goal could be to draw the map of your Martian colony or to flesh out your main characters using an online template, maybe it’s to figure out the rules of your magic system or maybe you just need to sit with your feelings and story ideas to let them percolate. Planning is just as important and valid as writing.
If you take time this month to spend with your creative ideas, that’s enough. Whether you finish a novel, write the opening line of a poem, or scribble a few ideas in your notebook, that’s enough. The only possible way you can ‘lose’ at NaNo is if trying to participate in the event makes you so miserable you don’t want to write any more. Absolutely everything else is winning!
Xan van Rooyen
Climber, tattoo-enthusiast, peanut-butter addict and loyal shibe-minion, Suzanne 'Xan' van Rooyen is a genderqueer, non-binary storyteller from South Africa, currently living in Finland where the heavy metal is soothing and the cold, dark forests inspiring. Xan has a Master’s degree in music, and--when not teaching--enjoys conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. You can find Xan's short stories in the likes of Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Daily Science Fiction, Apparition Lit, and The Colored Lens. Xan hangs out on instagram, twitter, and facebook so feel free to say over there.
Pronouns: she/her; they/them.