You’re Doing THAT Again?

If you mean National Novel Writing Month, why, yes. Yes, I am.

But, why on earth would you subject yourself to that again?

Because it’s fun. It’s a challenge. All my friends are doing it.

And if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?

What? Has my mother’s ghost decided to nag me? Of course I wouldn’t jump off a cliff, though NaNoWriMo is somewhat of a cliff.

No, maybe more like climbing a mountain of 50,000 words.

What is NaNoWriMo?

Two decades ago some people in California wanted to get kids more interested in writing. They came up with this concept: write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I’m sure there was a reason they picked November, aside from the fact it has 30 days, but I don’t recall it now.

What they discovered was kids weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the challenge. Adults liked it, too, and NaNoWriMo was born.

Lest the literary types scoff, NaNoWriMo encourages writers to refine and polish their manuscripts and offers resources for doing that. However, that doesn’t mean some participants don’t rush to publish. In the NaNoWriMo forums and online groups, I’ve seen participants lay out their “plan”: Write the novel in November, edit it in December, publish it in January.


Granted, one of my NaNoWriMo MSS became my debut novel–seven years after I wrote the rough draft in November 2010. The MS went through two critique groups, a number of beta readers, a workshop, and an editor, all of whom pointed out, rightly, why it wasn’t ready for publication–until it was.

I’m not saying everyone should take seven years, but that’s what worked for me.

But, I digress. We were discussing why I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the twelfth year in a row.

(To learn more about NaNoWriMo, go to

Twelve Years?

Yes, I like even numbers.

Actually, NaNoWriMo is a great exercise in creativity. There is some competition among you and your fellow participants. (NaNoWriMo has a slew of “Home Regions” around the world, all virtual, though some, like mine, manage in-person get-togethers.) Mostly, you’ve challenged yourself to do something out of the ordinary–write a 50,000-word draft novel in 30 days.

Is that even possible, you ask. When I first heard of NaNoWriMo at my then-local Borders in Springfield, Virginia (Oh, how I miss Borders!), that sheer number of words seemed insurmountable. Now, I’d probably written more than that for any number of technical white papers I’d been tasked to create, but that was different. Fifty thousand words of fiction seemed daunting, even after realizing you could reach that milestone in 30 days merely by writing 1,667 words a day.

It was still so daunting, in fact, I didn’t even try NaNoWriMo for several more years. In 2008, after a devastating split with my spouse and taking on a new, more demanding job, I decided I needed to vent. This would be the year I did NaNoWriMo.

You Can Do It in Fewer than 30 Days

Almost as soon as I’d made that decision, my boss had several trips lined up for me (at that time, I was doing, interestingly enough, background work on whistleblower complaints). In all, I was home for 17 days in November 2008. Then, I only had a desktop computer at home and a government laptop, which I was strict about not using for personal stuff. So, no writing in the evenings in hotel rooms, except reports on the interviews I’d conducted during the day.

In 17 days I wrote 50,000 utterly crappy words. The MS was entitled Semi-Autobiographical, which it was but it was more fiction than not. I have since mined it for several short stories, some of which won prizes or appeared in anthologies–after much rewrite and editing, of course.

But I was hooked. I knew the next year I’d be retired from federal service, and I’d have every one of those 30 days to write. The rest, they say, is history. Rather, history of my writing life.

But What Do You Get Out of It?

Let’s see. My debut novel (A War of Deception) in 2017 was the draft I wrote in 2010, as I said. The MS I wrote in 2009, Meeting the Enemy, evolved into a trilogy. I wrote the other two books of it in successive years of NaNoWriMo.

One year I broke out of my comfort zone of historical espionage fiction and wrote a romance novel, one that will never see the light of day, but I accepted the challenge.

A piece of flash fiction I wrote about a baby’s bones being found inside a wall became a full-length novel in NaNoWriMo. A few years later, NaNoWriMo was the perfect time to write a sequel to it. (The latter is being assessed by a publisher as we speak.)

Though none of my current series, A Perfect Hatred, was composed during NaNoWriMo, its trilogy sequel was. (The first book was a whopping 100,000+ words, and I divided it into two books.) Last year, my project was a collection of short stories that were related enough I could call it a novel in stories.

This year I’m deconstructing last year’s project into a smaller collection of stories and a novella. That’s stretching the rules a bit (Gasp!), but I will be doing a complete rewrite of the stories and the novella.

What did I get out of it?

Twelve years of productivity and a bunch of MSS in various stages of production.

So, THAT’S why I’m doing this again.

[Mic drop]

One thought on “You’re Doing THAT Again?

  1. 12 years! Color me impressed! I found NaNo too stressful, so I don’t do it officially, but I love all the writing advice that shows up this time of year. Go you!

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