How I Became a NaNoWriMo Rebel

By Tim Pietz

#NaNoWriMo is over, and I did it all wrong.

Writers are supposed to write an entire novel for NaNo, at least 50,000 words. It’s supposed to be an exercise of unfettered creative freedom that ignores plot holes, character inconsistencies, and rambling prose in its quest for completion. It’s supposed to be done on the website where you get fun badges to show off your progress.

I didn’t do any of that.

I used a novel I’d already started on. I didn’t set wordcount goals for each day. I went back and edited to fix a character. The novel still isn’t even halfway done. I never even set up a NaNo account. But guess what? I still got further in a novel than I’ve ever gotten before. Better yet, I’m still excited about my story.

Don’t get me wrong. A traditional NaNo can be awesome—it’s a clear goal with lots of community support and accountability. But sometimes, tweaking a goal to fit you better helps you stick with it in the long run. Here’s how I changed my NaNo goals and became a rebel.

  1. I didn’t start from scratch.

Some writers see NaNo as an island oasis of creativity. They want a fresh start, and they just want to live there for a month and let things grow. That’s great! But I already had a novel I’d been working on since September, and I wanted to build on that momentum. So, I did!

2. I didn’t set daily word count goals.

For me, writing and looking at my word count feels too much like writing a paper. (Crap! I still need 15 more words to hit my professor’s requirement—how can I write sloppier and make my phrasing take up more space?) Wordiness isn’t good for fiction writing, and I dislike the panicked feeling of realizing it’s nearly midnight and I still have 500 words to go. So, I didn’t focus on word count. Instead, I focused on consistency.

I decided that every day, I would write. Some days, I hit a solid 1000 words, but most days, it was closer to 300. That was okay. So long as my story was growing and changing and spurring new creative thoughts each day, I kept my momentum.

3. I ignored the NaNo website.

Committing to a huge goal without accountability and support is stupid. Don’t do it. For some reason, I didn’t visit the NaNo website even once during November, but I did make sure to turn to other writers for support. My writing critique group was a huge encouragement to me, and since I was sending in my novel chapters to them to read, I kind of had to keep writing …

4. I went back and edited.

This might be the worst crime I committed in my rebellion, and it’s one I’m hesitant to advise. I’m a plotter, but I was trying to pants this novel. Partway through, I realized one of my main characters was about as three-dimensional as cardboard. I also realized a tweak to his backstory could give him a powerful connection to a protagonist and make his motives much more interesting. However, slightly changing his motives would slightly change some of the events of the story (the butterfly effect of editing).

I knew rewriting would slow my momentum and I wouldn’t get as far in my novel. But I also knew it would help me discover who this character was, and in future scenes, I’d be able to write him more vividly. So, I took the risk.

5. I’m not even halfway done.

Sure enough, those edits took a week or two, and by the end of the month, my novel wasn’t even 20,000 words long. After subtracting the thousands of words I’d already written from that total, my NaNo wordcount was nowhere near the traditional goal.

But you know what? I’m still happy. I work as an editor, and I’ve always struggled with turning off my editor to write. I’ve never gotten this far into writing a novel, but here I am, and I still have momentum. I love my characters, and I’m excited to see where they go!

So, there you have it. My NaNoWriMo rebellion. But lest I take too much credit for my revolutionary ideology, I should mention: I’m not the first. NaNo has a whole forum page for rebels. (That might defeat the vibe of being rebellious, but hey, even rebels need community support.) Next NaNo, or even JaNo, I hope you take a good, hard look at your own writing needs and see what goals might be best for you.

Maybe you’re meant to be a rebel too.

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