NaNoWriMo Roundup: Seasoned Authors Share their Secrets

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At the stroke of midnight tonight, aspiring writers everywhere will take a deep breath. One second later, their blank screens won’t be blank any longer — for quite a while.

November 1st marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The annual fiction extravaganza will bring together more than 200,000 writers this year, first-timers and pros alike, each committed to hammer out 50,000 words of sparkling fiction over the course of the month.

Have you signed up but feeling queasy about taking the plunge? Are you still not sure if making the commitment is right for you? Here to give you expert advice are five veteran NaNo authors: they each leveraged their NaNoWriMo project into a published novel (some more than once!), and they all also happen to be active bloggers. You’re in good hands.

Let’s meet our panel of seasoned storytellers:

Let’s start at the beginning: why did you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo?

Jennifer: I first heard about NaNoWriMo when I was in high school, but I never thought I’d ever have time to do it.

In 2009, I decided that I’d never have time unless I made the time, and participated for my first year. Out came The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, the first time I’d ever produced a full-length novel.  I’ve taken part every year since then.

Kristi: Back in 2004, I was moderator of the Pencils! Writing Workshop critique and support group, and one of our members, Nanette, recommended it. Five or six of us did it, and we had a blast!

I had 70,000 words in no time — and I was surprised to discover that writing was so much more fun when I just let everything go, inhabited the world, and left all the hard work of revisions and rewriting for later. NaNo literally changed my creative life, and probably the course of my career.

John: Several years ago, I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo while searching for a writer’s group. I loved the idea and the concept. It seemed like it’d be obtainable with some focus. I thought it’d give me a great excuse to tune out the rest of life’s responsibilities for a short period each day, and become super-productive. It worked for me.

Harry: In 2008, I hadn’t written anything in a few months, and I felt I needed something to spark my creativity. A friend of mine told me about NaNoWriMo, and I was intrigued. Could I write 50,000 words in a month while holding down a day job and being a father?

I decided that I needed to participate and see what would happen. I’ve participated every year since, for a total of five times.

Keris: The first time I participated was 2004. I’d just had a baby, we’d just moved into a new house, and (unsurprisingly!) I was struggling to get back into writing. The novel I wrote for NaNo that year was the first one I ever finished, and so I was hooked.

Expert advice from Jennifer Bresnick:

“You should really try to get other people involved, too, whether they’re writing alongside you, just cheering you on, or taking the kids outside every now and then.”

Any words of wisdom to offer those who might still be on the fence, thinking it’s too hard?

John: Look: just take the pressure off yourself and have fun.

A lot of people are bound and determined to hit a specific division of words each day (1,667, I think) so that they can make 50,000 by the end. That’s great, but one of the great lessons I’ve learned about writing is to write to a scene or a chapter instead of a specific number of words.

And you know what? If you only capture a certain number of words? That’s perfectly fine. You’re going to win just for getting in and having fun. Stir up the creative juices. Enjoy it.

Keris: If you are on the fence, I’d say just give it a go. I know some people worry that it’s too much pressure and they’ll feel bad if they ‘fail,’ but even if you only do a few days, that’s still a few thousand words you didn’t have otherwise.

The best thing about NaNo for me is how, when you push yourself past the point at which you would naturally stop (for me, that’s 1000 words or so), something magical seems to happen, almost as if the book is writing itself.

Kristi: NaNo is all about writing something you want to write just for you, without worrying about others sitting in judgment; there really isn’t a way to fail!

I have met the goal four times, and I have not finished twice. But all six times, I got something new and amazing out of it.  There is nothing but positive that can come out of NaNo—whether or not you meet your stated goal.

Harry: I’d say if you are on the fence, just give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?

I know 50,000 words seems inconceivable if you’ve never done it, but whether you succeed or fail, I guarantee you that you’ll have more done than if you didn’t make the attempt. My first year I only completed 8,000 words, but I still had the start of a novel.

JenniferJust do it!  Seriously!  Just do it.  Throw a couple of granola bars at the kids and lock yourself in your office if you have to, but just get started.  Nutritional deficiencies take more than a month to show up, right?  So don’t worry about it.

Expert advice from Keris Stainton:

“The first thing I always do is set up a word count spreadsheet to keep track. It’s so satisfying putting your word count in at the end of each day and seeing the total change.”

Tell us about a moment that made the event special for you.

Harry: On 11:46 pm, November 30, 2010, my novel, Balefire and Brimstone, crossed the 50,000 word mark. I had fourteen minutes to spare. I had started the day over 3,000 words behind (maybe more — the day was a blur) and somehow, despite working all day, I had finished.

Keris: The first time I did NaNoWriMo, in 2004, my husband did it too. I don’t remember how it happened, but he ended up being interviewed about it on Radio 4 (for a culture show presented by Mark Lawson).

The BBC actually phoned while we were driving the removal van to the new house, so we had to pull over to the side of the road so David could do the interview. Then, once the interview was done, we carried on with the move.

Jennifer: My very favorite moment was my very first.  It was ticking down to midnight on October 31, and I was panicking.  I had no idea what I was going to write about.  I had no idea how to start.  I started pulling books off my shelf, leafing through my favorite authors trying to get some inspiration.  

When I came to “Monstrous Regiment” by Terry Pratchett, one little line grabbed my eye.  “There was always a war.”  

Suddenly, this whole world popped into my head like someone turning on a TV.  It was totally unexpected, and remains one of my most treasured memories.  I sat down at the keyboard as soon as the clock struck twelve, and didn’t stop until 3 A.M.  Needless to say, I spent the next day (and many days after) in a happily sleepless fog.

Kristi: In 2007, NaNoWrimo started its first podcast. They’d invite the entire NanoWrimo community to participate by sending in sound clips, songs, reviews, tips —whatever. They asked everyone in NaNoLand to record a 15-second “why I love my novel” and submit it.

It was a thrill when the episode came out and I could not only hear myself on the air but hear about what everyone else was working on! It really was a moment in which I felt I was truly part of something bigger than myself, something special.

John: My favorite NaNoWriMo moment is the same each year: hitting the 50,000 word mark. It’s so satisfying. Each year, it ebbs and flows, and I have not made it twice, believe it or not. But when I’ve seen that counter roll over? Such a massive feeling. So awesome.

Thank you, everyone, for sharing your stories and insight with us!

Mark your calendars: Harry, Jennifer, John, Keris, and Kristi will be back on The Daily Post on November 6! This time, they will give handy tips on getting your NaNoWriMo novel published, and using your blog to share and promote your writing. So don’t forget to tune in next week!

Feeling inspired already? Go over and sign up for this year’s event — there are only a few hours left! Are you a non-fiction writer? November is a big month for you, too, with NaNonFiWriMo gathering steam.

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  1. Super. I will attempt this challenge this month – I don’t want to publish the book, but want to go through the sheer joy of creating a longer piece of fiction. Of course, I want to learn too 🙂


  2. I’m glad to hear a shout out to Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment. If there’s anything that can get the imagination going, it is the vivid land known as Discworld.


    1. Terry Pratchett is one of my all-time literary heroes. It’s impossible not to feel inspired when you’re reading one of his works!


  3. I heard about this before… wasn’t going to do it this year, but I am now strongly considering writing my first novel!


  4. I signed up, but I cannot find how to build a writing team. How do you do that? I am talking about earning the badge after you add a writing buddy. I cannot find the participants to read the profile


  5. I have lots of reasons NOT to do NANO.

    I’m already crazy busy and basically your looking at 1600+ words a day, and when you don’t sit down to the computer until 8pm, and really should be in bed by 10pm… that’s just not gonna happen; I’m also an edit as I type person; I always re-read and start editing after every chapter.; and finally, I also go back and add to previous chapters to tie something in later in the book. I’m a bouncer.

    Here is the thing though. I’ve have had the creative juices flowing and reeling on B2 of my series and this comes at the perfect time. I know exactly where I want B2 and B3 to go, and I had already been working on my outline for 2 weeks before I even heard about NaNo. So its perfect timing this year. I will do this… I can do this. Even if I have to lock myself in my room for a month.


  6. My friends have been after me for years to write. I saw the email this week about NaNoWriMo, next thing I knew I signed up. I have no idea what I will write. I have the time


  7. Great post. Thank you for sharing your views guys.

    p.s. Does anyone notice number of women bloggers that commented on this post? Definitely female majority here.. 😉


  8. I’m definitely going to give this a go. Can’t wait! And ‘thank you’ to blogging which has helped me sit down and have writing sessions.


  9. Trying this for the first time. Maybe I will finally write the book that’s been rattling around in my mind in bits and pieces for the past few years.


  10. I’m going to try this year (my first) because I have a story that’s been rolling around for about 10 years. Question, though: Do I post the work on my blog? Or is this just something I do for me and say I did?


    1. Either one (or a mix of both) is great — it really depends on how much of your writing you feel like sharing. Some people put up everything on their blog, some nothing, and others throw in excerpts here and there for feedback — it’s really up to you.


  11. Doing my first one this year and just heard about it a couple days ago. Only day 1 and I’m excited. Neat to read your excerpts from published authors who did it. Very cool.


  12. Just thinking about considering this project has filled my stomach with butterflies! Scary, but I’ll mull it over for a few hours. I’m the type who gets in the pool one inch at a time….