The NaNoWriMo 12-Step Program

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has been an annual event for sixteen years and running where participants try to get as many words as possible down on the page rather than refining the manuscript as they go. The intention is good, and it has spurred quite a few writers to project completion, forcing them out of an edit-as-you go approach that can often get bogged down in the details rather than waiting until later to make corrections. As is quoted often by many authors, Nora Roberts famously said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

Unfortunately this approach has its shortcomings.

Can’t unsee the error
While reading traditionally goes left to right in English, some of us have wandering eyes when looking at a page. When I browse over the preceding few sentences and notice two independent clauses connect by “and” with no comma, this will be all I think about and the flow stops. I have to fix it.

calvin writing
Calvin by Bill Watterson

Word Count
Have you discovered Alt T + W? That’s your word count keyboard shortcut if you’re using MS Word or a comparable substitute (I use Open Office because it’s free, works the same as Word, and it’s free.) Each hour of writing now becomes identical to the final minutes at the end of the day of 3rd grade where the clock stops moving and sometimes goes backwards. The repetitious checking of how many words becomes obsessive. Soon you’re sorely tempted to cheat and make longer, longer, and longer sentences fancily embroidered with many descriptive adjectives and juicy adverbs to really pad your ballooning count.

Also, the internet hasn’t gone away while you’re NaNoWriMo-ing. There’s the usual Pavlovian checks to see how many Twitter users have followed you in the past five minutes and whether anyone has liked your latest Reddit repost on your Facebook page. More urgent is the NaNoWriMo enablers who coordinate their writing times and compare totals. You won’t know how your word count stacks up against your peers unless you go check.

jim carrey writing gif

Other Distractions
In order to keep the writing momentum going, I hate to stop, but sometimes a choice has to be made for a scene to be consistent with the tone of the story and its characters. That means checking notes or just thinking through what’s about to happen. But word count is word count. I have a journal to fill and a blog entry to complete and a notebook with random ideas that has some empty lines in it. A true writing artisan can do all of these things at the same time, honestly, while pumping out word count without mercy.

If this describes a manic and impractical approach to writing, my apologies. I find it encouraging to see what other authors can do in a short amount of time. When the process itself becomes the focus I realize that my own plodding approach will have to do. Writing is too enjoyable for me to want to turn it into a chore. The counter-point is that there is a sense of accomplishment when you actually finish 100,000 words of a project.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this month, I wish you all the best. If you’ve fallen by the wayside with a sprained thumb and a broken keyboard, don’t be discouraged but rather find a pace and a schedule that works and stick to it.

Recognition of a problem is the first step. The other eleven will work themselves out once the month is over.



A special thanks to all who were able to support my first promotion on Headtalker for my novel A Beginner’s Guide to Invading Earth!

Also, if you received an advanced reader copy (Or if you purchsed one – Thanks!) please leave even a short review on Amazon!

–Gerhard Gehrke

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