nano5 We have a little municipal airport in my city. A new playground was just built and we have been waiting for it to open. Well, it did! And here we are. You know what’s great about this playground? The parking spots are, like, 3 feet from the playground itself, so I can stay in the van! Don’t judge—it’s cold all of a sudden (not cracking 50 degrees today) and also it’s November so you know what that means...

National Novel Writing Month!

This is really a perfect situation I have going on right now. I can keep an eye on them (actually they are so loud, all I need to do is listen and if the din dulls, then take a look to see if anything is amiss), work on my MacBook and stay warm! AND catch my favorite afternoon radio show!

Five days in and I remember vividly why I like NaNo so much! It’s fun and the momentum keeps me focused. How could I have forgotten the power of momentum?

In 2009, with initial trepidation bordering on panic, I agreed to participate in National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo, or simply NaNo. It was the idea of one of my graduate school friends. She managed to get (coerce) about a half dozen of us on board.


What made me think I could write 50,000 words in the space of one month with three little kids, a part-time job and a home to care for, I have no idea. Blame it on four and a half years of sleep deprivation, but I thought, “Yeah, that sounds cool!”

But in spite of all the reasons why (and there were many) I may not have accomplished it, I did. And it wasn’t even all that difficult. I didn’t think too much, I simply forged ahead. And the amazing thing was, once immersed in the writing so deeply, it flowed easily. Was it the ritual, the deadline, the panic? Probably a combination, but it worked. I’ve done it every year since.



And now that I am no longer a novice, I have some words of wisdom to offer:

Before you start, tell everyone you’re doing it. Announce it on Facebook and Twitter and promise frequent updates. Set yourself up for having a lot of explaining to do if you bail out.

Find a little community. Ask a friend to do it with you. Look for write-ins in your area. The NaNoWriMo website offers opportunities to connect with other NaNoWriMo writers in your area.

Break it into manageable pieces and don’t go to bed until you meet your daily goal. Even on Thanksgiving. Eat more pie to stay awake. (You know want to eat more pie.)

Check your word count no more than every half hour or so. Definitely do not check it every thirty seconds. (You will.) Definitely not more frequently than every thirty seconds. (You will.) Try not to do that.

Keep writing, even if it’s junk. (It’s probably not junk. Or at least not as bad as you think.) Go off on tangents, write weird scenes that seem to have no place in the story, introduce new characters just to have something to write about. Flashbacks are a good tactic. Write anything. In December and January, you can revise. The good writing comes out in the editing anyhow. Have fun with this in November and then worry about perfecting it later.


Love my fingerless mittens! My auntie knit them for me!

The wonderful thing about NaNo is that it helps you to remember the simplicity of ritual. The simple sentiment, just get it done. Just do the work. Almost every night this week, I have been in bed in the dark, the room lit only by my laptop, just getting it done. If I would rather read a book and relax, too bad. Do the work. If I would rather watch an episode of Homeland, too bad. Do the work. If I would rather just go to sleep, too bad.

Do. The. Work.

I guess this is what they call discipline?

Yes—who can’t use more of that? Maybe Oprah or Lady Gaga or overachievers of that ilk. (That ain’t me.) NaNo provides it. And, as with any habit you are trying to form, give it a few days and then you might find yourself craving it. I think that’s a bit of what they call ritual.

Maybe that’s what it takes: discipline and ritual. I am going to try to remember that after November 30th. I wonder, if I can do it all month, can I keep the momentum going? Well, maybe that will be a goal for December and January and thereafter. One thing at a time.


To all the WriMos out there: keep NaNo-ing! And more than anything else, embrace the joy of fearless writing!

(Parts of this blog post appeared originally in a somewhat different form on