National Novel Writing Month

October 24, 2011

NaNoWriMo starts November 1. If you don’t know what that alarmingly-capitalized word means and aren’t going to visit the link, I’ll explain it to you. National Novel Writing Month is an event (I guess) in which you are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the night on November 30. That’s 1,667 words per day for 30 days. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, or even good. It doesn’t have to be cohesive. It just has to get done. It’s super-fun in a wacky and stressful way, and I think it has a lot to teach us about fear, so I think you all should do it.

NaNoWriMo demands that you tell your inner critic to shut up and leave you alone. For most of us, 1,667 words per day is going to be too much if we’re second- and hundredth-guessing ourselves. Unless we can give ourselves permission to A) keep a promise to ourselves and B) have fun, we’re not going to win. For most participants, their resistance pipes up anywhere from 10% to 99% of the time, saying that this is pointless, you’re not good enough, you’re already behind so you’re screwed, blah blah blah. And, well, we don’t want our resistance to call the shots. So its nice to get some practice in telling it what’s what and exercise some discipline.

Also, writing. Writing is one of those art forms that a lot of people are afraid of, even though we can all do it non-artfully. Narrative is innate to the human experience (read almost anything Fear.less related to see this) and yet many of us bristle at the idea of creating a story with the permanence of ink or kilobytes because it feels like something we have to be good at first.

I don’t think so.

Fear.less contributor Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way, The Right to Write) taught, or at least for confirmed for me the value of writing as a spiritual conduit, as a way to externalize thoughts and exercise the mind. It doesn’t all need to end up on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf or on your blog. It’s a meditative, creative act. It is available to anyone to experience and enjoy if they so choose. A week and a half ago, Patti Digh said here that art doesn’t need an audience, it just needs someone who likes doing it. Seth Godin supports writing for quantity over quality in order to improve. (He specifically says “not fiction” in that post but I feel there’s a difference between a month-long surge toward a specific writing goal and aimless character sketches.) Leo Babauta, a.k.a. my role model, won Nano in 2006 and the feeling of success as “awesome”.

Then there’s a chunk of people out there who think that this event is destructive. A lot of them are academics, or worse, wish they were academics. They think that a speed- and volume-oriented task devalues writing and encourages people to settle for crap as opposed to nothing at all- er, I mean, precisely-edited literary masterstrokes! They fret for the integrity of “the craft”. I don’t know what they’re so worried about since none of you illiterate peons could reach it when it’s so high up on its throne.

If you’re a reader of this blog, I think you know to side with the group that doesn’t make writing/creation/self-expression fearful. I think that if someone has a fun time creating something big and individual, and in the process learns something about the way he works, thinks, and tells himself what’s possible, then that is just about the coolest thing. I’m not going to go so far as to say there’s no reason not to do NaNoWriMo, but there are a lot of bad reasons not to do it and they are all rooted in fear that you do not deserve to feel about your “right” to be creative.

Not only is NaNoWriMo a great existential triumph for me as a fear-losopher, it’s also a neat event in its own right. When you register on the site, you can periodically update the document where you write your novel and watch a color-changing bar on your profile grow to reflect your increasing wordcount. It’s satisfying. The forums are active and you can find people discussing all sorts of stuff that may give you ideas of what to do (or not do). Some participants who are geographically close even organize meetups where they’ll go to a coffee shop or something and write in each other’s company.

I won in 2005. The other time I seriously tried was 2007, but I fear-psyched myself out 20,000 words in. Yeah, I know. There wasn’t much positive reinforcement going on back then, let alone a Fear.less to read. Ishita got to 15,000 in 2008, before bowing out to her resistance in a similar fashion. I think it’s time for REVENGEANCE.

So I invite you to join me on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 A.D. for a completely ridiculous and gratifying endeavor that seems tailor-made to exemplify the principles of Fear.less. Let me know if you do decide to participate and I may egg you on during the month. Write on.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Rochelle Melander October 24, 2011 at 10:50 am

Love this blog! I found Nano to be the perfect antidote to my fear. I tried and did not finish in 2007. I tried again in 2009 and won, finishing a nonfiction book on how to write books fast. Write-a-Thon came out this fall from writer’s digest books. I remember Anne Lamott telling writers to lock those gremlins in canning jars while you write. That works for me!


Matt October 24, 2011 at 11:15 am

wow that is amazing! thanks for sharing. antidote to fear – that’s good stuff.


Rob October 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I’m going to write a screenplay. Five pages a day. I’ve had this story idea for years. I’ve finally finished a treatment last month. It’s time to write the thing.


Matt October 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm

i accept this. this sounds like a totally awesome undertaking.


Patty October 26, 2011 at 11:50 am

sounds interesting and challenging,mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm


Matt October 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm

mmmmmmmm i think you should try it……….


Karl, Stepping Into Wonder October 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm

I’m highly considering it this year. And thanks for writing this blog, I love it!


Buzz October 28, 2011 at 10:50 am

Thirty Days Hath September
April, June, and November
All the rest have 31
Excepting February
28 is all it stores
Till Leap Year give it
one day more

There is no November 31…….


Matt October 28, 2011 at 11:34 am

there is if you truly believe


Shauntelle, Being is a Verb October 28, 2011 at 10:59 am

I was gonna skip Nano this year because I lost incredibly last year… gave up about 5,000 words in…but ya know, I never thought about it as a way to put my fear and those crazy “critic voices” in their places! And I love reading the different ways people are approaching Nano. Maybe I can’t put out 50,000 words of fiction, but I bet I could get 50,000 words of interviews.

Thanks for the encouragement, I’m in! :)


Matt October 28, 2011 at 11:34 am

good idea. i mean, it’s not like this rigid thing. you can interpret it however you like, good luck!


Yvonne October 28, 2011 at 11:08 am

Sounds like an awesome challenge. Love it. Thanks for sharing !


Caroline October 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I love NaNoWriMo. This year will be my fifth time. I highly recommend getting buddies- both online and in real life. I have won every time I have attempted because of the humiliation factor that founder Chris Baty talks about- tell everyone you know you are doing it, and then it feels sad if you don’t.

Another super-fun way to let go of the critic- find a friend (I chose my brother) and call them every day and ask them for the most off-the-wall thing they can think of. Then work it into your story. I did this my first year and it was so funny it killed the fear completely. I had to work in a hovercraft chase, a tiny mechanic, and someone getting murdered while trying to buy pants. Loved it.

Also… if you want to try a fun program to write with, Scrivener is doing an extended free trial of their software for NaNo people- it goes through December 7 and if you get your 50,000 words done, you get the software for half off! I found it recently when a writer friend recommended trying it:

I think this is the longest comment I have ever left on any blog. Ever. :)


Matt October 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm

this is what i like to hear. someone keeping it loose and awesome. you are great. thanks for the link – a lot of places release nifty software in special deals in nanowrimo’s honor.

once their site gets the ~*writing buddies*~ function going, i am going to friend all the fear.less readers who have expressed interest and we will all hold hands and float to 50,000

i am proud to have earned your longest comment. 205 words, that’s one eighth of a daily nanowrimo quota.


Hannah October 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Great blog post :)

I am doing NaNoWriMo for the third time this year – I haven’t managed to finish it yet so I’m hoping this is year’s the one. As a change in tactics, I’m planning weekly Skype sessions with a group of friends who are doing it for accountability. Best of luck with your revengeance.


Matt October 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm

that sounds like a really promising tactic. it’s a microcosm for just how important the buddy system can be when trying to get something done


Laura October 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Ah, Matt –

This post could not have come at a more propitious time. I was literally thinking about Nanowrimo when I clicked over and there it was. I signed up months ago and tried their summer camp version and bombed out spectacularly. But that’s okay – I learned me some stuff – probably the most important being that I needed just plain old daily writing practice before I started the real deal in November.

So I signed up on a little site called and have been hunting and pecking my way to a near daily writing habit which I believe will help me get into and keep the Nano frame of mind.

I’m actually excited for November 1 to start. And I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Thanks for post – vanquish the fear!


Matt October 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

this is excellent. i enjoy that that 750words site was inspired by julia cameron. this actually sounds kind of awesome. thank you for sharing.


Heather Ebert October 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I’ve been wanting to do NaNoWriMo since I first discovered the organization back in 2000. Signed up in 2005 and didn’t even start. This is my first year as an independent professional (freelancer), which means I have NO EXCUSES! I don’t feel ready yet, but I’m looking forward to the adventure. I’ll be writing with you in spirit. Loved this post!


Jerry Toops October 28, 2011 at 9:14 pm

OK, Matt. Thanks for the challenge. I’ll join you on November 1st, let’s see a novel about a fearful guy who writes a novel after being challenged by a fearless guy…


Allison Shonyo October 29, 2011 at 3:13 am

I’m in too! I am eager for the challenge of just writing without stopping and backtracking and editing and second guessing. Like a stream that just keeps on flowing….


Matt October 29, 2011 at 9:43 am

exactly. that is the plan. how many rules are you willing to break in order to ship on a completed draft? that is the core question.


Robb October 31, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Thanks for the post, Matt! Here it is October 31st and I JUST NOW stumble upon this cool event. I’m going for it – there’s no time to overthink this one.


Matt October 31, 2011 at 6:27 pm

hell yeah robb. if you sign up at the site, add me as a writing buddy –


Nora B. Peevy November 9, 2011 at 7:39 am

USA Today Bestseller Cara Lockwood and official sponsor, guest blogs on The Demon Stole My Pencil. Get her advice on writing.



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