Is NaNoWriMo for you?

nano_logo-aef44f162676a9d773edb93f995492f2November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to its affectionate friends. If this idea intrigues you, here’s a recent interview with Chris Baty, the man behind the movement. The project began with a few dozen people in 1998; this year’s crowd includes more than 400,000 writers in 200 countries, all trying to put together 50,000 words (in a cunning order, hat tip to Douglas Adams) by November 30th at midnight.

If, on the other hand, the idea engenders feelings of alarm, indifference, queasiness, scorn, or self-loathing, fear not: we’re on our way out of town on a tangent. (I’m also not going to subject you to the first few paragraphs of a would-be novel. I often think that while my desire to write a book is surpassed by my desire to have written a book, I’ve got some different work to do before sitting down to the project.)

On the surface, NaNoWriMo looks like it’s all about writing your novel. At a deeper level, we could say that it’s about overcoming inertia, launching the project, “stirring your stumps,” to use a colorful phrase that is much older than I thought.* If you’ve never wanted to write a novel yourself, you can still probably identify something in your life that once had all the promise of an abiding and firm resolution but has since settled limply into a vague and out-of-focus longing. (This next bit will tie back in, I promise.)



I’ve been reading snatches from a book called Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown. One of the major points he makes is that as long as we persist in trying to do it all and have it all, we’ll continue with the wheel spinning. Instead, we need to do the hard work of determining what we care most about, and what we can do to make the highest contribution to that cause.

I think of what happens when you have water coming out of a hose, and you somehow narrow the size of the nozzle. You can get a stream of water with a lot more force that will travel a much greater distance by restricting the flow.

Using this logic, the decision about whether to throw yourself at the NaNoWriMo challenge may be a bit complicated. However praiseworthy it might be to write a novel in November, if you’ve got something else you’re trying to tackle that is more important to you, the novel effort would only slow your output on the higher priority, perhaps to a trickle.

Is there something that you’ve been wanting to do that would greatly benefit from your concentrated time and effort? Even if we’re already several days into November, even if your project doesn’t lend itself to a catchy acronym (and let me warn against the inherent time sink of  the development of acronyms, the preparing of press releases, the screen printing of coordinating chachkies), it just might be time to stir those stumps.


Will Kemp dancing to Norwich, from Kemp’s Nine Days’ Wonder (1600)

If you feel you absolutely need an acronym, delegate that task to me (I’ll see what I can come up with–and I can ask Loquita and Ninja for help). Start in the middle of the month. Dust off whatever it is you’ll need in order to get going (even if it’s your erstwhile motivation). No time like the present.

And don’t be discouraged if your efforts fail to deliver a bestseller or the equivalent, or if you don’t make whatever deadline you decided on. There’s a lot to be said for emulating the lighthearted perspective of Douglas Adams:

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.


Whoosh from

“Whoosh” from


*Though there’s a reference to stirring stumps in the Oxford English Dictionary from as early as 1535, I’m partial to this one: 1603 B. Jonson Ent. Althrope (1604) 11 Come on Clownes, forsake your dumps, And bestir your Hobnaild stumps.



2 thoughts on “Is NaNoWriMo for you?

  1. Reblogged this on Brett P. S. and commented:
    I never had strong feelings about NaNoWriMo until this year, when I signed up, but I think I agree with this post. No matter what the dream is, the point of NaNoWriMo is to use a cultural phenomenon as an excuse to do it. Be extravagant. Be active. Treat yourself. It’s awesome and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

  2. I’ve never gone for NaNoWriMo myself, mainly because (1) I’ve managed to motivate myself to write books without it and (2) there’s no way I will realistically write 50,000 words in a month – too much other stuff going on (I can’t just skip the day job and lock my family in the cellar for thirty days – partly, though not mostly, because I don’t have a cellar). And if I did, those 50,000 words would surely be incomprehensible garbage even by my rough-around-the-edges first draft standards. However, I can see NaNoWriMo’s motivational appeal for others, and the communal / support aspect of it.

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