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Dumping Allowed: My NaNoWriMo Experiences

By Michael Pickard

Halloween night is scary for me. Not because of ghosts, goblins, or tricks played due to the absence of treats. On Halloween night, at the stroke of midnight, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins. During the thirty days of November, me and my closest 400,000 friends will be challenged to write 50,000 words or more, the basis for our future novels. If you meet the objective, you win…nothing. If you want the winner’s T-shirt, you have to purchase it. However, you have 50,000 or more words that you didn’t have before. That comes to 1,667 words per day when you do the math.

This coming November 2022, I will be a participant in NaNoWriMo for the ninth time. My previous efforts, all winners, yielded the core prose from which published novels were born. Although the initial Mountains of WordsTM only required thirty days of intense effort, the critique and editing of the resulting retained prose took over a year. I was assisted by critiques from two different writer support groups, and teams of beta readers who provided feedback on complete and edited manuscripts.

Someone who not only survived but thrived during his NaNoWriMo experiences should have some perspectives on how to approach the event with success in mind. And I do. Warning: my process might not fit you.

NaNoWriMo and other writing groups often speak about “planners” and “pantsers,” although there are variations on those two primary behaviors.

I’m a planner, which means that in advance of November 1st, I have thought hard and long about the characters, their deep backgrounds, their goals/objectives or the problems they choose to face, and the stakes if they take no action or fail. I know when in time and where the action takes place. I know what roadblocks the protagonist will face as he/she attempts to pursue their goal/objective. I try to know everything. If the characters would be expected to understand something I’m not familiar with, I research that technology/process/law/etc. so that I know enough to accurately represent it on the page.

If I’ve done an adequate job, I will have eliminated most of the likely disruptions in November. It’s pretty obvious to me that if the desired outcome is 50,000 or more words in a finite time, then using that time for thinking or research is self-defeating.