Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

The Case Against NaNoWriMo

I started off this month intending to talk about ways to help your writing by shutting out the world, a thing that seems increasingly difficult to do these days. Instead: heresy! You writers of delicate constitution, turn away now! For I am about to reveal to you the case against participating in National Novel Writing Month.

Sure, NaNo’s intentions are pure: provide a structured and semi-competitive environment to get writers writing. What could be wrong with that? Well, frequent readers of my posts at Fictorians will know that I set a lot of store by each writer figuring out what works for them and following that.

And the thing is, for some writers, cranking out 50,000 words in a month is either not doable, or, more likely, not recommended.

Once upon a time, shortly after my very first trip to Superstars Writing Seminar, I wrote the first draft of a 100,000 word novel in under three months. I left the seminar more inspired than I’d every felt about my writing, and was determined to prove that I could write a novel faster than my first, which took … well, it took a long time. For this second book, I averaged 10,000 words a week, more than a thousand a day. That’s not quite NaNo speed, but it’s close, and it continued well past one month.

I wound up with a completed first draft, a feat I was immensely proud of. The problem? It was utter trash, and even worse, I was so burned out I didn’t plop down in front of the keyboard again for several months. When I did, rather than cleaning up the draft, which I frankly couldn’t bear to look at again, I started work on my actual second novel, which I still plan to show the world someday. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to fix up that three-month draft. In the end, I’d done what I set out to do, but I’d cranked it out so fast and with so little consideration I ended up with something I had no motivation left to finish. I’d burned too bright, Blade Runner-style.

Flash forward a couple of years to the only time I’ve ever truly done NaNo as it was meant to be done, with a new book and all fresh writing. That time, I worked on the first draft of a book that would that would never see the light of day. Starting to notice a pattern? I certainly did. Apparently, when I force myself to write too fast, I end up with books I hate.

As with all good rules, there’s an exception. When I was working on Ungrateful God, I had an editing deadline I had to hit, and I burned myself out doing it. I was pleased with the result this time, but it required a lot of edits once I got it back, edits I wasn’t able to get going with for several months. The pattern again.

I’ve finally learned my lesson. So long as I have a day job (hint-hint, potential fans!), I can only write so fast without burning out. Push it too much past that for too long, and my creative river dries up whether I like it or not.

NaNo is a great motivator for a great many writers. I’ve even participated since that first time, but I relax the rules for myself. Edited words count. Working on a different project (or, say, a blog post for Fictorians) counts. Even if all I do in a given day is some mental planning out of scenes or chapters or arcs, that counts. Because the point of NaNo isn’t to rigidly adhere to an arbitrary set of rules. It’s to provide you a little motivation to get writing in the form of your friends who are doing the same thing. Whether that’s 50,000 works, 500,000 words, or 500 words, the point is the same. Remember: even one word is better than zero.

So take a seat behind the keyboard and, without worrying about how many, see if you can crank out some words this month. C’mon, everybody’s doing it!



About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, Dragon Writers: An Anthology, and the upcoming Undercurrents: An Anthology of What Lies Beneath. He lives with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (, his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.


Writing Short Articles for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a great time to build up a collection of short articles that you can schedule during the next year. It’s a reasonable method to build up your word count while simultaneously getting more blog posts.

Since my blog is about writing in general, I like to include how-to articles and other subjects useful to authors. My target for each post is around 500 words.

The first thing I have to come up with is a subject I haven’t written about. Lucky for me, I have a lot of folks who ask interesting questions. Many times I can get an entire blog post out of a single question. I also glean ideas from industry news and the regular mainstream media. The secret is to get an idea that you can cover in a short article without glossing over things or beating a dead horse.

Once I have an idea, I try to come up with two or three major points about that subject. For example:

NaNoWriMo for Beginners

1. Sign up on the website.
2. How to come up with an idea for a book or novella.
3. Writing until the cows come home (on November 30th.)


That took me all of two minutes. If it looks a bit familiar, it’s the method most US grade schools teach their English students when it comes to writing a paper. You can come up with ideas on subjects that you’re familiar with. If you like flowers, teach us what the colors of roses represent. If you like trucks, tell us why the 7.3 liter diesel engine was the best ever made. Start out with what you know, then begin to explore areas that you need to research. That will help you with worldbuilding and give your readers some variety.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and

NanoWriMo Neophyte

Before getting into the meat of this post, I have three admissions to make.

  1. I have never participated in NanoWriMo.
  2. I won’t be participating in NanoWriMo this year.
  3. I may never participate in NanoWriMo.

Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think NanoWriMo can be a very valuable activity. It’s just that my own circumstances never seem to align with NanoWriMo. For example, right now I am 65,000 words into a probably 90,000-word novel that I intend to submit for publication as soon as it’s done. By the time NanoWriMo kicks off, I hope to be pretty close to wrapping up that novel, and will be working on the other things that are required for a book to be publishable, including editing, drawing maps, getting cover art, etc.

By the time I get all that done, it might be Christmas. Hard to say. That mostly depends on how much editing is needed.

If I weren’t in the middle of writing a novel, NanoWriMo might make sense. But it is my current intention to be in the middle of writing a novel as long as I can put eyes to screen and fingers to keyboard.

Having said that, I do have some thoughts about NanoWriMo for those who do participate, from the perspective of moving a story forward.

The main advice I would have is to get an outline done before you start writing. The biggest thing that delays my writing is when I reach a point where I’m not entirely certain which direction the narrative needs to go. I’m not completely an outliner, I have a fair bit of “pantsing” in my writing, but having a map to follow generally makes it much easier to keep moving, and NanoWriMo is all about keeping moving.

To reach 50,000 words in a 30-day month, you need to average 1,667 words per day. That’s a manageable number of words to write, even if you have a full-time job and, say, a family or something. But it’s a lot more manageable if you aren’t having to figure out your next paragraph in the middle of your current paragraph.

The next bit of advice is good advice whether you are doing NanoWriMo or just writing in general, and that is to try not to worry that much about the quality of your writing while you’re hammering the story out. The most important part of writing is getting the basic story on paper so that you have something you can edit into something readable.

If you do manage to complete NanoWriMo and end up with 50,000 words, don’t let them just sit on your computer. Put a plan together to get that effort honed and polished into something you can submit to an editor. Get your work out there. Make all that effort worthwhile. Even if you don’t get it published, you will learn a lot from the experience, and every time you do, you’ll get a little closer to your goal.

Plotting and Planning Tips From a Million-Word NaNoWriMo Author

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun exercise for the professional writer as well as the dabbling beginning author wanna-be. The purpose of the event is not to hit 50K words, believe it or not. The real goal is to get people to start writing, to try to build up confidence, and to start a daily writing habit. That 50K word “goal” is just something more concrete for a beginning author to shoot for.

Personally, I think even writing one single word is a milestone since you’re now one word closer towards the completion of your novel. You’re further along than you were yesterday. It’s the effort that matters, and that’s where you should focus.

As of November 30, 2016, my total NaNoWriMo word count is 1,079,395 — over a million words. Here are some of the tips I use to get ready for the month.

Know Your November Schedule

It’s funny how many folks plan on participating in a month-long event without knowing what they’re in for. A good example to start with is Thanksgiving for those folks in the United States. Many families travel across the country to visit relatives. You may be the visitor, or you may be the destination. Understanding that you will be focused on a huge dinner with ten visitors at your table all ready to critique your interpretation of Grandma’s Super-Special Stuffing® will allow you to plan for no writing on the day before the holiday. For some crazy folks, going out the following day to battle crowds on Black Friday may be a tradition.

If you’re in college, perhaps there’s a major mid-term you will need to study for. Thinking about your day job, is there a huge project that will be due during November? You should take that into account.

Now that you have the major “distractions” identified, consider how many writing days you have left. Subtract two days for life emergencies. Now divide the number of days into 50K to see what your real daily writing goals are.

Start: 30 Days
-2 for emergencies
-3 for day job project
-1 for Black Friday sales
-2 for Thanksgiving dinner preparation and the ensuing coma from overeating
= 22 writing days

50,000 words / 22 days = 2273 words per writing day to “win” NaNoWriMo.

This is your real writing goal if you decide you’d like to reach that elusive fifty thousand word goal. If you work with this number in mind instead of the 1,667 words it says on the NaNo website, you will be better prepared to make it.

Prepare More Than One Project

I never have issues with writers block because I’m always working on multiple projects at one time. If the words won’t flow for one of them, I understand my brain is working on something that needs to be solved before continuing. When that happens I can either switch to some other project or switch to a different section of the novel. For example, maybe I’m stuck with some aspect of worldbuilding and magic in a fantasy novel. Instead of just sitting there in front of a keyboard gathering dust, I can jump forward to where the protagonist runs across the fierce bandit ogre and defeats the beast, turning it into a loyal friend.

Then again, maybe that bit of magic is so important that I can’t continue for now. No worries! Your brain will be stewing on that issue for a bit, so perhaps switch over to a space marine science fiction story and begin to write the next scene. Should the solution to your magical quandary present itself, feel free to save the sci-fi mid-battle and swap back to the fantasy.

I prepare six novels for every NaNoWriMo, all in different genres. Each one is plotted out using Scrivener, my preferred large project word processor. I also write a paragraph for each chapter describing what should be covered at a minimum. Don’t worry! When the file is prepared, I check the total words and don’t use them towards my November word count.

Don’t Erase Stuff!

If I’m banging away on my keyboard and discover the last half of a chapter won’t work because of a gaping plot hole, I never delete the words I’ve produced. Instead, I make a sub-page off of my chapter page and copy/paste the parts that don’t work. I do this because those words do count unless you delete them. Never go backwards more than a single sentence. By hanging on to those homeless words, they will still count plus you may discover they actually work elsewhere in the novel. It’s terribly frustrating to discover that you wrote the perfect two paragraphs but you nuked them…and now you can’t remember the wording you used that made the two paragraphs stand out.

If it turns out that your saved snippets only help you once, you’ll be ecstatic that you saved them.

Remember, It’s a First Draft

This probably harms more authors than anything else. New authors in particular tend to see the perfect as the enemy of the good. They keep fiddling with a sentence to make it perfect instead of continuing on. It’s a form of writers block, in my opinion, and it’s self-inflicted. You must remember that NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean National Perfectly Edited Final Draft Novel Writing Month. This is a sloppy, rough first draft. You will have plenty of time to run through it a few more times before you even think to bring in an editor, publisher, or to even self-publish. You must give yourself permission to suck and to write crap. It will be cleaned up and polished later!

Get the overall words down on the blasted page and move on. I always include extensive notes in my first drafts, such as [Research how long it would take for an iron chest to rust through in salt water.] I enclose those notes in square brackets so I can just search for them and find the answers — after November 30th. November is a writing month and not a research month. Focus!

Sometimes a new character will suddenly appear, forcing themselves into the novel and you have no say-so. Cool! Just add notes: [Bob will be joining the group as they march towards certain doom. Give him a background and a decent name.] Then move on. If you’re spending an hour discovering the perfect name for your new character, stop wasting time. Call them Bob or Sally or James or Susan…something that won’t really fit in the finished novel. You can do a search-and-replace later.

What If I Don’t Wanna Write?

This does happen on occasion. Maybe those turkey leftovers are making you feel the tryptophan blahs. If this happens, go back and see what you need to research. Google those strange subjects that make law enforcement and the CIA think you’re a serial murderer who believes in magic and loves outer space. Then take paraphrased notes (by typing, not cut and paste!) and transfer them to your novel in square brackets. Yup, those words count. Most of the time you’ll find something that sparks your brain to fight off the tryptophan and before you know it you’re back to writing your novel.

But You Said Don’t Research in November!

Yeah, I did. And when you find you’re stuck and not building your word count, don’t be shackled to some “rules” because…there are no rules when you’re writing. Heck, you can even write using horrific grammar because this is only a first draft.

Now get your butt in that chair and start writing! Thanks for reading this post, and I hope you’re set to give it a go on November 1st.  Best of luck!


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, MWG, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and