Exploring the Craft

Suffering the Fear of Missing Out During NaNoWriMo Prep

You don’t have to write a novel this November

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) hits many writers at this time of year as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) preparations begin. We fear we don’t have any ideas, won’t have the time, or maybe just don’t want to write a novel but something else. What we’re afraid of missing is NaNo’s collective support and energy. All those write-ins, sprints, forum and Discord conversations, they provide a shared energy around writing like nothing else.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

But if we don’t have an idea for a novel, or don’t feel we can commit to 50,000 words in a month, we’re going to miss all that writing positivity, and that hurts.

Any words written in November are words you won’t have to write in December.

But you don’t have to write 50,000 words of a novel to participate. You don’t even have to write 50,000 words of anything. Just write. Write when you can. Soak up some of that positive energy for yourself. Any words written in November are words you won’t have to write in December.

Here are things you can do instead of writing a novel. I’ve measured them out to be the equivalent of 50,000 words, but if that’s too big a commitment, set a smaller goal. Remember, the point is to participate in the community and energy.

  • Write 2 novellas or 4 novelettes. This allows you to switch projects if you wish to get a fresh perspective, or if you get blocked on one. Getting stuck is a reason some people don’t finish their November novel. Each of these suggestions has the advantage of not getting bogged down in a single project. With these projects, you’ll also have more works ready to revise and send out or publish later.
  • Write 12 short stories. I did this one, and 6 stories ended up as the basis for a novel later, but I spent the month writing a dozen short stories ranging from 1,500 to 7,000 words. If you submit regularly to fiction markets, this can be a good way to boost your submissions in 2022.
  • Write 30 poems. This may or may not hit 50k words, but has its own reward. I know there’s National Poetry Month and NaPoWriMo in April, but why not use this one too. This is the project I’ll be doing this year and my goal will be to have 30 revised and edited poems by the end of November, so my work level will be the same as if I wrote a novel.
  • Write 50 Flash pieces. Assuming 1k words per flash.

You get the point. Yes, to officially ‘win’ NaNoWriMo you must write 50k words for a novel, but I think winning at NaNo means participating in the worldwide community of writers and sharing in the creative energy that participation creates.

During October, I’ll help your NaNoWriMo prep by publishing prompts and tips for each of these project types. Sign up for the Exploring the Craft newsletter for a monthly digest of articles. You can also join my Discord Community for writing related conversation, support, and co-working.

Word-count Doesn’t Matter

Many of us have spent the month pouring out words to make our 1,667 word daily goal for our NaNoWriMo novels. How many days did you hit the goal? How often did you write more, or less?

It doesn’t matter.

It also doesn’t matter if you wrote 50,000 words of something resembling a novel or 25,000 words of rough notes. Why? Because writing takes time, thought, and effort. Often, especially when we are starting, we are writing to ourselves; writing to discover.

Writing is an odd activity. It is both a craft and an art. You can follow a pattern or you can simply wing it with no idea what will show up on the page. Often the intent to write a novel doesn’t lead to one. Sometimes a short story will develop into a novel. Telling ourselves we will write a novel in November may be the wrong way to start.

Creativity Matters. Art Matters

What matters is the creative intention, and the art that sometimes results. The words will come later. I argue they’ll flow and word-count will soar. Writing takes long concentration, even when writing a popular thriller. There’s a deep craft to writing such stories well. We need creative concentration to produce anything of worth.

Often, the words building new stories come slowly because we’re discovering. We deliberate and make choices over each sentence. Is this part of the story? What is this character telling me about themselves? How is this world shaping itself with each description?

We need time to let the story bake. It’s like forming a dough and shaping it into a crust, then baking it. Once we have the shell, and the story is firm in our minds, we can then pour in the word filling.

Get to Know Your Story

Some NaNo participants spend October, and even part of September going through that early writing stage. I’ve found I’m not really an outliner, but I’m not a pantser either. Apparently I’m what’s called a plantser. I wrote a long series of notes about what my novel was about and what happened in it. I thought I was prepared for NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t. The story didn’t really move during the first two weeks. I wrote words, but I knew few of them would ever make it into the story. I stopped writing for a few days and thought about what I had written. I thought more about what I hadn’t.

During those two days my story-world changed drastically. A key non-POV character emerged as a secondary POV, and a plot line I had dropped suddenly became workable. Once those pieces fell into place, I knew the story—really knew it. I couldn’t have reached that point without writing the first 12,000 words. I wrote over 3,000 words every day for the next ten. I’m still writing above the 1,667 target because the words come easy now.

Give yourself time to let the story sink in. Think about the choices you’ve made. Listen to your characters. Observe your world. Follow the logic of your plot. Then let the words flow.

You might only have those 900 words, but they may tell you something. The words you haven’t found may be there between the lines. Read what you’ve written; soak in the words and let your creative intention consider them. No words you write are ever wasted words. Story matters more than word-count.

How has your NaNoWriMo gone?

Surviving NaNoWriMo and ignoring the FoMO

Living as a Writer Series

November is nearly upon us and with it all the tweets, blog posts, and Facebook chatter. There’s a belief that everyone has a novel in them. That may be true, but it may also not be true for you this year; this November.

You don’t have to take part in NaNoWriMo

I know. That’s practically heretical to say to writers, particularly early writers just finding their way. I’ve done NaNo four times and won it four times. If you’re ready for it, by all means, do it. It’s a great experience. I plan on doing it again this year. But you know yourself. You know if you’re ready, or if you even want to write a novel. Don’t let the Fear of Missing Out push you into a miserable slog that leaves you feeling like you’ve failed. Writing is hard enough and there are plenty of ways to feel like a failure.

You don’t have to write a novel

Sure, it’s called National Novel Writing Month but there are no writing police checking to see if you’re really writing a novel. If you want to participate but don’t have a novel, you can do other things.

Last year I wrote a collection of short stories. I used all the collective positive energy, writing sprints, and write-ins to write 50,000 words of short stories. I had enough that I’m still editing and submitting them to markets.

You can edit a novel instead of write one. Count the words you review and edit, then put it in NaNo’s tracker. You can still win the month.

A word about winning NaNoWriMo

Officially you ‘win’ NaNo if you write 50,000 words in November. I think that sells a writer’s work short. If you make a real effort and only get 20,000 or 10,000 words, did you really lose the month? No. Chances are you wrote more than you usually do in a month. Those are words written. Words you no longer need to write. That’s a win.

How will you spend November?