One Way NaNoWriMo Can Lead To a Lifetime of Better Writing

For hundreds of thousands of writers worldwide, November means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Here's one way the 30-day challenge can be a serious boost.
Author:
Publish date:

November is one of my favorite times of year--the leaves on the trees change to a beautiful palette of oranges and reds, we prepare to give thanks for family and friends and we eat lots of pumpkin pie. November is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as many of writers know it, where writers (and even nonwriters) sit down and try to hammer out 50,000 words of a story. It's a clear and simple challenge with many benefits. But according to my friend and NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner, one of the greatest benefits is how it can lead to a lifetime of better writing.

Faulkner discusses this in-depth in the November/December issue of Writer's Digest (which you can download here), but I'd like to give you a sneak peek at one of my favorite sections of the piece:

This guest post is by Grant Faulkner. Faulkner is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month and the co-founder of the literary journal 100 Word Story. He has published stories & essays in dozens of publications.

Grant_Faulkner_Profile_1
no-plot-no-problem-baty-chris-9780811845052

Follow on Twitter @grantfaulkner.

Also, order the guide written by NaNoWriMo founder Cris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

NaNoWriMo: A Wrinkle in Time

The reaction I most often hear from writers who decline to participate in NaNoWriMo is, “Sounds nice, but I don’t have the time.” And really, who does have the time to write 50,000 words in a month?

But great writers have wrangled with time constraints for eons. “Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers,” Franz Kafka wrote.

There’s an old saying that if you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!] NaNoWriMo is a crash course in time management—an exercise in discovering those “subtle maneuvers” to work around obstacles.

mm_1610x2_fb

To write 50,000 words in a harried life, you have to closely evaluate how you spend your time. Each October, I go on a “time hunt.” I track how I spend each day, tallying minutes spent on social media, how many TV shows I watch, how long it takes me to shower and make breakfast—everything. It’s always a revelation to see what I fritter away, despite thinking I have no time to spare. Each year I find ways to open up nooks and crannies to hit my daily goals, whether it’s sneaking in five minutes of writing during my son’s soccer game or waking up an hour earlier.

In her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, journalist Brigid Schulte claims that for many working parents, free time comes in bits of “time confetti”—a few minutes here and there. Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 30-minute increments using a rented typewriter. Toni Morrison wrote her first novel in the few spare minutes she could scrounge up each day as a working mother. Those small but consistent maneuvers add up.

NaNoWriMo also teaches one of the most under-valued time management skills, one rarely discussed in a writing how-to book: learning to say no.

[6 Things to Consider After You Write Your First Draft]

Saying no takes practice. I start by turning away from my email and social media until I’ve written my daily words. Then I practice saying no to an after-work gathering, a brunch on Sunday, an invitation to watch a basketball game. I don’t want to make life a narrow affair where writing is more important than being with friends and family, but I need to make sure that my creative time isn’t crowded out—and to find the time to write a novel in a month, something has to give.

I still dream of a time when I’ll have vast swaths of space to write, but NaNoWriMo has helped me realize that limitations aren’t all bad. One’s imagination doesn’t necessarily flourish in the luxury of total freedom. One of the many paradoxes of creativity is that it seems to benefit from the pressures and boundaries of our daily lives. A time restriction of writing a novel in 30 days takes away choices that can cause one to dally and maybe not start at all. Constraints also keep perfectionist
notions from eating away at you: You dive in and just start writing because you have to.

“The ticking clock is our friend if it gets us moving with urgency and passion,” Twyla Tharp says.

If you have the opportunity to see Grant speak at a conference, I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend picking up a copy of this issue of Writer's Digest to get the full scoop from Grant on How NaNoWriMo Can Lead To a Lifetime of Better Writing (plus, you'll get to read our great interview with bestselling crime fiction author Robert Crais, who bragged about being on our cover here).

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Thanks for visiting The Writer's Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013

Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian's free Writer's Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter
Listen to Brian on: The Writer's Market Podcast

20_most_popular_writing_posts_of_2020_robert_lee_brewer

20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.

Malden_1:16

Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.

writing_mistakes_writers_make_talking_about_the_work_in_progress_robert_lee_brewer

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.

Kelly_1:15

Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.

capital_vs_capitol_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Dulan_1:14

On Writing to Give Grief Meaning and Write Out of Challenging Situations

Author Lily Dulan explains why writers have to be willing to go to difficult places inside themselves for their writing to make a positive impact on ourselves, others, and the world.

Brandt_1:14

Gerald Brandt: Toeing the Line Between Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Science fiction author Gerald Brandt explains how this new series explores the genre boundary and how he came to find his newest book's focus.

plot_twist_story_prompts_moment_of_doubt_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Moment of Doubt

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character experience a moment of doubt.