Adapt Your Writing: How NaNoWriMo Changes Your Daily Writing Routine

Publish date:

National Novel Writing Month isn't just a test of your writing prowess. In many ways, it's more of a test of your determination, will power, and ability to hold yourself accountable. Are you going to stick to your 50,000 word goal? What are your daily goals? How do you handle potentially falling behind?

Most importantly, NaNoWriMo will teach you how to adapt as a writer. For the most part, your daily (weekly?) routines of writing will get thrown out the window during this month. You'll have to learn how to accept bad writing and edit later. For some (myself included), that's tough to do. The thought that there could potentially be bad writing in what I'm working on is cringe-worthy.

Learn to accept it. Write through the bad parts until you get to the good stuff. You can worry about the edits on December 1. Put the critic away until then. If need be, when it's all done, check out Writer's Digest's Critique Services. But, for now, it's only about the writing.

How have you modified your writing habits to make it through NaNoWriMo? Are you finding that it works for you? Please share in the comments, because you never know if your methods can help out another struggling writer!

Have you missed any of the other posts in our NaNoWriMo blogging series? Be sure to check the others out:

Question: How does NaNoWriMo affect your writing, versus your normal writing pattern? (Besides the obvious word count in a day... For example: Do you find yourself editing less as you write? Are you skimping out on detail and just writing the bare bones?) Do you think this process works for you? 

Natania Barron: I've always written at something of a fever pace. When an idea for a novel really crystallizes in my head, it takes over a huge part of my brain power. What's been hard over the last few years with kids and a full time job is that I just don't have the brain space I used to. NaNoWriMo makes me schedule the time in. It's a lot less just waiting for the Muse (Muses are crap anyway) and a lot more just making it happen.

Having Jonathan be part of this whole process helps light a fire under me more than ever before. That sense of accountability. Much of the spine of this novel is Jonathan's idea, but I like to think that the flourishes are mine. The whole beast of the matter is very much a collaboration, and I've got to hold my part of the bargain up. Life is insanely chaotic at the moment, but there's something rather precious in behind beholden (in a good way) to a friend and collaborator. I'm finding I'm really looking forward to my NaNo time.

Getting in the writing habit is hard. And NaNoWriMo is really hard, whether you're a novice or an expert. I hate NaNo naysayers who criticize people for doing it, and just making a "part of a novel" instead of a whole novel. That's certainly not the point of NaNo. Writing is the hardest part. Getting it done. Even if no one ever sees the story, it's still the hardest part. And it helps develop those habitual practices, even when you've done it before. Because it's easy to lose it. And more than anything I'm appreciating being wrapped up in the process and learning ways to more easily integrate it into my very busy life.

Rachael Herron:NaNoWriModoesaffect my day-to-day writing in that I let it get really rough in November, and it ain't pretty. In my normal writing, I try to be somewhat conscious of the fact that someday people will read my sentences. I owe a book to my editor—I probably shouldn't just flat-out make up words like scirvel and whishumptic. During NaNo, I allow myself to forget that. I'm back to just writing as fast and as badly as I possibly can, and it's SO liberating. When I write fast, I do throw out a lot later. That said, I manage to save a lot more than I ever think I will. 

Nikki Hyson:I can't honestly say my writing pattern is any different in "NaNo mode" or out of it. I've always had the notion, in the back of my mind, that no one was ever going to read my first draft anyway. So, if I wanted to skip a difficult part, or hash out some detail later, it didn't matter. NaNoWriMo has, however, affected my writing in one very profound way. If I start it in November, I finish it. I have a knee-high pile of notebooks under my desk—all projects that were gasp worthy and I couldn't wait to start. None of them finished. That isn't to say that I never finished a novel before NaNoWriMo, but my batting average has improved since November of '10. I've also created more novels from NaNoWriMo that I wanted to take "to the next level." Before NaNo, the novels I finished went into a box, never to be heard from again. My first NaNo novel I spent a year reworking, editing, and polishing before I put it in the box. My second NaNo Novel went into the box on December 1st, only to be remembered as a win. My third NaNo novel I just finished up the editing, revision, polishing, and final line edit. That was 2 years in the making, and I'm now querying agents. So how has NaNo changed me? I know I can do what I set in my heart to do. 

Regina Kammer: While I’m doing NaNoWriMo 2014, I’m also under deadline for a short story so I’m feeling the effects of NaNoWriMo instantaneously. I have no word count goal for the short, just the goal of producing a good story. It’s freeing just writing what pops in my head without a whole lot of planning, which is the effect of NaNoWriMo’s pantser philosophy. At the same time it’s freeing just writing and not concerning myself with how many words I need to pump out that day. So I get the best of both worlds: squelching the inner-editor while writing as much as I need.

On the other side of this, my usual writing strategy is to be a bit of a plotter and think in terms of scenes (or actions if a short story is one big scene). So during NaNoWriMo, I find it helpful to think in terms of scenes instead of words. Focusing on getting the plot or characters from point A to point B rather than dwelling on the daily word count, is very motivating and actually produces all the words I need—and then some—each day!

November/December 2014 Writer's Digest

 The November/December 2014 issue of Writer's Digest
is the go-to resource to help you reach your goal of
50,000 words during the month of November.

Kathy Kitts: I can write a novel in 30-days or one short story in six weeks. Why? Inner critic. NaNoWriMo helps me to banish him.

Without the critic, I write more freely and with less censorship. This allows me to describe things more fully and not worry whether a particular detail is necessary. I don’t know whether having the MC wear a blue sweater is important until later. If the sweater is unimportant, then I cut it during revision. But if the murderer was seen in a blue sweater, then maybe not!

In contrast, when I write a short piece, I have the entire arc plotted out. I start crafting immediately because I know where the story’s going. However, in a novel, characters quite often take on lives of their own and to fight that is counterproductive. I am forced to be looser and am less likely to worry about crafting the perfect sentence. After all, why perfect something only to delete it later?

Kristen Rudd: This is totally embarrassing, but I haven’t been a consistent writer year-round. Especially the past year or so. As my kids have gotten older, their extracurricular activity level has ramped up. I had to drop out of my writing group, and then I had to drop out of my critique group. Without those sources of positive peer pressure, my writing tapered off to nothing. I haven’t even been reading as much, and I’m a pretty avid reader.

I’ve been away from stories and telling stories, and boy, is it showing in my output. I’ve never been so thankful for sucking, because NaNo’s getting me to do it again. Writing, I mean. Not sucking. (Well, maybe sucking. I guess that’s for others to decide.)

I think of NaNoWriMo like a great reset for people like me—people who aren’t published, people for whom it may be a little while before they’re ready to be published, or people who may not ever publish. If you’re not consistent, NaNo is a good way to get consistent. Don’t have a normal writing pattern? NaNo will give you one.

Since this story in particular is one I’ve been working on, off and on, for a few years, I have found that I’m approaching it very differently than normal. I will usually go back over a passage the next day and add detail that’s missing or flesh it out more, which is also great for word count, and I’m not doing that this year. I’m just moving on, trying to get to as many scenes as possible in order to finish the draft and tell the whole story. It’s a little uncomfortable, but clearly, I need to be kicked out of my comfort zone a little. It’s also making my inner outliner ridiculously cranky.

Is it working? I don’t know yet. I hope so.

EJ Runyon: Because I’ve done this since 2001, I’ve kind of brought my normal writing patterns into my NaNo stuff. When I write, in or out of my NaNo months, I always write out a first draft without a lot of editing. I always bring things to the page "in scene," my pattern is to not plot so much that I’m in a straightjacket, but instead I pants more, and that lets me follow my characters so their choices are what’s creating those plot points. And that frees me a bit.

I really think writing ‘in scene’ (Scrivener helps tons in this) allows me to write even more than you’d expect. Each scene comes from answering a “What if…?” question. Not editing during a first draft isn’t about needed to edit. It might be possible you overwrite—which is so the opposite of skimping or bare bones.

[This process has] worked really well for me. I’ve written a creative writing website, and an entire writing guide on the ways I write. And I teach from that book too. As a process, it’s let me write a novel each November, and start one or two during camp months. This year it’s another writer’s guide. It all comes down to riding the revved up speed when you have it, forgiving yourself when things slow down, and revving back up instead of giving up when you think it’s over. It’s never over.

Jessica Schley: I definitely edit less, but I've learned over the years that I can't utterly not edit. If I feel a sentence is cruddy, I will get blocked on the next section. One thing I do is that I don't delete (obviously!). If I feel I need to rewrite a scene, I rewrite it—and both go toward my word count. One trap I fall into in NaNo is writing exposition instead of really writing the scene—the latter produces words faster than really getting in-scene with your character. I've learned, though, that when I feel myself doing that, it's time to look for the five senses—what's my character feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling? That gets me right back on the mat with them. I try to produce something that's not too too different than what I'd produce if I weren't doing NaNo—if my NaNo novel is too big of a mess, I won't want to revise it! So it's got to be reasonably close to what I'd otherwise come up with. 

Brian Schwarz:My writing pattern is totally different during Nano than any other time. Normally I like to write a page or two a day and go back to review it, change it, polish it, and then move forward. During NaNo, none of that is possible. I spend most of my days spilling my depleted plot line onto the page, writing every scene I can conjure and then what connects them, while I stare at an ocean of self-loathing and terrible writing mixed in with a few gems. I tend to go through heavy rhythms of describing scenery, internal monologue, shallow and deep dialogue, and mostly just a skeleton of what is supposed to happen eventually. Honestly Nano for me is less about writing a finished novel and more about writing enough words that I can revise and fix and figure out later. That's my method.

* * * * *

Find the focus, energy, and drive you need to start—and finish—your book in a month. Write-A-Thon gives you the tools, advice, and inspiration you need to succeed before, during, and after your writing race. With solid instruction, positive psychology, and inspiration from marathon runners, you'll get the momentum to take each step from here to the finish line. You'll learn how to: train your attitude, writing, and life—and plan your novel or nonfiction book; maintain your pace; and find the best ways to recover and move forward once the writing marathon is finished and you have a completed manuscript in hand!


Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer's Digest Books.

From Our Readers

Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers ask: Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World. Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

Your story belongs to you but will involve other people. Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Editor-in-chief Amy Jones navigates how to know your target audience, and how knowing will make your writing stronger.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 575

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a safe poem.


I Spy

Every writer needs a little inspiration once and a while. For today's prompt, someone is watching your narrator ... but there's a twist.

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

In this article, Brian Freeman, author of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, discusses how he took up the mantle of a great series and made it his own.

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Writing Workshop or Conference

In this brave new world of virtual learning and social distance, Kristy Stevenson helps us make the most of the virtual conference.

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

When Is Historical Accuracy Inaccurate?

Writers of historical fiction must always ride the line between factual and fictitious. Here, author Terry Roberts discusses how to navigate that line.