Thoughts On NaNoWriMo

So, 321,227 writers participated in NaNoWriMo this past November.


Can’t see the forest for the writers!

I was one of them.

No sooner did the month end than a note from NaNoWriMo showed up in my Inbox, asking for my feedback. I’m not sure that they want to hear from the likes of me. Everybody loves a winner, right? Plug in your 50,000+ words and claim your winner’s badge!

Well, there are plenty more than 50,000 words in my Scrivener file, but I’m not claiming any prize. You see, if I can’t feel like I can call it a novel, it’s not a novel. What I have is a hodgepodge of words that is neither cogent nor coherent.


Putting it together…

There is no beginning, middle, and end. Not all of the characters scheduled to appear are even on the page yet.

What did I learn about novel writing this past month? What new self-understanding will I take with me to my grave? Will I ever participate in NaNoWriMo again? These are the questions I’ve been pondering since December 1.

I’ve found that I am intrinsically motivated. No amount of external “feel good” motivation will work if it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. External deadlines and financial motivation work only for my nonfiction contract projects. In other words, if I’m not being paid and under the gun, other things in my life take precedence—no matter the guilt felt about not being up to the daily NaNo word count. No matter the deadline without teeth.


Didn’t work for me!

And I’m now thinking that’s the way it should be. Here was my November:

  • During the first two weeks, my husband was out of town, leaving me a single parent. So our son’s martial arts, swimming, tennis, soccer, archery classes, and the season ending soccer party were all my responsibility.
  • I taught my usual library classes at my son’s school and volunteered to give school tours to prospective parents.
  • I volunteered for ScholarMatch, an organization founded by Dave Eggers to help disadvantaged high school students attend college. The college application deadline for California state schools was November 30.
  • At the beginning of November, our school’s learning specialist suggested that our son was having Executive Function challenges, perhaps coupled with ADD, so I had to find, interview, and schedule specialists to deal with the issue.
  • I watched the first part of Batman: The Dark Knight during a root canal. I cannot recall anything that was said except for the Joker’s description of how his father carved up his face. Finally “get” what that Heath Ledger guy was all about. I don’t recommend watching this movie during dental work due to added nightmare potential.
  • We gave our son a birthday party that included building robots, launching water balloons over buildings, and eating a killer chocolate cake made from scratch—along with double chocolate chip cookies baked for the school party.
  • Two different relatives visited for several days each during the first two weeks of November. Loved seeing them!
  • We hosted my husband’s company’s off-site “get together” before the DreamForce conference.
  • I was a single parent (again) during the weeklong DreamForce conference.
  • We hosted Thanksgiving and then went out of town for the remainder of November.
  • Oh, and I had my regular work to do.

Hmmmm, what’s wrong with this picture. I need at least 7 hours of sleep to function, 8 hours to function well. Something had to give, and it was NaNoWriMo. Sure, I’ve got words. But I want to feel good about them.

No amount of breezy encouragement, inspirational emails or pep talks


You Can Do It!!!

can get me to do what I’m not intrinsically motivated to do. No amount of camaraderie, “we’re all in this together” approach will ever push me forward.


On the Myers-Briggs test, I am a strong “INFP.” So that means:


I am a lone wolf.

It also means I deleted every NaNoWriMo email I received after reading the first few. Mass encouragement is not for me. Give me my writers group and my office without windows. Close the door, turn off the distractions.

And I will write and rewrite until I can call this scrambled puzzle a novel, but it won’t be on anyone else’s schedule. It will be on my own.

22 thoughts on “Thoughts On NaNoWriMo

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    That’s one of the reasons I’ve never done NaNo. I need to work on my own timeline. Some days I can hit it hard; others I have more pressing things to do. I’m very driven, so I don’t worry about not getting it done.

    Sounds like your month was exhausting. Kudos for surviving it! Acting as a single parent is draining, and I well understand the challenges of being the chauffeur!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thanks, Carrie! I cannot figure out how single parents ever get anything done outside of school time, especially those with no support structure.

      I do have a wifi card, so I can usually sit in the car and work while my son is doing his thing. But sometimes the quality of the writing suffers from various distractions. I’m definitely one of those people who work better inside a box.

  2. Claire Duffy says:

    This is pretty much why I’ve never done it either: I find that creative work can be forced when absolutely necessary for deadline/financial reasons, but it’s never as good as when it is able to come naturally, and I can’t see the point of forcing it just to write alongside gazillions of others also forcing it! I do like the idea of setting aside a month for a writing sprint, but would prefer to consider the month following the day that I start writing it anyway πŸ˜‰

      • Claire Duffy says:

        Exactly – which defeats the point really! I know that we’ll always want to (and probably should!) start over from a first draft in any circumstances, but I find that if it was forced it really is just a waste of finger energy to do all that typing!

  3. heylookawriterfellow says:

    I agree with you on everything (except The Dark Knight; I would argue that Marathon Man would be a far worse viewing option during a root canal.).

    I did not take part in NaNo. I was a PiBoIdMo fellow and I found it exhausting. While many people, I think, just came up with a character or a basic setup as their “idea,” I was determined to come up with 30 complete picture book outlines — a beginning, middle and end.

    It was an interesting experiment, and being forced to ideate did make me come up with ideas I never would’ve thought of otherwise, but next year I think I’ll do something like a Half PiBo: one day for the idea and the next day to develop that idea into something more meaningful.

  4. FictionFan says:

    I must admit I can’t imagine being creative to a schedule…but then I can’t imagine being creative at all! And certainly my great hero Dickens always wrote to schedules. I wonder how many books will actually come to fruition out of NaNoWriMo, and how many of those will be successful.

    Hmm…I was intrigued enough to Google that and apparently since 2006, 100 or so novels have made it to publication through traditional publishers, with loads more through independent/self publishing. Apparently both The Night Circus and Wool were NaNoWriMo books and they’ve both been hugely successful…

        • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

          You know my undergrad is in engineering, and we live in the heart of the “Makers” for Maker Faire. So we build a lot of contraptions, including robots, water balloon catapults that will shoot the length of a football field, and compressed air rocket launchers. You’re always welcome to come down to play! πŸ˜€

  5. 4amWriter says:

    Yikes, what a month you had! I have done NaNo, and this year I decided I wouldn’t because I felt like I could use my time more wisely working on the third draft to my novel.

    While I do rally with a lot of external motivation and encouragement, if I don’t see meaningful results then I stop progressing. I think that’s what happened and why I didn’t think NaNo was going to help me improve on the writing front this year. Sure, I’d get 50,000 words, but 50,000 words of what?

    Hopefully your December was a little less crazed! πŸ™‚

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Um, I spent yesterday in my jammies after a crazed first three weeks of December. Prep for three holiday parties spanning December 21,21, and 24, left me with more leftovers than a family of three can eat over the next week. But I am now sitting beside a pile of new books and drinking tea. Getting ambitious now, and will be taking a walk along the waterfront. Happy New Year! Cheers to creating 50,000 thoughtful words this coming spring!

Please feed the chickens...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.