Something to Remember as NaNoWriMo Begins

I have a love/hate relationship with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is a strange relationship to have when I’ve never attempted to participate. Partly that’s because I don’t write fiction, but even if I did, I chafe against many community initiatives—I’m just not a joiner.

NaNoWriMo is about more than that, of course, and I’ve long seen the good it can do. It leads to a couple vital things for the writing life: commitment and practice. I’ve always remembered this quote from Anne Morriss about commitment: “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” That, I think, is the value of NaNoWriMo.

Still, I see more evidence these days that writers feel pressured to produce—produce more in shorter amounts of time, especially in the indie author community. When I ran a guest post about how long it takes to write a book, it received more visits and discussion than any post that month. People are judging themselves harshly, and the resulting anxiety only makes matters worse.

In this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin, Rachel Heng enters the discussion with her essay, How I Wrote My Novel in Two Years and Other Accounting Tricks. She writes:

Many of my creative breakthroughs happened on my evening commute home or while sitting in a meeting room or walking through the fifteenth overpriced wedding venue that week. All those other commitments took time away from the actual writing, but what I’m realising now is they also gave my subconscious the room to figure out characters and worlds and plot problems. All the time I thought of as “wasted” had never been wasted after all. Everything goes into writing, everything is writing.

These days, I try not to force myself to sit at my desk for five or six hours straight just because I feel like I need to be Writing.

Read the full essay.

Also this month at Glimmer Train:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Maureen Ahearn

I’m not doing NaNo (I have a few times, “won” it 2x) and likely never will again. I’m very over the idea that indie writers need to be constantly producing, to the tune of 3 books a month. I wish I had that kind of time.


After flirting with writing a few times, NaNo gave me the excuse to go all in. The first NaNo I produced was pure trash, in large part because I thought I had to write a complete novel–and I am definitely not someone who can tell a story in 50,000 words! But participating really primed the pump, so to speak, and within two weeks of wrapping up my NaNo, I was into my first really, really serious project. My writing schedule rarely seems to coincide these days with NaNo. Being older and wiser, I would approach it a little differently than… Read more »


I’ve never used NaNoWriMo to actually write novels, but as a kick in the pants for long projects that need finishing– like typing up a backlog of journals or edit thorough another novel draft– in the company of people who are also tackling ambitious projects. The crowd’s momentum helps carry me through without stopping.

Grant Faulkner

Thanks so much for writing and posting this, Jane. I love the idea that commitment = liberation. I’ve never thought about it in exactly those terms, but that really resonates. I often describe NaNoWriMo as “one part boot camp, one part rollicking party.” The boot camp part–developing the discipline to show up and write every day–can help people embark on what I hope is a life-long practice to put in the “10,000 hours to reach mastery,” per the Malcolm Gladwell concept. Some people need the party part as well, though–meaning the community–because it can be a galvanizing force of motivation,… Read more »