Writing on the Ether: The Haunting of NaNoWriMo

31 October 2013 iStock_000000130628XSmall photog Jamx texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. NoDon’tWriNoMo
  2. What Makes NaNoWriMoNoGo for Me?
  3. Where’s the Fire?


Being only 28 years old (prematurely aged by overindulgence on the Ether, you know), it’s a long time before I’ll be swiping Kindle pages of the eBook of Life toward that Heavenly Afterword.

NaNoWriMoBut if I were to guess some things that I might want to come back and haunt in the industry! the industry! one of them high on my list would be NaNoWriMo.

You see—prepare for a gasp—I just don’t like NaNoWriMo.

Put that copy of Eleanor Catton back down. True, I’d be honored to be crushed by a Man Booker Prize-winner. But heaving The Luminaries at me is unfair. It’s an 848-page New Zealand boulder. I deserve a fighting chance.  Pelt me with Kindle Singles instead.

The Luminaries by @EleanorCattonAnd before you throw this column across the room, as well,  and hurt your mobile device, do note that I’ve linked up NaNoWriMo to its site so you can find it. In fact, here you go: this is the sign-up page. Go sign up if you’d like. No kidding, you go. Tell them I sent you.

Even better: May I offer you this totally cool NaNoWriMo Word Meter? You update this baby with your word count, and then copy the code so you can drop it somewhere and display, display, display your progress with my blessing. (My thanks to the Euro-touring Hugh Howey, from whom I learned about this nifty gizmo. I’m expecting him to start one with his SkyMiles count soon as he becomes a Million Miler, never mind the Kindle Million Club.)

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Roz Morris

And hey, are you worried about starting NaNoTomorro and getting your 50,000 words done without losing your marriage and your mind? Then I’ve got another resource for you: author and coach Roz Morris is one of the best writers on getting your NaN-sense going. She recommends that you prepare for it, particularly in terms of characters. Know who you want to write, lots of details and parameters, etc., rather than taking the NumbNoWriMo not-a-thought-in-one’s-head approach that some folks try.

In Generate Your NaNoWriMo Novel by Developing Its Characters, Morris writes:

If I had to choose whether to outline plot or characters in detail, I’d spend the time on creating the characters. Why? Once I know who my fictional people are, they start acting, talking and steering the show – merely by being themselves. This smooths the writing process enormously, helps you write in a natural flow. It’s especially useful for a project like NaNoWriMo, where you want to get your word count done – but still have fun.

I’d even add that if you haven’t had that chance to prep, then make your first day of NaNoWriMo just that. Write out your plan as the first installment of your word count, tell them I said it was fine. I’d really rather see you do some thinking, as Morris suggests, than feel you just have to dive in with that dark and stormy night stuff at the beginning.

And that’s not all.

RescueTimeLet me offer you, again this year, the opportunity to use one of my favorite sanity savers, RescueTime and its cloak of Internet invisibility, FocusTime, free for the big month. Joe Hruska and Robby MacDonald at RescueTime are again going to have a look at what can be learned about NaNoWriMo participants’ behavior patterns from the scans that RescueTime makes and they’re hoping you’ll give this excellent software a try free of charge.

By way of disclosure: I’m an affiliate with RescueTime, having used and loved it for years. If you use my link, you can get a free trial anytime, not just during November. Or, jump in and sign up on the NaNoWriMo project during November. You don’t even have to do NaNo to try it.

Rachelle Gardner

Rachelle Gardner

Our good colleague and literary agent Rachelle Gardner, in fact, has written about it here, in Five Habits of Motivated Novelists, in case you’d like to know more.

Gardner will be on the panel I’m moderating on November 13 at 10 a.m. ET / 7 a.m. PT / 1500 GMT in the Get Read (#GetRead) online conference, along with Eve Bridburg of Grub Street and Kristen McLean of Bookigee’s WriterCube.

See? You get it all! as they say on the infomercials. And I’ll even go so far as to tip my hat to the many sponsors of this year’s NaNoWriMo — they’re here on this page. Take a moment to recognize all these companies and personal donors who have contributed to the effort.

Big kicker on this section? I have donated, myself, to NaNoWriMo in the past.

And I’m telling you all this because I don’t want you to confuse my opinion of NaNoWriMo with a suggestion that you shouldn’t do it if you want to.

I want you to do what you’ve planned to do. I don’t need to win anything. This is not a competition. It helps me not one bit for you to decide not to do NaNoWriMo because of something I said. I’m here for a bit of discussion that I think this program throws into relief for us each November—more sharply each year—and perhaps you’ll join me in the Comments section with some thoughts of your own.

So go ahead and NaNoTate everything in sight.  If you love it, love it a lot. Like Lyle Lovett, remember, “I Love Everybody (Especially You” and that’s my message to you, NaNoCheeks.

Update: Special thanks to the folks at Beyond Paper Editing for the word that November 1 is not just NaNoWriMo kickoff day, it’s also Lyle Lovett’s birthday. Many happy returns, Mr. L.  – “especially you.”

See? Calm, even serene discourse. That’s all I’m after. Not a fight. Not a contest. Nobody “attacks” anybody or anything here.

You can almost smell a civilized debate approaching, can’t you?

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What Makes NaNoWriMoNoGo for Me?

I did NaNoWriMo five years ago. I did it seriously. Wore the turquoise horned helmet. I kept track of those word counts. Then? It caught up with me. I’m not the kind of writer who feels good littering life with disjointed, redundant, “dirty” copy to be sorted “at a later date.”

It occurred to me that I’d rather work on one page per day for 30 days and come up with 30 pages (7,500 words) of reasonably coherent material than with 50,000 words of madly “joyous” abandon. Slinging the verbiage right and left, for me, became a wasteful indulgence.

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Chuck Wendig

It’s interesting to read Chuck Wendig (another speaker at the Get Read conference) in The NaNoWriMo Dialogues: Day Zero talking about his own experience:

I tried it and it really didn’t work for me — in fact, it had negative consequences. It made me feel like shit for a little while about the whole writing thing. And back then I was naive enough to assume that when something does or does not work for me it obviously has to be that way for anybody else because we’re all the same precious snowflake, AND I AM MOST PRECIOUS OF THEM ALL. Which is not true, and of course everyone has a process as unique to them as a strand of DNA. What works, works, and NaNoWriMo works for some people very well.

Some of my own experience is there in what Wendig is saying. Not the precious snowflake stuff, of course, because Chuckie is the most precious among us, everybody knows that.

But the experience of “feeling like shit for a little while about the whole writing thing” sounds right. This is how I felt, in his ever-colorful vernacular. More Wendig I dig:

30 days is a pretty short haul for writing a novel. And 50k is technically novel-length, but publishers are likely going to be reticent about a novel of that length unless it’s young adult, but whatever. And what you finish may not look like much of a book yet.

What he’s describing, to me, adds up to artificiality. For me only, remember. For me only, NaNoWriMo luge-writing felt as natural as lying on my back on a small sled and flying down an icy track feet-first at ridiculous speeds.

Wendig does the right thing, as I’m trying to do, and also points out some good elements of the NaNoWriMo chute:

It gets you used to being on deadline. It forces you to write every day to meet that deadline. It teaches you that if you want to Do This Thing called “writing” then the only way out is through. Really, it teaches you to finish your shit, which is a core tenet of being a writer. And one so few writers manage.

I’m down with those points. The discipline counts. If anything, that’s probably the theoretical part of NaNoWriMo I like the best.

Keep an eye on Wendig’s blog. He’s going to be coming back with more of these “Dialogues,” he says, and I’m glad he’s doing it, not least because he’s talking “National Write Every Month.” And that’s an element of the thing that bugs me.

This kamikaze autumn thing with all community flags flying, and those inspi-vational email pep talks (this year contributors are to include author Bella Andre, Jeff VanderMeer and James Patterson), and the non-profit donation messages (it’s also a pledge drive, Gladys)…does this feel authentic? Not to me. Just me. Just speaking for myself. This feels like something on a shipboard activity director’s clipboard.

And there’s a more serious issue, in my opinion: Speed kills good work.

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Where’s the Fire?

Nathan Bransford

Nathan Bransford

Are you an outliner? Are you a seat-of-the-pantser? Do you need peace and quiet? Noise? Do you need to write in a cafe? Would you rather work in a closet? Do you want to write on a computer? A typewriter? Pen and ink? Do you want to write quickly and revise a thousand times? Write a near-perfect first draft slowly? Do you want to write every day? Only on weekends? Do you want to stay up late and burn through fifty pages? Do you want to write during the daylight hours and agonize over five words at a time?

How To Write a Novel by Nathan BransfordThat’s from Nathan Bransford’s new and awfully-orange book, How To Write a Novel, excerpted at his even more orange blog in How to find a writing style that works for you.

Bransford may need a color-scheme intervention soon, but I like how he talks of developing a “writing rhythm.”

His main point is about the spectrum between the pantsers and the outliners. It gets us closer to what I think is the real problem of NaNoWriMo. Its artificiality imposes something that may have nothing to do with your or my “writing rhythm.”

Maybe that’s fine with you, and if so, great. It’s not fine with me.

The digital dynamic, which makes it possible for people to publish books with or without traditional publishing support, also seems to be revving many folks into a shared assumption that faster is better.

13-June-2013-iStock_000003331164XSmall-photog-GrafficX-TEXTED-STORY-IMAGEI was on about this problem back in June, in Writing on the Ether: Faster, Authors, Faster! And here I am about it again because NaNoWriMo amplifies this bid for publishing speed, of course.

I’m the first to say that standard traditional publishing timeframes are insanely slow. I’m not talking about those 18-month ordeals. I’m talking about the writing pace, itself.

So many voices are chanting that having “many books” on the market is your only leverage and that you must get your “many books” out there as fast as possible, that I’m reading material these days by some very good writers that simply wasn’t ready. In 15 years, how will they feel about the books they produced during the digital dash?

Gardner has posted a column this week in which I like her fourth key point. The piece is called Writing a First Draft, emphasis hers:

Remember this is a first draft. Lately I’ve seen a lot of ranting online from agents reminding writers: Do not submit in December whatever you wrote in November. Anyone who writes a first draft in a month is going to need several months to revise and polish. Revisions are when the real crafting happens. So don’t proudly start querying on December 1st with your NaNoWriMo project. (Unless it was last’s year’s NaNoWriMo project.)

While we want to assume that most NaNoWriMo participants know their output from November isn’t ready for the world, agents are seeing indications to the contrary. I’m not sure we’re doing enough to  help writers either learn or remember that the creation of valuable literature of any genre or form takes time.

Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott

I’m reading Anna Elliott at Writer Unboxed in Where Do You Go From Here? writing about the rejection of manuscripts by agents:

Just from my own experience…what it REALLY meant was that my book, while on the right track, just wasn’t yet quite ‘there’. If I really, really stepped back and looked at the work with a detached eye, I could see the weak points, the flaws, the places where the emotional beats of the story came in the wrong order for maximum effect…99% of the time, I discover that despite truly thinking that the work was ‘done’ when I decided it was ready for submission, there are still ways to make it stronger still.

Elizabeth S. Craig

Elizabeth S. Craig

And I’m reading Elizabeth S. Craig (yet another speaker in the Get Read conference) writing about The Slow Release—Not the End of the World:

With digital sales, we’re in it for the long haul.  Amazon will keep those books for sale—there are no returns. Having a strong start is nice…but not vital.  It’s more important that we realize we’ve got a long time to keep ourselves and our books visible—that the online relationships and networking that we’re doing is going to continue for a very long time.

Craig mentions similar comments from Howey, Joanna Penn and other authors, in an effort to help colleagues understand that the “big launch” is superfluous in an era of long-tail digitally distributed work. I’m not sure that the idea of writing fast doesn’t translate to mistaken concepts of launching fast, too.

Water for Elephants by Sara GruenThere are stories of truly honorable efforts that started in the NaNoWriMo scramble, notably Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. No one in his right mind will gainsay such an achievement. But how frequently does such a happy outcome arrive? And in the meantime, how many potentially important efforts end up rushed, pushed, shoved out the door because they started in the word-count confetti of overheated camaraderie?

NaNoWriMo’s “Office of Letters and Light” (I do like that one) counted 341,375 participants at the top of the 2012 luge run. The company material says they “walked away novelists.” I don’t believe there’s any intention there of trivializing the work of true novelists, but I fear that such promotional hyperbole does have that unfortunate effect. Can we really say that the 341,375 who signed up last year—some of whom will have cowered and fled even before the start—”walked away novelists?” Is that kind of overstatement necessary or helpful?

#Cmonson, I hear our friend and Ether sponsor Guy Gonzalez saying.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013The administration claims that Gruen’s’ book is one of more than 250 “NaNoWriMo novels” that have been traditionally published. They include Howey’s excellent Wool in that count and Erin Morgenstern’s much-praised The Night Circus.

Remember, close to 350,000 efforts were made last year alone. Letters and Light anticipate some 500,000 riding the sleds this year. By my count, they’ve been at it 14 years. Even if the administration is right about 250 books going on to publication contracts, those odds are, as we like to say these days, challenging.

Yet one more time: please engage in NaNoWriMo and enjoy it if that’s your inclination.

All I’m saying is that speed can kill what might have been genuinely textured, fully rendered, contoured, and realized work. So far out on my limb here that I’m grasping at pine straw, I might even hazard a proposal that more than 250 of those projects may have gone further if they weren’t born as speed-above-all slips down the slope.

I’m not at all sure that the NaNoWriMo “OMG I’M SO EXCITED” frisson you see here in some of these tweets doesn’t exacerbate the sensation that we’re all in a race—with each other, with the market, with the readers, with the industry, with ourselves.

Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey

If you’re feeling competitive, see Howey this week in How To Save Books:

Authors are not in competition with one another. We are in this together, and we are in it with readers and everyone who loves a good tale, however they love it told…What I see around me is a ship taking on water, and the reaction is to eye everyone else to see who is going to eat whom first. The threat is coming from without, not within. We are in this together. My hope is that a ton of readers pick up a great book today, one that I didn’t write, and it makes them want to pick up another.

One of the NaNoWriMo slogans is “The world needs your novel.”

I’m pretty sure the world doesn’t need your novel right this minute. Or even right this month. As Howey says, we want them to pick up another book after yours. That may not happen if you’ve slammed yours together so fast that it’s not as good as it should have been.

NaNoWriMo has never claimed to be an exercise in quality. Would that it were.

Quantity, we’ve got.

I wish you a November focused on quality.

Or would you like to tell me that my vote for going slowly is just the retrograde grits-eating silliness you expect from a Charleston boy? I seriously do not have a problem with you disagreeing, because my own pace passeth all understanding, anyway, and won’t be threatened by contrary views. Let me know what you think of NaNoWriMo and, more importantly, this luge-like drive to produce new work so quickly. 

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Main image:  iStockphoto – Jamx, a photo of the ruins of Whitby Abbey, which figured in Bram Stoker’s writing of “Dracula”

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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55 Comments on "Writing on the Ether: The Haunting of NaNoWriMo"

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I think it’s key to stay true to your writing rhythm. I am doing a NaNo of sorts, but it doesn’t look much different from me on a good day with great focus. I will be up at 6am and at my keyboard around 8am, That Husband o’ Mine will get breakfast and a kiss. I will be writing until 2pm as usual, with breaks for laundry and reading. My family will have a homecooked meal for supper and laundry will get done–mostly 😉 All of that to say, great points all the way around-thanks!

Porter Anderson


Boy, Dana, sounds as if you really know how to do this! What a great schedule and sane NaNo plan, more power to you. Maybe I’ll move in with you guys, lol. Seriously, great to see such a well-organized and humane plan in place, all the best with it and with your work!

On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Could not agree more, Porter. Actually wrote about it last week. . . http://www.andilit.com/2013/10/31/when-only-words-will-do/ Also, couldn’t agree that I don’t want to fight about this. Just know this isn’t for me.

Porter Anderson
@andreacumbo:disqus Hey, Andi, This piece of yours is really well done, so glad you showed it to me here. I really like your opener: I love the idea of NaNoWriMo, the image of thousands, hundreds of thousands of writers tucked in over words, pounding out word counts each day. I love the number of books that come out of this time, the number of people who find their footing in the pages of what they can honestly call “a full draft.” I think it’s a stellar idea. But not for me. That’s really well-said. I mean, who doesn’t love the… Read more »
Ashley Brooks
This is exactly why I’m writing a blog series for NaNo participants who seriously want to be published. And it’s why one of my tips the first week is to throw the 50k goal out the window if it’s not a realistic pace for you. I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo 5 times, fully intending to meet my word count and produce high-quality writing. But it just didn’t happen, which stressed me out, made me feel like crap, and led me to give up halfway through. And I know there are a lot of writers out there who honestly don’t realize that… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@BrooksEditorial:disqus Hi, Ashley, Sounds like a really useful blog series you’re doing, I’m sure many NaNoWriMo folks will get a lot from your five-year experience (that may be a record of a kind, in itself, lol). It’s great for the many (who don’t finish, of course) to know that this happens to lots of folks. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re the one who didn’t make it to the goal or didn’t get past Week One. Drop me a link to your column if you want, I’ll look in at times to see how it’s going. Thanks for reading and… Read more »
Ashley Brooks

Thanks for the interest, Porter. I’ll be linking to each post here: http://www.brookseditorial.com/how-to-win-nanowrimo/

Porter Anderson

Super, thanks Ashley!

James Scott Bell

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days. Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks. Hacks!

NaNoNaySayers seem to me to have too much time on their hands (why aren’t they writing that fiction they say they care so much about instead of tweeting or blogging rain on fiction writers pumped about actually writing intensely for a month?)

Colby R Rice

I totally co-sign. I’m generally a pretty disciplined writer, and yet I still see NaNoWriMo as an awesome challenge for getting other works of fiction out of my head. I’m even doing a NaNoScriMo (lol, National Nova Script Month, yup I made it up) to challenge myself further. And no one says that the novels we’re writing are going to be polished or perfect or publish-ready on November 30, come on. Everyone knows that writing is “re-writing”. NaNoWriMo is a great place to start, and why not? It’s going to be so much fun, as “vomit” writing should be! 🙂

Porter Anderson
@jamesscottbell:disqus Oh, good God, Jim, you’re not going to prop up Faulkner and Bradbury again, are you? Of course hacks! Especially Faulkner — that thing is all one sentence, the dude was going so fast he couldn’t find the period key. I like “NaNoNaySayer,” LOL, should have thought of that one, myself, and yes, you’re right, I’m just rolling in downtime here, killing it until my leisurely lunch hour. 🙂 But no rain here. The Tropic of Porter is always sunny, just honest. Where never is heard a sugar-coated word, and our skies are unclouded by hype and exaggeration all… Read more »
James Scott Bell

Gracious God, Yes: Faulkner and Bradbury, harrumphs to the contrary notwithstanding. Maybe I should have mentioned: John D. MacDonald, Harlan Ellison and William Saroyan, the Pulitzer Prize winning and Pulitzer Prize turn-downing playwright, short story master and novelist, who once said, “I usually write a play in six days. A novel takes a month.”

Porter Anderson
Again, sir, no need to defend or protest. I’m pulling for you and have nothing but admiration for the fast guys in the pantheon of our greatest literature. As I was just writing to Kellye Crocker below (who also has enjoyed what sounds like a great first day of NaNo, and I’m so glad), I actually wish there were a counterpart movement for the slow approach. NaNo does a lot to help the public see something about writing going on. Its message and picture of writing for the public is the race, the gun firing, the gates flying open, all… Read more »
Sandra Bell Kirchman
The thing is, Nano is not to finish a polished novel of 50K words in November. For me, it’s to blast through the blocks and doubts and untimely self-editing to produce a rough (very rough) draft of the beginning (50K words) of a novel. I’m pretty sure not many writers expect to produce the former in 30 days. I wrote a fantasy novel a few years back at my first Nano. It wasn’t half bad for a rough first draft. I then spent the next two years polishing, revising, finding a cover artist and self-publishing to modest acclaim.
Porter Anderson
@Sandra_K:disqus Sandra, I’d say you have a perfect understanding of how to use NaNo for your own needs, and more power to you. I love hearing that there were two more years of work going into your fantasy novel (not because I want to wish two years of work on you, lol, but because this means to me that you’re really working your material thoroughly and that you have an approach to quality that’s realistic and proven). Good for you. Your super-clear understanding of how to make NaNoWriMo work for you should mean you have a lot of success with… Read more »
Laure Reminick

I’m currently editing what I wrote in NaNo 2012 (52,097 words), after finishing and self-pubbing another novel in August. I decided to not join NaNo this year, because I realized the corners I wrote myself into and out of in the mindless dash to get words on screen then.

For the time being, I’m taking the time to be in this long-distance marathon.

Porter Anderson


Hey, Laure,

I think you bring up a very common (and tricky) problem of the fast-write process — you really do write yourself into some corners (or way off on tangents, in my case). It almost comes down to personal taste: Some people would rather get into those corners and tangents and then fix them later, while others would rather go more slowly and avoid them in the first place (that’s me). To each his or her own, really.

Good luck with the edits and thanks for reading and commenting!


On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson


Hey, you, “retrograde grits-eating silliness you expect from a Charleston boy,” add this Houston chica to your list, re NaNoWriMoNoMo — for all the reasons you cite and more: the whole concept creates imaginary delusions of authorial fame grandeur in newbies and the oldsters should know better. NaNoWriMo works for lubing the writerly habits of discipline-dedication-devotion-drive-determination (yes, I added the last 2 to your and Robin’s list). If you can sustain these five habits with daily scribing for 30 days, you’re on your way to the Real Author’s Life. .

Porter Anderson


Hey, Melanie,

Real good, I like the idea of NaNo as basically a test, to see how much of those five (good adds) principles a writer can sustain, as you say, for 30 days. And yes, delusions are always available, lol. Thanks for the input (and tweets), great to have you!


On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Esther Emery

Since time everlasting we have tried and tried to make this creativity thing easier. Goodness, it still is hard! I don’t begrudge the NaNo folks their joy — mostly — but I do appreciate the voice of reason now and then, even if it does make the drink a little less bubbly.

Porter Anderson
@EstherEmery:disqus Hey, Esther, Great of you to read and drop a note. I really like your point that you don’t begrudge the NaNoWriMo enthusiasts their pleasure in the exercise — you pretty much said that better than I did, lol. Exactly. I’m glad for them to enjoy it, and Lord knows I’d rather see good work come out of it than bad work! But like you, I’m so wary of these ways to make something easier, simpler, faster, more direct…after what feels like a couple of centuries of running into walls, I’ve just come to the conclusion that, as you’re… Read more »
Lexa Cain

Couldn’t agree more. Not my cup of frothy hysteria-tea, although I’m glad it makes some people feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. Thanks for the stats on the few NaNo projects that actually made it to a publishing house. That makes NaNo-refusenik me feel better. Now, back to work — slow, methodical, and time consuming work — on my writing projects. 🙂

Porter Anderson
Hey, Lexa, “Frothy hysteria-tea,” lol, a dangerously quotable phrase there. I have a bad feeling I could see it on a Starbucks menu board some day. 🙂 And yes, “slow, methodical, and time-consuming work.” Not nearly the flash and dash of the NaNo concept, but your readers may thank you for it in the end. As I look this morning, the number of signups for NaNo on their site (called “2013 Novelists” in the optimistic vernacular of the program) is standing at 210,010. While it’s extremely early (just hours into November 1, Eastern time), that might tell us the uptake… Read more »
Tom Bentley

Porter, yes, NaNo isn’t my quart of caffeine either, though I do have some admiration for writers who can disgorge at a gallop. But I sense all those spanked words will need a lot of soothing and red pen-conducted lullabies before they settle into a sentient sleep.

Chuck Wendig’s observations about deadlines and discipline and finishing ring true, but for me, it’s not necessary to run with the bulls at NaNoPamplona to learn how to deal with those necessities.

And just because I know you hunger for me to paraphrase Mark Twain, the whole idea gives me the fantods.

Porter Anderson
@disqus_z8blEym8w8:disqus Thank God you’ve paraphrased Mark Twain, Tom, lol, and “NaNoPlamplona” is fantastic. Tomatoes ready. I’m noting, the crowd may be way down below what was anticipated. At about 8a this morning (November 1), the NaNoMeter on the homepage at the “Office of Letters and Light” site is showing just 215,010 signups, not the 500,000 their press information is saying they’ve anticipated for this year. Mind you, the bus may pull up yet, I suppose, and let off another 285,000 folks yearning to write quickly but this looks to my cursory reflection like a far slower uptake than expected. (Mind… Read more »
Sherrey Meyer
Porter, well done and said! I haven’t been bitten by the NaNoWriMo bug yet, not at all. I can’t see myself (Type A total perfectionist) even dreaming of writing a novel or any potential book in 30 days. Like Dana_Britt above, I prefer writing at my own speed, in my own rhythm each day. Sure, I’ll insert the “I need to do” household things in somewhere during writing time but I keep my pace on good days. On bad days, well . . . . I’ve been using RescueTime now for about a month. It has been a great help… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@Sherrey:disqus Hey, Sherrey! So glad that RescueTime is proving useful to you. I find the insights alone into where my time goes online to be hugely helpful, and FocusTime is a lifesaver for turning off the distractions of the Web and getting the writing done. Delighted you’re finding it helpful. I also like the fact that Joe and Robby there are taking this chance to survey another round of writing trends during NaNo this year, great use of available data while offering a good service. Keep moving at your pace and with your process. NaNo is fantastic for those who… Read more »
Colby R Rice
Lol! Aw, come on, folks! NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun. Not stressful. Not filled with angst and self-deprecation. Fun. This is the best part of writing: getting it out all there with reckless fantabulous child-like abandon without our inner “editors” or “critics” getting in the way! Sure, our manuscripts won’t be completely ready or polished by November 30, but they’ll exist in some form, and that’s a wonderful thing! That besides, we shouldn’t assume that every person writing during NaNoWriMo has 1. never written a novel, or 2. is undisciplined as a writer. It’s just a fun thing to… Read more »
Kellye Crocker
Yes, Colby! What James Scott Bell said! Whether the first draft comes fast or slow, it needs revision. Probably a lot. (See Anne Lamott’s “Shi**y First Drafts,” et al.) I’m doing NaNo this year for the second time, writing a sequel to a novel that I have been working on (off and on) since 2007. This morning, I did two 55-minute “sprints” and logged 2,300 words on my new novel.. The words were bad–I know they were–and it was a struggle not to edit as I went. But you know what? I’ve felt energized and excited all day. Surprisingly so.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@kellyecrocker:disqus This all makes perfect sense, Kellye — Not least because as with Alex below, you have your eyes open and you know what you’re looking to do, based on experience. That’s a huge factor in making NaNo work to your advantage. The problem of not reaching an end is a huge one, of course, as you say, and well worth the effort when that’s one of your specific NaNo goals, too. I think that if anything, it’s important to say that there’s simply no saying you’re in some way “wrong” or “mistaken” in your feelings about this and it’s… Read more »
Kellye Crocker
Beautifully said, Porter. I agree with it all, (In your free time, why don’t you start the NaNoSloMo movement?) I think another thing that sometimes is lost in our fast-paced, connected world is nuance. You take on controversial subjects, do deep research, often take a stand, and yet you are always so conscientious about stressing that opinions vary and that’s okay. I never felt you were telling me or anyone else not to do NaNo. I appreciate that “The Ether” is generally a place where columnists and commenters interact and disagree without the rancor we see so much these days.… Read more »
James Scott Bell

Nailed it, Colby.

Porter Anderson


Hey, Colby,

You have all the “reckless fantabulous childlike abandon” you can — all for it. If fun is your goal and NaNoWriMo does it for you, by all means get in there and enjoy every second of it. Like I say, I’m not interested in changing anyone’s mind and certainly not in dissuading you from doing what works for you.

All good points on who’s in the mix, too. Get into it and have a blast! And thanks for coming by.


On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Lara Schiffbauer
Hi! I have to tell you, lately whenever I try to comment on a post of yours, the digital world conspires against me. My computer at work seriously hates Disqus (or however that is spelled.) I’m going to keep my fingers crossed this time my comment actually works. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo and failed – twice. I don’t think I got past 10 days either time. The failure felt awful and reinforced exactly how slow a writer I am. That, combined with the “get as many books out there as fast as you can so you get attention” made me feel… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@laraschiffbauer:disqus Hey, Lara, you made it! Loud and clear this time. So maybe the Disqus gods have relented. 🙂 I love what you’re saying here because you’re telling us that you’ve (a) learned how you need to write (“a way of working,” we used to call this in actor training on character development for the stage) and (b) you’ve come to terms with what that process is and are ready to handle it. This is a classic description of a maturing creative personality no longer jerked around by this “quick fix” or that “new approach” but following learned and now… Read more »
Lise McClendon

Completely agree about NaNoWriMo, Porter. If it works for somebody, to kick their ass into gear, that’s great. But for the pro writer every day is a goal, every month is a goal, and about once a year, a novel is a goal. My goal for November is to *finish* my first draft. I’m calling it FiFiDraMo. http://lisemcclendon.com/2013/11/01/fifidramo-realistic-goal-setting/

Porter Anderson


Perfect, Lise,

Good luck with FiFiDraMo, sounds like a great plan and you’re very secure with how you’re going about it. Congrats and thanks for reading and commenting!


On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Apart from just being fun (nothing wrong with that), I think an important point here is to try to find the way to write that works for you … which may or may not be compatible with a NaNo dash. I’m now writing my second novel: for the first, I think I overwrote the first draft, trying to make it perfect when that was never, ever going to happen. As a result the draft was much harder to fix than it needed to be. My current theory – which I’m testing this November – is that I will be happier… Read more »
Kellye Crocker
@AlexBrantham:disqus Oh, I can relate! I was a pretty dedicated pantser for my first three novels, two of which I’ve revised deeply–one I’m STILL revising…. And I’ve learned with each one. On the fourth one, I tried an outline, lol. (Nothing harsh or too serious…but a big reason I was floundering was that I went off on too many exploratory tangents.) I’m doing NaNo this year, and suspect that a fast first draft (with a rough outline guide) may be the best option for me, too. Good luck to you! Also, if you’re wondering, none of the novels are published.… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@AlexBrantham:disqus Hey, Alex, I really like how you’re using NaNo to test the idea that the quick approach can help combat the overwriting you’ve experienced. (I’ve seen this, too, of course, some folks laboring so long on a piece that it eventually starts to suffer from too much attention.) This is a great way to go at it, and a super use of NaNoWriMo because you have a specific issue you want to address and you have your eyes open as you go in. Perfect. Congrats on such an enlightened approach, make the most of it and all the best!… Read more »
CG Blake
Porter, Fascinating discussion with lots of different views on NaNo. For me the main benefit is that it instills the daily writing habit. I agree that 1,667 words per day, every day, for 30 days, is an insane pace and way out of my comfort zone. But isn’t that the point–to push yourself and to finish. Keep in mind: a NaNo novel is a first draft along the lines of how Anne Lamott describes them. I recently blogged about Erin Morgenstern’s experience in rewriting what eventually became the best-selling novel, The Night Circus, three different times for NaNo. And then… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@b8be0092762555a840cbbd1f162397ee:disqus Great to see you here at the Ether, CG, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I normally get the benefit of your always appreciated responses only at Writer Unboxed. 🙂 Welcome! And yeah, you’re certainly right on the money with the element of discipline, something Chuck Wendig was pointing out in his comments I quoted, too. The daily habit, the push beyond a comfort zone, these things are clearly important values accepted by most. Your own experience attests to that. Interestingly, there are writers who do NOT subscribe to the daily discipline and find that their own progress… Read more »

[…] Anderson: Writing on the Ether: The Haunting of NaNoWriMo. “Being only 28 years old (prematurely aged by overindulgence on the Ether, you know), it’s […]

Alec Graf

All of which goes to say, it doesn’t matter how you get there (the there, here, being a readable — ideally publishable — novel), it’s getting there that counts.

Thanks for a thought-provoking blog, Porter.

Porter Anderson


Well said, Alec. Perfect summation, and thanks for it! As our friend Nathan Bransford says in his new book, How To Write a Novel ( http://ow.ly/qrAUE ), “As long as you’re getting words on the page, you’re doing just fine.”

Thanks so much for reading and dropping a note!


On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

Kelle Z Riley
I love seeing this thoughtful discussion of why some writer don’t “NaNo” I tried the NaNo method one year and discovered it didn’t work well with my process. Typically (when I’m in my best form) I write and edit abotu 100K words in 90-120 days. At that point, I’m happy enough with the result to send it out to publishing professionals. If writing were a linear task, I could extrapolate and guess that I typically finish 50K in 6 weeks. Maybe I could really push and make the goal in 30 days. Alas, for me, writing is not a linear… Read more »
Lauryn Christopher

Kelle, I love that you call “100K words in 90-120 days” writing more slowly! That’s my kind of pace 🙂
My biggest challenge is fitting those 90-120 writing sessions into anything less than a year-long calendar.


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[…] Writ­ing on the Ether: The Haunt­ing of NaNoWriMo […]

I shall always be an uber-fan of NaNoWriMo because it turned me into a fiction writer. I was brought up in the British literary tradition of ‘thou shalt write one perfect literary fiction novel that will take you 10 years’ – my Mum was an English teacher, I went to private school & studied literature & went to Oxford, I’m establishment through and through – but I like adventure-explosion movies, I like kick-ass fight scenes, I like strong women who have casual sex and enjoy it – and I like taboo topics … when I did NaNo, I did it… Read more »