Why I Love NaNo More Today than Yesterday


Yesterday’s sky as I drove to the coffee shop to write

I learned something new about myself and my writing today—something I’m not sure I’d ever have learned if it weren’t for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Okay, I know there are split camps on NaNoWriMo. In fact, you might either love it or hate it. Think it’s a great thing or the dumbest idea on earth. Writing a novel in a month? Why would you (or I for that matter) want to do such a thing? By the way, that used to be my opinion…so hear me out.

Truth is that up until last year (when I finished a draft of a novel during NaNo) I thought it was (a) pretty stupid, (b) pointless, and (c) defeated the entire point of writing (writing well, that is). I used to think that something good—especially something creative—couldn’t be forced. That is, that it really had to be done in its own time, at its own pace—fast or slow.

But now I wonder. Here’s the thing. This morning I wrote a scene I never ever thought of for my novel in progress (I’m a plotter by nature, most of the time, with occasional smatterings of pantser). The scene came out fast and furious, and when I looked up I’d spent not quite an hour writing almost 2000 words. But that’s not what surprised me. I tend to write very quickly (for first drafts). It was the actual scene that was different: the writing style and certainly the content, much different than I’d ever written or considered writing (for this novel or any other fiction project).

After I finished, I remembered having this experience with a scene I wrote during last NaNoWriMo—last year. It was a scene about an LSD trip, a wild car race up into the California foothills in a semi-stolen car, a young afraid woman desperately trying to understand and make sense of a young man’s actions and feelings. It’s a scene in the novel I’m currently querying (that I wrote last year during NaNo). It’s a story that has gone through many revisions since the first draft—and will most likely go through additional revisions because it’s a story worth working on. (The novel was named a semi-finalist in the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition.)

The important takeaway for me is that the scene I wrote last year and the scene I wrote today taught me something important about myself and about NaNoWriMo. It’s not only that I can force myself to write. The first time out of the gate with NaNo, I figured out that I can force myself into the creative zone, the writing zone, pretty much any time I want to. I’m guessing that most writers who write fiction on a regular schedule know this, but here’s the new thing I learned today.

That sometimes I can actually write more creatively when I push myself. Even—and maybe especially—when I’m not “in the mood.” That sometimes, something very creative and very different comes out. A piece of writing that I love, a piece of writing that I’m proud of.

Just one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo a lot more today than yesterday.

Can you force yourself into the creative zone? Do you write differently—maybe even more creatively sometimes—when you aren’t in the mood?



  1. Yes! This is so true. You’ve put into words something I’ve been trying to articulate these past couple of days. I’m not doing NaNo this year, but I am deep into rough draft mode. I finally crossed that threshold from “beginning a story, to see if there even IS a story” to “realizing it’s become a story and I’m in the midst of it.” And because I don’t like to lose momentum in this phase, I’ve been writing every day, in odd moments when I don’t think I have time to, or on days when I feel like everything I write is terrible. It really does change the way we write. Twice already, I’ve been surprised by how a scene turned out when I pushed myself past my deepest insecurities and time constraints.

    I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not that we’re not “in the mood” but rather a mood that we don’t yet recognize as being the “right” one. It’s training ourselves to let go of how our past inspiration has always looked—the inspiration that we’ve become attached to because we think it produces our best work—and accepting inspiration in new shapes and situations, in order to produce our most surprising work.

    Very thought-provoking post, Julia. Congrats on all your WIP progress!

    • “Twice already, I’ve been surprised by how a scene turned out when I pushed myself past my deepest insecurities and time constraints.” EXACTLY. Its those insecurities or voices to keep us from writing “what we might”; I really find that the forced writing makes me think about things like I might not. Makes me willing to write things that “seem dumb” at other times. Glad you enjoyed the post, Natalia.

  2. Nina says:

    That’s so inspiring! What a worthwhile WIN for this month already. Great job!!

  3. Micky Wolf says:

    Can feel the excitement and joy of your discovery! A wonderful encouragement for the rest of us. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  4. Julia — Well I’ll be darned. I find your post fascinating. I’ve never thought of trying to “force” writing, (a tough concept to wrap my mind around), but gosh, you make it sound quite fun — and productive, to boot!

    • Thanks, Laurie. Forced writing is something I learned way back in journalism school (Good old Prof. Drechsel lecturing about “butt in chair time), but never thought it would actually result in reaching into unknown pools of creativity. Subconsciousness is a powerful new tool in my writing kit!

  5. I’m a big fan of “butt in the chair” writing. Sure, sometimes great inspiration will come when you least expect it, but the more you honor the time to write, the more inspiration will come. That’s the great thing about NaNo, encouraging you to set aside that precious time.
    I’m glad that you’re having a wonderful NaNo experience. I hope it continues for you the rest of the month.

    • It is the most incredible thing: so many times I’ve been sure I don’t have a word to write, then low and behold. Now learning this… that I can actually push it to a whole new level, I’m pretty psyched. I’m having a blast to be honest! NaNoWriYear anyone? 🙂

  6. Cherry Harris says:

    Hi Julia this is the first time I have received your blog I learnt about you from laurie’s wonderful blog every Tues . Great to be aboard .
    January 1st this year I decided to buy a beautiful journal from ‘Paper Chase ‘ and commit to write every morning before I even had a sip of tea …it works . I am now on my equally beautiful ‘Third ‘ journal and have wrote many novellas . Late morning I read back over what I have written and I’m surprised at the input .

    • Welcome, Cherry! So happy you found me via Laurie. I appreciate the visit so much! What a wonderful routine you’ve gotten into. I love that you journal and write longhand. I’ve been trying to get more into that, too, but between fiction, blogging, and freelance, it’s tough. Great tips, and I may try! Again, welcome!

  7. That’s pretty great, Julia. The key is to get the butt in the chair and write. One never knows what will come out.

  8. Christine M Grote says:

    Good insight Julia. I only wish it was held in February instead of November. I just have too much going on in November. But I might be able to learn from your experience and apply it to my own writing whenever. So thanks.

    • November’s timing is definitely not ideal by any means, I agree Christine. This year we’re alone for Thanksgiving so there’s less to do… although there is the impending holidays… for me, what I’ve learned with NaNo is applicable to every day writing. But then, I’m also driven by the accountability it offers me!

  9. Cynthia Robertson says:

    Hi Julia, This year is my first experience of NaNoWriMo. I always kind of poo pooed it before. And I’m not 100% sold that it is good for everybody. But I have noticed that forcing myself to write has some surprise consequences. I’m not a plotter. I usually spend a lot of time dreaming about the next day’s writing/scene/plot after I write each morning. Maybe make some notes on a Postit or in my notebook. And when I get up each day I know what I want to write. But this forced word count has messed with that. Concern about word count seems to play havoc with my creativity. I’m not sure I like it. I’ll continue writing this way till November is over, because I want to keep an open mind and see if it has anything good to offer. But my scenes aren’t flowing into and out of each other as smoothly as they usually do when my eye isn’t on the number at the bottom of the screen, which I usually just ignore in favor of the story. Oh well. We’ll see!
    Glad to hear it is working so well for you!

    • So interesting, Cynthia, and I really know what you mean. First year was definitely hardest for me with word count (this is the third time I’ve started, didn’t finish the first time). Now I don’t think about word count anymore except when I’m recording it (I always record my word count anyway, though). BUT I really agree on flow being the hardest thing with writing quickly. I’m actually a plotter by nature so NaNo is particularly challenging for me since I’m often flying by the seat of my pants… Now after doing Nano I consider myself a hybrid. But I always thought pantsers would have an easier time with NaNo. I find myself really needing to spend extra time thinking about structure between writing sessions, and while I don’t do *much* editing, I do a little and I try to reread what I’ve written to stay on track. But still, like you say… “my scenes aren’t flowing into and out of each other as smoothly” at times. Last year I did MAJOR revision after NaNo (with the novel I submitted to Faulkner-Wisdom). Structurally it changed from nonlinear to more-linear. But the structural/flow issues (for me) are less a side effect of the word count focus as much as a “shitty first draft” thing — which NaNo has helped me be able to do. But definitely I agree, it’s something to consider. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment!

  10. I think you’ve inspired me to try it next year. You go girl. And I’m sorry I didn’t know about your being a finalist. That is AWESOME.

    • Thank you so much, Jamie!!!! I am loving the writing this year. Such a rush! Thanks also for the kudos on the Faulkner-Wisdom (it was semi-finalist, not finalist, but it was an honor and a thrill!). Hope you will do it next year! I’d love to cheer you on!

  11. What an inspiring post! This is the reason I’ve always loved fast drafting and have been a proponent for daily word count goals. I’m so happy to hear NanNo is going well for you this year. Keep up the great work!