Posted On October 7, 2016 by Print This Post

To Nano or Not to Nano by Becke Martin Davis

While stores stock their shelves with Hallowe’en candy and fake spiderwebs, the writer-types among us are faced with something even scarier to contemplate than ghouls, goblins and a gazillion grams of sugar: National Novel Writing Month. Or as we like to call it, NaNoWriMo. This writing challenge encourages us to write 50,000 words in thirty days, pouring out words without thought for piddly things like plot, characterization, grammar or spelling. It’s an exercise designed to free our minds from the ties that bind us. For people like me, whose mind is pretty free of ties to begin with, it’s like taking a long jump off a short pier – taking my computer with me.

Years ago, Doris Day had a hit song called “Que sera, sera” (Whatever will be, will be), and NaNoWriMo encourages that mindset. Struggling writers are told over and over again that there are no rules (or if there are, most can and should be ignored) but the month of November is about the only time writers actively switch their brains to override. The point of NaNo is to overcome fear, to tear down walls holding you back from writing and completing a story. Well, maybe not actually completing a story, but making a darn good start on one, anyway.

I say this based on my experience “completing” NaNo several times. (I can’t remember how many times exactly, although there’s probably a way I can look this up.) You may think, “50,000 words? In a whole month? Easy peasy!” I assure you, it’s not.

You may have heard of people who completed and sold the story they wrote during NaNoWriMo. I know it’s possible – I even know someone who did this. But don’t count on it happening. Whatever you do, don’t submit anything you wrote during NaNo. Don’t even read it for at least a month or two. (It will take that long to get your synapses firing again.)

With NaNo less than a month away, pretty soon it will be time to register and make it official. The first year I decided to skip NaNo, I was relieved and disappointed in myself in roughly equal parts. This year, I’m on the fence about it.

Reasons to NaNo:

  1. I’ve been dilly-dallying about getting my writing mojo back after a sabbatical of sorts. NaNo will give me an incentive to make some kind of progress.
  2. I don’t have to worry about time-consuming things like framing out a plot. (Since I’m a pantser, this isn’t a huge concern.)
  3. NaNo always gives me a buzz from the energy flowing between myself and fellow NaNo-ers. Nothing like a good 30-minute sprint among friends to get the adrenaline rushing.
  4. It will give me something to focus on besides Christmas shopping and writing Christmas cards.
  5. Even better: it will give me justification for letting the dusting go another month or so. At this point, what’s a few cobwebs, more or less?
  6. 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s not much more than 1,000 words a day. I can practically do that in my sleep, right?

Reasons to say No to NaNo:

  1. At the end of November, I’ll have 50,000 words towards yet another story that will need endless rewrites and revision. Maybe I should work on one of the already “completed” stories waiting for an overhaul instead.
  2. NaNo makes me nuts, and the shorter, colder days make me nuttier than usual without the added stress. (Then again, it’s November. Apart from Thanksgiving, not much else is going on.) And, let’s face it, I’ve sent Christmas cards in January before.
  3. The dusting. Even my 4-year-old granddaughter has suggested I set aside a “Dusting Day.” Maybe a little house-cleaning would be a more practical use of my time.
  4. Joking!! When have I ever been known to be practical? I could spend the first half of November cleaning the heck out of this place and by mid-month it would need cleaning all over again. Might as well write.
  5. Reading. I’ve spent the whole summer reading, and I’ve barely made a dent in my waiting-to-be-read pile. If I commit to do NaNo, I’ll have to cut my reading time to zero for thirty whole days. THIRTY DAYS! This might be the deal breaker.
  6. Exercise, or lack of. Do I really need a month glued to this chair? (On the other hand, I’m not exactly running marathons the other 11 months of the year.)

I’m starting to feel like Tevye with his “On the one hand…” followed by “But on the other hand…” What’s the rush, anyway? I’ve got three whole weeks left in October. Plenty of time to think about this. Plenty of time. Right? RIGHT?


Question: Have you participated in NaNoWriMo before? Did you meet the 50,000 word goal? And the big questions: will you participate in NaNo this year?


Becke 2

Becke joined the RU team in January 2011. She moderated the Garden Book Club and the Mystery Forum at until the forums were discontinued. Prior to that, she was a writer and instructor at B&N’s Online University and for two years she wrote a garden blog for B&N. During Becke’s twenty years as a freelance garden writer, she wrote six garden books and over 1,000 published articles. She also wrote one book about ‘N Sync, co-authored with her daughter. Becke used to blog at Michelle Buonfiglio’s Romance Buy the Book blog. Writing as Becke Martin, she has three short stories in the HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS anthology published by the Ohio Valley Romance Writers Chapter. Becke has two adult children, two awesome granddaughters and two cats. She has been married 45 years and lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park.


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14 Responses to “To Nano or Not to Nano by Becke Martin Davis”

  1. I’m on the fence as well. Last year was my first year and I fell short at 48000 words. Sometimes I work well under pressure but sometimes the push to “win” kills my brain/creativity like nothing else.

    I’m using October to sketch an outline of a story. Something occurs to me for this one story, I make a note of it. If the idea is still with me–and strong enough–around November, I may jump in but maybe not officially.

    Posted by Nicole | October 7, 2016, 8:16 am
    • Congratulations on making it to 48,000 words! That’s a significant achievement!

      I’ve considered “not officially” doing NaNo, too. I used to do my own mini-NaNoWriMo sprints to push myself. Emphasis on the “used to” part, unfortunately.

      I’m trying to break myself of my tendency to be a pantser, since that hasn’t worked for me so far. I like the idea of writing a mystery, where I’d need at least a sturdy framework to begin with, although I’ve been surprised to learn a lot of successful mystery authors are pantsers, too.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 7, 2016, 11:13 am
  2. I ‘won’ in 2014, even though my laptop stopped working half way through and I hadn’t backed up my work in 3 days (so – roughly 4000 words ‘lost’ that had to be rewritten). It was a good experience for me. Last year I barely got started when ‘life’ got in the way and I only wrote 12,000 words. I was disappointed to have had to let it go, and didn’t pick up the thread of that story again. I’ve signed up this year to get back ‘into gear’ after nearly a year and half away from the serious pursuit of my craft. I will get my research organized and a rough ‘outline’ ready in the next two weeks (after Canadian Thanksgiving is over with). The nice thing is that there is no ‘penalty’ for not finishing and there’s lots of support from fellow writers / friends to keep you motivated. I definitely ‘work well to deadlines’ and NaNoWriMo gives me incentive to keep going even after November 30 has passed. Its free and, while not ‘easy’, something I think every writer should attempt at least once (just to see if you can do it!)

    Posted by Margo Karolyi | October 7, 2016, 8:27 am
    • Congratulations, Margo! You raised a very good point that I totally neglected to mention. I can be a great procrastinator, but, like a lot of writers, I’m hard-wired to meet deadlines. When a bout of flu caused me to be a week late with a garden-writing deadline once, I almost had a fit.

      Nano is great if you’re good at self-motivation, but even if you’re not you nailed it. The support from other writers amazed me. I was in a support group with a bunch of women I barely knew when we started out, and by November 30 I felt like I’d grown up with them all.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 7, 2016, 11:20 am
  3. Morning Becke..

    I’m on the fence too about Nano…I want to to try to get my writing started again, but I am SO lacking on time. OTOH it’s supposed to be a long winter and that would give me something to do. But then again…


    I have a feeling everyone is writing out pro and con lists to see which one will win!

    great post Becke! thanks!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | October 7, 2016, 8:57 am
  4. Carrie – Life does have a habit of getting in the way, doesn’t it? I love your voice – and Jen’s, too – and I really think if the two of you complete the stories you’ve been working on, you’d both become best selling authors.

    I think lack of time is probably number one on most people’s “con” list. I have more time than I used to because my son and his wife put my youngest granddaughter in a nearby day care so she could make friends her own age.

    I had been watching her full time since she was born, as I had done with her sister, but now they both go to the same day care. Since they love it there and have lots of friends, I know it was a good decision. My son partly made the decision because he felt bad when I set my writing aside to spend time with the girls. (A decision I’ll never regret.)

    The girls are still here in the afternoon, but if I make good use of my time, I could do a fair bit of writing in the morning. This summer I went nuts and read a gazillion books instead of writing, but the itch to write is starting to nag at me again.
    I guess that should top my “Pro” list (and why does that sound like a sly innuendo?).

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 7, 2016, 11:29 am
  5. Hi Becke,

    I’ve done Nano three times and made it past the 50K mark. It’s crazy pounding out a minimum of 1668 words a day for a month, but writing with reckless abandon boosts my creativity.

    I should sign up this year. If I buy any Nano gear then I’m committed to doing it.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | October 7, 2016, 7:31 pm
    • I have a NaNo mug around here someplace – now that I think about it, I don’t remember seeing it since we moved. Grrrr. Somewhere there is a black hole with all the stuff that vanished when we moved!

      If you do it, let me know. That would give me a nudge to do it, too.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 7, 2016, 10:07 pm
  6. I am prepping for Nano. I have a synopses and I’ve atarted character journaling/interviewing. I think Nano can include prep as long as the actual story isn’t written until Nov 1st. I can easily write 3K a day when I make it a priority which fir Nano gives me days when I can edit a different work or do the dusting. What makes it a challenge for me is 50K in one month… Being persistent to do that.

    Posted by Sienna | October 7, 2016, 11:32 pm
  7. I’ve never started NaNo with anything beyond a general idea what I wanted to write about. You’re right – I don’t think there are any “rules” against setting up a framework for your story as long as the writing doesn’t begin until November 1st. Good luck – in December, come back and let us know how you did!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 8, 2016, 10:07 pm
  8. Great article! I was on the fence too, but have taken the plunge! I did NaNoWriMo in 2014 when I wrote the third book in my series. What it enabled me to do was to make fiction writing the top priority for 30 days, which was a huge treat, rather than having to juggle it around freelance work, family commitments, etc. During Nov. I took on no new freelance projects, we ate more carry out than usual and my family pitched in with tasks I normally do. At the end, I was exhausted, the draft was a mess and needed massive rewrite, but it was written. This time, I’m doing more outlining and prep to (I hope) reduce the amount of rewriting I need to do. We’ll see! Good luck to fellow NaNoWriMos!

    Posted by Elizabeth Harmon | October 11, 2016, 9:37 am
    • You hit the nail on the head. The one thing about NaNo is that once you commit to it, the story takes over your life. I completed it even when I knew I’d be out of town for a week in November and wouldn’t have computer access during that week. It just made me even more focused when we got home. I’ve had a hard time giving writing any kind of priority lately, so NaNo might be just what the doctor ordered. Thanks so much for sharing this story, and congrats on completing your third book!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 12, 2016, 10:58 am
  9. I’m planning on NaNo this year, though I’ll have a long dog show weekend mid November. Still, have laptop and all that. I’ve actually used some of my NaNo work in eventual ‘real’ books but yeah what a hot mess that was to fix!
    This year I’ll try using Scrivener from the beginning. I just have to decide between sequel and totally new.

    Posted by MonaKarel | October 12, 2016, 9:19 am
    • Good luck writing even with the distractions – you never know, the dog show might turn out to be a source of inspiration for your NaNo story. Sometimes the hot mess aspect of NaNo stories is what makes it so much fun. You have no idea what sort of nonsense your brain can come up with when you don’t hold back. Hilarious and scary in roughly equal measure!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 12, 2016, 11:02 am

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