Motivation and my surprising (to me) endorsement of NaNoWriMo


Hey y’all. Kalayna isn’t feeling well today, so I’m here. I put on a long wig with a couple of blue streaks in it just to make it a little more Kalayna-like when I wrote the post, but it didn’t work. And no, you don’t get pictures of me in the blue wig. – JGH

 Okay, so I went looking on for a good definition for “motivation” to start this post with, one of those cute little definition beginnings that people sometimes use to bludgeon you with the point they’re about to make.

Gimme a break. It’s early, and I’ve just started my first Mountain Dew of the day, so I’m only firing on about four cylinders here.

But apparently no one told the nice people at that old rule about not using the word or a derivative or root of the word to define the word. Because all I got for motivation was “something that motivates,” or similar crap.

But anyway, that’s beside the point. Let’s talk about motivation a little. And not character motivation, although that’s pretty dang important too. But we understand the importance of your character having clear goals and motivations, and if you don’t, go out and buy the book Goals, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. It’s awesome and teaches that stuff way better than I can.

But today (as I begin my third paragraph with the same word because I’m a bad writer, if moderately amusing) I want to talk about our motivations. Why do we write? What do we need in order to write? What makes us write?

My friend Jay laughs every time he hears me say, “I get motivated every month when the mortgage is due.” But it’s true. Part of my motivation to write is to pay my bills. This is my job, just like somebody else’s job is to rotate tires, or pilot a nuclear submarine, or perform open-heart surgery.

Just to be clear, those three jobs should be performed by three distinct individuals. I don’t expect any one person to have to rotate tires, drive a sub, and perform surgery. Two out of three, maybe, but not everything.

Anyway, money is one of my motivators, but it’s possibly the worst motivator for writing. I’ve learned that in the six months since I left my day job to become a full-time writer. I found that wanting to make enough money to live on so I could quit my day job was a pretty good motivator, but it’s not quite the same thing. So now I motivate myself to tell great stories. In some cases I’m motivated to finish a story so I can see the end of it. In some cases I’m motivated to continue a story so I can see what happens next. In some cases I’m motivated to finish a sequel so y’all will stop emailing me about it J. That last one’s a lie; I never want fans to stop emailing me.

I’m fortunate in that I am something of a self-starter and am learning how to motivate myself. How to kick my own butt out of bed and away from the Netflix machine and Grey’s Anatomy reruns (seriously, have they all slept together? No spoilers, I’m only on Season 4) to get to the keyboard and get my word count in.

But some people aren’t. Some people need a community of writers to make that happen. And for them, I present NaNoWriMo. November is National Novel Writing Month, an arbitrary declaration that the people behind the NaNoWriMo project picked. As I understand it, the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s the minimum acceptable length for a “novel” in some genres.

No, I don’t know who accepts submissions of 50K manuscripts except for romance publishers, but that’s not the point. The point is that the program urges people to write, it urges people to write every day, and it awards the people that write, with no judgment on quality. Which is exactly what some people need to get through the first draft. NaNo isn’t about churning out a publishable book; it’s about putting your butt in the chair and pounding at the keyboard for a month. It’s not about turning out the most awesome book in the world; it’s about being consistent and developing a work ethic. It’s not about getting a book published, it’s about moving from the 99% of people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a book” into the .0001% of people who say “I’ve written a novel.”

So if you find yourself short on motivation this November, go ahead and give NaNoWriMo a whirl. Writing something is better than writing nothing, so get off your butt and write something! I’ll tell you what – I’ll do it myself. I’ve never done a NaNoWriMo novel, but this year I will write a novel in the month of November. My word count has been slacking since Dragon*Con, so I’ll jump in and track my progress over on my website. I have no idea what I’m going to write, but I’ve got a week to figure that out. It should be entertaining at the very least.

Just remember – your NaNo novel is not good. It is a first draft, and like all first drafts it is loved, but flawed. Please do not join the countless hordes that turn December into CraNoSubMo (Crappy Novel Submission Month). NaNo is an exercise, and like all exercises, you’re allowed to have poor form. That’s kinda the point.

If you want to join me and the bazillion other people doing NaNoWriMo, here’s a freebie offer for even more motivation – Any Magical Words reader who writes 50K words (or more) in the month of November gets a free Bubba the Monster Hunter ebook (my choice)! Just write a bunch, then email me to let me know you’ve hit 50,000, and I’ll send you an ebook. 


21 comments to Motivation and my surprising (to me) endorsement of NaNoWriMo

  • I absolutely benefit from a writing group or workshop (even informally with friends) to help with meeting personal goals and deadlines.

    What I like about NaNoWriMo is that it emphasizes that something is WAY better than nothing. You can’t start revising from a blank page.

    I’m trying to get the writer-y off-shoot of my book club in on it so we can hold each other accountable. 🙂

  • Metricula, I completely agree that I benefit from a writers’ group. I can’t even say how much my writing has grown from our regular Wednesday night writer’s meetup and how much I miss attending since I’ve been in rehearsals for the past month!

  • I’ve never considered doing NaNo, but I could use it this year, just to kick my sorry butt into gear. Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling for much of the month (WFC, and then college visits with my older daughter). Maybe I’ll make December my NaNo month . . .

  • And the community can be awesome. I’ve been involved in VancoWriMo for a number of years now, and it is *so* worth it. I’m one of the facilitators for write-ins in the Vancouver community, and it’s amazing how much we (and NaNo itself) have grown. Sunday afternoon we have our kick-off gathering at a restaurant that opens on a day it’s normally closed just for us, and so far we’ve had over 60 RSVPs. We’ve got games to play on like “pin the pie on the editor”, and a wheel to spin in which hand-knit plot bunnies are one of the prizes. There’s an energy to be drawn from writing in groups, once you get the hang of it. Everyone settles down and gets to work, especially during word wars – which motivate us to write even more.

    And some of us go one step further and meet year-round for some of that same motivation and community connection. We call ourselves The Other Eleven Months. TOEM has kept me motivated at times when I would have otherwise got nothing done. But now the focus is on that magical twelfth month, which is going to be fantastic.

    BTW – For anyone interested in connecting on the site, I’m l.s.taylor there. 🙂

  • A. R. Gideon

    NaNoWriMo is something I’ve never done. I don’t write nearly as much as I should. I’ve barely written at all the past few weeks, but then again I am going through a move right now. I should be settled into my new place by the first of november, and the fact that it’ll be a while before I have internet again might be a blessing lol. I’ve got a lot of friends that have participated in NaNoWriMo, and I hear nothing but good things so I think I’m going to give it a shot.

  • I think I’d probably be setting myself up to fail if I joined NaNo this year. Pretty sure I’m gonna be overhauling someone’s screenplay that month. That is, if they agree to my payment terms.

  • It’s nice to see this year the NaNo hate is off. This will be my 5th NaNo and it’s great to inject a little fun and a little community into the process. The benefit doesn’t end on December 1 (I’m also a member of the other 11 months). The motivation last through out the year for me.

  • Last year I decided at the last minute–well, actually 3 days past the last minute–to participate in NaNo. I wasn’t working at the time, and thought this would be the perfect way to jump-start my return to writing. And it was, in a way. I did “win” by writing slightly over 51,000 words but what I wrote was a jumbled mess since I did very little (i.e., no) planning ahead of time.

    I’ve spent the past year figuring out what the story buried in that jumbled mess is, and this year I’m thinking about participating in NaNo again. I think I’ll be better off starting over rather than trying to pull out bits and pieces from what I’ve already written. This year I have a much better understanding of what I want to do, which may actually be a hindrance in achieving 50k. But after writing almost nothing in the last couple of months, my goal is use NaNo to kickstart my writing, even if I don’t make it to 50k words.

  • Nice post! I started with Nano back in 2003. The first few years I did it alone with minimal success. Then I started going to the local Nano meet-ups and found a group of enthusiastic, albight slightly nutty, writers. Even though bad things happen to me in November (like annual trips to the emergency room for random injuries), I had the most fun and I was writing, writing, writing. There was definitely something magical about that first Nano group.

    When I moved to North Carolina, the first thing I did was look up the local Nano people. Though the group here did not have what I needed, that still didn’t stop me from seeking out another writers group. The one I am with now, meeting every Wednesday and working with some damn fine people, has taught me so much. Nano may be a fun challenge one month out of twelve, but its effects lasted years for me. I think I will dust off the old sign-in and take up Nano once again. Why not? 🙂

  • Thanks a lot, for some reason your article has compelled me to participate. I never really considered doing NaNo before but I have an idea for a novel that is quite different from my current WIP so I guess now’s as good a time as any to start it. The next step is convincing my wife that I’m doing something productive as I skip out on household chores to meet the deadline.

  • I’ve said it in years past, and I’ll say it again: I’d love to do NaNo. But I can’t. November is always a rough time of year for me. We’re crashing toward the end of the semester, so grading is always in piles around my office, I’ve got family stuff (birthdays, Thanksgiving). And this year, I’ve got my application for promotion at my university. So I’ll be compiling a document that’s over 100 pages (not kidding). Most of it isn’t new (compiling publications, conference papers, etc etc…) but it is terrifying. I’m always nervous (neigh hysterical) when I send off stuff to pubs. But this is different. This is my job. So today, when I sat down to start my introductory letter (the why you should promote me letter, about 8-10 pages single spaced) I struggled for almost two hours to write about a page and a half. For someone who can write 1000 words an hour, this was rough. So if there is a “national writing promotional materials that terrify you” month (NaWriProMatTerUMo?) I’m all in.

    But hey, come Dec 16 (due on the 15) I’m all about trying to write every day. I’m actually planning on trying that starting, oh, now. I know I won’t write much every day, but I think it will be good for me. (I usually write a lot about once, maybe twice a week, though up to about last weekend, it wasn’t happening ’cause of other obligations), but I’ve got a cool writing group now in Raleigh (if anyone in the area is interested), and so now I’m back to working on my fiction. Hooray. But good luck to all the NaNos out there! It sounds like a great idea and like it’s be a lot of fun!

  • What John says is quite true, admirable and right. It is also making me mildly homicidal, which I suppose is step up from suicidal. Maybe. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that at the moment I am surrounded, literally surrounded, by piles of papers to grade, lessons to plan, an overdue article on devotional reading practices in the Middle Ages, and committee work that will all fall on me because my colleagues mistakenly believe I know something about how to objectively assess students’ faith integration. I mean it about being surrounded. I have to move stacks of papers aside to see my students. I want to write. I have two writing projects begging to be worked on. But I also want to keep my job, so at the moment I must do this other stuff first and wait on the writing. December can’t come too soon.

  • Cindy

    This is the first year I will participate I will be at home all month which I’m normally not, so it seemed like the year to go for it.

  • Razziecat

    I did NaNo for the first time last year and made my 50K (+), but then got sideswiped by the realization that there are some serious flaws in the book overall. I’m trying to get it finished anyway, so I might use this year’s NaNo to do that. I do have other book ideas, but none well-developed enough to shoot for 50,000 words. Last year I made my plans in August, and worked on backstory, outlining and other details for 10 weeks leading up to Nov. 1. This year, I probably won’t decide what to do until the last minute, so that will be different. I enjoyed NaNo, although the pressure’s a bit scary. Having an external deadline did wonders for my discipline. 🙂

  • Gypsyharper

    I’m participating for the first time this year. I’ve been wanting to for the last couple of years, but it just wasn’t possible while going to grad school and working full time. I’ll be delighted if I complete my 50k words (I’m certainly going to try my best!), and I’ll be even happier if I come out of it with a draft worth putting editing work into, but my main goal is to get my inner editor to shut up and establish a daily writing habit. I’m kind of excited (and also a little terrified)!

  • Perryw – I haven’t had a “hate” for NaNo in the past, but where I do take issue with it is when aspiring professional writers get so wrapped up in the concept on NaNo that they don’t write other months. Let’s face it, if you’re really cranking on word count, 50,000 words in a month isn’t really that tough. It’s 2,500 words per day for 20 days. Which, depending on how fast you write, is anywhere from 5 hours to an hour and a half per day. If you write slowly, that’s tough. If you write quickly, that’s pretty much gravy. But for people who have never written long-form fiction before, or haven’t ever managed to type the words “The End,” it’s awesome.

    Several of you have hit upon the key concepts of accountability, community and deadline that NaNo espouses. This is really important, and something that is often hard to get internally or without a big marketing push. That’s the best thing NaNo brings, in my opinion. It brings together a group of writers with a common goal – finish the damn thing!

    Good luck to everyone on their writing goal, whether it be NaNo or NaNoLate for Sarah and Pea_Faerie!

  • Since I write for a salary (the NDA sucks at times, but hey, medical benefits are awesome), I tend to put my non-work related writing on the back burner. Sometimes, I even take the pot it’s in off the stove and stash it in the pantry under the emergency toilet paper.

    Thanks to an interstate move and assorted shenanigans, the pot’s been in the pantry for going on six months. I’m hoping that Nano will once again help me get the shit paper off the pot so I can get back to cooking with gas.

    p.s. Laura, hand-knit plot bunnies? Awesome! Have you seen these? I’m about to order one.

  • A yes, another November is finally upon us. One of the most inspiring quotes for those who are interested in writing Nano I’ve heard is:

    “Even if you don’t reach 50 000 words, you’ll have more then you started with.”

    Good luck everyone and happy Nanoing!

    If you want to visit my page on the Nano site see: Link

  • I agree with you about NaNo when it comes to folks waiting the entire year to put a real effort into writing. That being said, I think it can be used in a variety of ways.

    The one thing I have found I like most about NaNo is the writing buddy system and the regional forums. That helps to foster a connection with other aspiring writers who you may have never met and gives you the chance to network more.

  • MaCrae

    I just signed up for NaNo for the first time ever…

    I’m terrified.

    Well, not so much terrified as wondering what the heck I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.(The forum scares me…so many people…)

  • MaCrae – whenever I wonder how I’m going to tackle some ridiculous task I’ve set for myself, I think about the proper way to eat an elephant. One bite at a time. Writing a novel is the same thing. Write the first word. Then write the next one. Then the next one, and the next, and before you know it, you’ve got some word written. Then before you know it there’s a chapter. Then there’s a book! Then we drink.