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What’s up with writers just sitting down and blasting out 50,000 words as fast they can? And is that ass-to-chair time ‘well spent’?

EVERY NOVEMBER, a large group of people (there were more than 100,000 in 2007) who have signed up with NaNoWriMo begin writing with the goal of completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The program website states:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

It would be easy to make fun of this if I didn’t think it would actually be kind of fun to try (if I had time), and I didn’t believe there were benefits to just ‘dump it all out’ style writing where you don’t think but just type.


*Has anyone at Matador or from elsewhere participated at NaNoWrMo? What was your experience?

*Is anyone interested in trying this year?

*What benefits are there to just sitting down and ‘freewriting’?

Please give your answers in the comments section below.

Community Connection

For more info on NaNoWriMo, check their site here.



About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • vmcalves

    I’m going to try NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. I’m not sure if, with my current workload, I’ll be able to reach 50,000 words in 30 days but I’ll definitely try! Even if I can’t reach that goal, I’m sure it’ll still help create a certain discipline, even if it just because it’ll make me sit down to write every day.

    Being a professional writer working for someone else, sometimes the last thing I want to think about when I get home is writing so I’m hoping that the freedom that comes with NaNoWriMo will remind me of the times when writing was just a pleasure.

  • Paul Sullivan

    I did this last year! It was fun. I managed 45,000 words of utter drivel that have been sitting in my office drawer gathering dust ever since. But guess what? I’m gonna drag ‘em out and give them an overhaul during this NaNoWriMo!

    While pounding keys under time pressure isn’t perhaps the best way to become a 21st century Tolstoy, it’s equally true (going by the volume of writers that have said it, everyone from Stephen King to Tom Robbins) that a huge part of the so called “creative” writing process is as banal as placing word after word after word after word after word after word…

    I say NaNoWriMo is a kick ass place to at least get that writing dream started.

    • david miller

      sweet paul!

      stoked to hear you did this.

      really interested to see how your work turns out after a second month of writing / editing.

  • Lola

    Very cool. Just signed up for the first time as that additional push to get me writing more each day.

    • david miller

      sweet Lola!

      stoked to hear how this goes. would love to read what you come up with.

      • Lola

        I’ll try my best :)

        Little known fact – I actually used to write a ton of fiction stories as a teenager. Mused about this aspect of my life in 2008 in this post –

        Hopefully I can find tap into that side again for NaNoWriMo

  • Brian

    I did this with a friend in 2006, and in fact it was this experience that helped teach me to enjoy writing. I can look back on the finished product now and cringe but for all that’s come from it, Probably won’t be able to do it this month, but I recommend it to anyone who needs a jump start.

  • Katarzyna Radzka

    The NaNoWriMo is a motivating challenge that gives you a goal to work towards. Fifty thousand words does seem like a lot but it comes down to writing about 1700 words every day. Depending on whether you’ve done any planning earlier or your writing speed, it’s possible to get 50,000+ words completed.

    I did it last year but didn’t sign up. I enjoyed the challenge and managed to finish a manuscript that I’m currently editing. This year I’m going to sign up and try finishing another project in the thirty days of November.

    Best of luck to everyone who’s giving it a go. NaNoWriMo can really boost your quantity output and even if it’s not all that good you at least have something to work with instead of just staring at a blank page.

  • Jessie Kwak

    I also did NaNoWriMo for the first time last year in an attempt to finish a novel I’d already started. Thanks to the cooking abilities and encouragement of my now husband (boyfriend at the time) I just made it to 50,000 words. I gave it a few weeks, went back to the manuscript, and announced to him that after all that most of it was totally worthless and in the complete wrong direction.

    He was appalled that I had spent so much time just to throw most of it out, but to me it was immensely helpful to have taken a month to chase dead ends, throw caution to the wind, and just completely free-write. Even though most of the actual words I wrote didn’t end up in the final draft, I found myself in December with a much better sense of where my novel was going.

    My advice? Tape a tack sharp side up to your backspace key, and find someone to make sure you eat from time to time.

  • Meliha

    I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo 3 times (years). I’ve never reached the 50K word endzone, but it’s good to have goals! Like someone else said, for those of us who have day jobs and don’t spend all our time writing creatively, it’s great to do something different for a change!

  • JoAnna

    I participated in and completed NaNoWriMo last year and had a blast. I proved to myself that I do have time to write, despite what I otherwise try to convince myself.

    I’m going to be participating this year as well, and I’m really excited to work on my new project. I don’t officially sign up or take part in the online forums or anything like that; instead, I use NaNoWriMo as a personal challenge and goal.

  • Jeff Bartlett

    I would love to try this but the current 14hr/day schedule will likely not allow for much writing time…

    As for freewriting – it is likely the most important practice a writer can get. After all, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was written as a sit-down-and-relax manuscript…..

  • Candice

    After reading the description, and the comments, I really wanna freaking try it. Except I have no idea what to write a novel about. One week to think of something…

  • Susan

    I haven’t done this, but I used to use for free-writing when I worked at Sony. My job wasn’t very stimulating, so to combat that, I devoted 15 minutes a day to writing straight off the top of my head & letting it flow out. They only gave you 15 minutes to edit before it became a permanent post, and I found that very useful to just getting things out.

    I also really love that part in Anne Lamot’s ‘Bird By Bird’ where she talks about writing really, really shitty drafts. It’s very helpful.

  • Melinda

    October has been research month for my new novel. November’s NaNoWriMo will be a way to get the rough draft done quickly. Once I complete it, I’ll have a proposal ready for my publisher and the guts of a novel in the computer. I shoot for 1,000 words a day during my normal writing schedule. Some days I can’t polish that much work and other days I exceed that. My last novel was over 100,000 words so the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 will be a great start. If I’m not doing polished work I should be able to reach that goal. By the end of Nov. I hope to have a contract on the one at the publishers and a rough draft to offer them for the next one.

  • late_stranger

    I did it last year, and I managed to only drop one major plot point (resulting in a plot hole made glaringly obvious by the title’s reference to the missing point) and write one day of Fourth-Wall-less drivel (Breaking the Fourth Wall= you snap, and you start typing dialog between yourself and the characters). I got the 50K, but barely. (50181 words at 11:45 on November 30). What do you call the guy who graduates last in his class at med school? Doctor.

    Anyway, I’m definitely going at it again, and aiming for a repeat performance, but as of now I don’t have any sort of idea I really want to write. I just read an article about a cruise, so now I sorta want to write about a cruise ship. But in the past two weeks, I’ve also “committed” to writing a road trip, a romance between Father Time’s son Liam and a human, and the romance between the angel and devil that show up on your shoulders all the time. So, yeah.

  • Danielle

    I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo since 2004, every year. I’ve won twice–this past year, and in 2004. I’m definitely planning on doing it this year, and have spent the last few days getting my ideas together. I love NaNo–the feeling of accomplishment after writing 50,000 words is just awesome. My idea this year involves a dragon-filled one way spaceflight and a farm boy with dreams. Don’t ask, it’s going to be silly.

    I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to manage NaNo AND MatadorU AND my job AND my class AND my physical therapy, but, what the heck. I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end!

  • neha

    I’m planning to take part this year. I have an idea that I haven’t been able to work on. Am hoping this will help me stick to a schedule and get a first draft out.

  • Sharon Bernas

    The great comments on this site have spurred me on. I’ve just completed a rough draft of a fantasy novel using Karen Wiesner’s, Rough Draft in 30 Days, so I even have something to write. Although I’m shooting for 100,000 words as a final product, 50,000 in a month should give me a good feel for the characters and help to identify any plot holes. May we all feed off each other’s energy!

  • alexblackwelder

    I want to… but that’s just so much! Maybe I will set a different , personal goal

  • Cathy

    This is my 6th year to do NANOWRIMO. Only one year did I not complete 50k words, and a few years more than that.

    I found it liberating to be able to shut down the editor in my head for 30 days and just write what came into my head. Because of it, I have 3 completed first draft novels, and one that went past 50k and isn’t quite finished. I’m in the process of editing two of those novels, and have plans to self publish one of the sometime in the next year or so if all goes well.

    It takes a level of commitment that can be tough… but that’s part of the crazy fun of it. There is a huge support network, and in my town there are write-ins where folks come together at a specified location to write for a specific amount of time. There’s lots of laughter, there are games to get more words on the page, there’s a lot of silence with keys clacking. One of our write-in last weekend was at the Parthenon – very, very cool!

    I’m very behind right now on my word count as I post this comment – and it’s going to be a struggle to get caught up! The struggle will be worth it at the end, when I post 50k or more words and “win”!

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