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  • Jan Flynn

The Other Reason November is a Big Deal This Year

Reviving my imagination with NaNoWriMo

Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

In a year that doesn’t seem real, writing fiction is tough

At least it has been for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Back in March when life was upended and we were all sent to our rooms and told to stay there, our brains kicked into emergency mode. Waiting for the next shoe to drop or if the world is ending is great if you’re reading suspense, but it’s not the ideal mindset for writing stories into being.

Early on in the spring, memes circulated that encouraged writers to use their new time at home to write the Next Big Thing . . . after all, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague. Such exhortations were decidedly unhelpful (as well as historically questionable).

Personally, after six months I began to wonder if I’d ever produce anything new, fiction-wise. It felt like a tough crust had formed between my imagination and whatever part of my mind usually has access to it.

NaNoWriMo to the rescue!

If perchance you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, it’s high time you did. The goal is to write an entire novel — or at least 50,000 words of one — within the month of November. It sounds audacious, but with some planning, resolve, and support it’s surprisingly doable. I know this because I’ve “won” NaNo four times now.

NaNo tracks your progress and awards you for certain milestones, and speaking purely for myself, it’s amazing how hard I’ll work to earn those silly online badges. On November 30, you upload your document to confirm your word count and, bingo, you are officially a winner! Getting started is easy: just sign up at

There’s magic in NaNo’s condensed time frame

Rather like Samuel Johnson’s famous remark about what happens to a man when he is to be hanged in a fortnight, knowing you only have 30 days to get to your goal concentrates the mind wonderfully.

It’s also a great way to blast past the procrastination and perfectionism that often bedevils writers. In order to hit your 50K, you have to pump out 1,666 words every day. For most of us who have lives and day jobs, that means that whatever time you carve out to write must be spent writing — getting those words on the page without editing and fussing and judging.

If you do any planning or mind-mapping ahead of time, that alone can work wonders to revive your imagination’s mojo. This year, figuring I need all the scaffolding I can get, I’ve gone to greater outlining lengths than I have in the past, and already I’m feeling my inner storyteller coming out of hibernation.

When it’s all over, what do you win?

Another badge, obviously. But the real win, of course, is that you have a draft. A story, complete or not, wildly imperfect though it may be (and no doubt is; recall what Anne Lamott and Ernest Hemingway say about shitty rough drafts) that did not exist on October 31 but exists now.

As Jodi Picoult points out, you can’t edit a blank page. You’ve now got lots of filled pages, at least some of them rich with potential, to revisit, revise, and refine. But that’s for later on. For now, you’ve broken through the crust, revived your muse, and reignited your imaginative spark. Whatever else has gone on in the world (and this November, that promises to be . . . a lot), you have created something brand new. These days we need all the stories we can get, and you have just contributed to the collective treasure trove.

And that is something to celebrate during 2020’s sure-to-be-wonky holiday season. If you too are taking the plunge, cheers to you, writer.

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