Deadlines, Challenges and NaNoWriMo

I was planning on doing a 30 day drawing challenge when Covid offered me an unexpected opportunity: a local sci-fi convention that usually commissions stories for a short story collection they publish each year decided to allow story submissions this year. The only catch was that the deadline was tight: two weeks.

I couldn’t give up on the opportunity, and I was looking for a way to kickstart my writing again, so I put my drawing challenge on hold and wrote a short story instead. I wrote first draft (about 4,000 words) in about four days, then polished it and sent it out to a beta reader. I got his input, fixed and rewrote some stuff and then sent it in.

Meanwhile November was approaching, and with it NaNoWriMo. Now I’m not a fan of NaNoWriMo but this short story experience as well as a great episode of the Writing Excuses podcast made me realize that:

a. I needed to get used to writing to a tight deadline.
b. I needed to get back to writing.

NaNoWriMo was a great excuse for that, even though I had no intention of holding myself to 1,667 words a day. I do plan to write everyday, and push myself as much as possible beyond my comfort zone. This became especially relevant when I got my story back from the editor with a request to rewrite large swaths of it. I had three days to rewrite and edit around 3,700 words, and it was a tough but rewarding challenge. Even if the resulting story doesn’t get published, I learned a lot from the experience, and I have a solid piece of work that I’m pretty happy with.

So what about my drawing challenge? I actually had about 5 days left on it (there were a few drawings that I made that are not something that I’m going to publish here), but I decided to extend it to 10 days, which I’ll do probably sometime in early December.

I am happy that doing 30 days of drawing instead of Inktober has provided me with an opportunity to really get to know my palette, to draw more quickly and without a preliminary pencil sketch, and to better understand what draws me to a scene and what makes it worth drawing.

I hope that 30 days of writing to a deadline will provide just as much insight, skill and experience as that.

Back to Writing and Using Scrivener Bookmarks

After a very long stint of editing and rewriting, I am back to writing daily again (no, not as part of NaNoWriMo).

I’ve learned a few things from my first time around, and now I’m just writing as much as I can as fast as I can. The goal at this point is to get things down, to have something to work with later as most of the work will happen in the first and second draft anyway. So long as the bones and most of the body are there, I’m fine. This means that I’m no longer sweating details like times, names of things and exact locations. I just highlight them and will work around them, leaving those decisions for a later draft, when I have a much better idea of what the story needs.

I’m also using Scrivener’s bookmarks from the start to document which characters, places and important objects appear in which chapter. I highly recommend that you do so, because it allows you to make significant changes in later drafts more easily. That’s how I changed the name of one of my main characters in my previous novel. Just add characters and places notes in different text notes under “Characters” and “Places”, and then using the Inspector, add an internal bookmark.


NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, begins in November, which means my twitter feed is starting to get choked with related writing-tool-and-advice links. From style guides to plot models that show you exactly how you can write the next Harry Potter book, it seems that you need to become the next Harper Lee is a word counting app or calendar printout, a laptop, and a coffee shop. Take a little step back from all the genuine enthusiasm for writing, and you will see a horde of retailers taking advantage of the event to sell you just the right pen, notebook or laptop bag that will make you a successful author.

So before you click on that can’t be missed writing tips link or head for checkout, a few things you might want to think about:

 Tools do count. I know the joy of notebooks nice enough to make you want to use them, but not too nice to make you afraid to use. But remember that tools are only there to facilitate writing — there is no pen or writing app that will do the actual writing for you. Buying stuff will always be easier and more fun than sitting your ass at a table and getting the actual writing done. Writing is and always will be challenging, to everyone.

NaNoWriMo is probably setting you up to fail. 50,000 words in 30 days is more than even professional writers can deal with, and they do it full time and with years of experience. Writing 1,667 words a day, every single days is a herculean task, a feat of writing bravado that will probably result in something far, far, far from publishable, even if complete in time, and yes, even as a draft. Writing requires time stewing with yourself, your plot and your characters. There are no shortcuts, and steaming through the process is a bit like trying to see Rome, Paris and London in 3 days. It may be possible, but you are so busy rushing that you miss a lot.

Word count is just a metric for writing progress — sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down. Putting an emphasis on it rather than on your plot, setting or characters is like planning your family vacation for the sole purpose of maxing out your flight miles.

So here is my bit of NaNoWriMo advice: use the enthusiasm and sense of community around NaNoWriMo to get writing, but take a step back from the mayhem for the sake of your story and your peace of mind.