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FORSGREN: Exploring The 5 Phases Of Dealing With NaNoWriMo

The Art of Nerding Out

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November is once more upon us, and with it, National Novel Writing Month. Spawned as a way to break aspiring writers out of writer’s block, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is an event intended to get those wanna-be novelists to become active novelists. The point isn’t to write a masterpiece, it’s to write. Period. Regardless of how good or bad said writing is.

This will be my sixth year participating in NaNoWriMo, and over the years, I’ve noticed that the whole experience can be broken into different stages of dealing with the “burden” of writing a 50,000 word narrative in 30 days. Think of it kind of like the stages of dealing with death, only with more caffeine and less crushing despondency.



The weeks leading up to November 1st are always exciting. You have your story idea and you’re whipping it into shape. You start gabbing with fellow writers (like on the Idaho Falls NaNo Facebook page).

And, hearing their excitement about their projects only serves to stoke the writerly flame inside you. You put the finishing touches on your outline, unless you like to fly by the seat of your pants. Then you just let things percolate in your brain.

Then, Midnight on Nov. 1st hits, and you start writing. The words are there, flowing out of you like water. These are the NaNoWriMo salad days, where writing is nothing but a pleasure. Don’t worry. They don’t last.



This phase kicks in around a week in. The word stream begins to slow and writing begins to feel like a chore. The ideas are still coming and your story is still unspooling without too much effort and you’re still humming along, but you begin to realize that this isn’t going to be a cakewalk. But you’re still in good spirits.


It’s about now, a little over two weeks in, that NaNoWriMo begins to feel less like a challenge and more like a prison sentence. Every paragraph is like trying to beat your way through a brick wall with a feather duster. You may have realized that the idea you loved so much before Nov. 1st is a really stupid idea. You may hate your characters. You may not know what happens next.

It’s important to note that writers of all levels and talents feel this kind of lack of enthusiasm for their own work and for writing in general. You think “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” came without effort or depression? Then I have a fully working lightsaber to sell you for a good price.



At this point, around the 25th or so, you’re done. Everything stinks: your story, your characters, your ability to use the English language. Your laptop is throwing you condescension, like “Really? Another chase sequence?” The success of other writers mocks your pain. You wonder why you ever thought doing NaNoWriMo was a good idea. Not even a good jolt of caffeine seems to grease the creative rails.

This is the dark time, blacker than the blackest black. Times infinity. At this point, I like to be reminded of the words of Harvey Dent from “The Dark Knight”: The night is darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming. Though every word is like carving gemstones out of solid rock with your bare hands, if you keep going, you’ll eventually find your way to…


One way or another, December eventually rolls around. And, if you’ve persevered through the depression and lack of inspiration, you’ve likely gotten pretty close to getting your 50,000 words. That’s just what tends to happen when you push yourself to just keep writing. If you’ve kept going, that means it’s party time!

It’s hard for me to describe what it feels like to actually get to the goal. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to fatherhood. And what’s crazy is that once you feel that feeling, you can’t wait to do it all over again.

If you’re thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I have two words for you: Do it. It’s not easy, in fact it can be completely painful at times. But it’s also amazingly fulfilling and an awful lot of fun. There are plenty of writers locally who are more than willing to help you out. So take the plunge. It might just change your life.