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My NaNoWriMo Pep Talk: on struggle-bussing to meet your deadline

I wrote this for NaNoWriMo but it applies to all writers struggling to meet a deadline. They're tricky things, deadlines. Douglas Adams once said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Unfortunately, we can't all be Douglas Adams with long-suffering agents/editors/publishers waiting for us to finish our drafts whenever we feel like doing so.

Here's my pep talk for anyone struggling to meet their deadlines: The end of NaNoWriMo is near enough you can practically hear December knocking on your front door.

You’ve relied on your outline (or not), you’ve dutifully sat through write-in after write-in, or trudged alone through the seemingly endless blank page trenches, for nearly 30 days.

But right now you’re looking at your novel and realizing you’re behind on your word count by hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of words and you feel defeated. You’ll never win NaNo when you’re this far behind.

Cue the sad violin in the background. Cut to you lying in bed nursing a pint of ice cream while Enya plays in the background.

I’m here to tell you there is still time to change your fate.

I have been where you are right now throughout most NaNoWriMo events in which I’ve participated. I have had multiple years where I was 20,000 to 30,000 words (yes, you read those numbers right) behind on November 27. Yet I’m a 7-time NaNoWriMo winner. How did I manage to win each year?

While I’d love to say my superior writing skills (ha ha ha), the truth is I’ve won by doing the following:

  • Spend a few minutes looking over my word count and crying to anyone who will listen about how far behind I am.


  • Spend the next half hour lamenting earlier me who thought she had all the time in the world and let herself get this far behind.


  • Vow to never try NaNoWriMo again.

Once I’ve finished wallowing in all my mistakes over the last month (why, oh why, did I switch between first and third person? Why did I change from past tense to present and then somehow to future?) I get to work. I do this by:

  • Staring at my novel in progress to see where I can flesh it out with more words.

  • Finding every write-in available to join and making a commitment to joining them.


  • You cannot edit a blank page. Part of the reason so many of us get behind is the urge to make every line we write fit the story perfectly. Are there people who can do that and still complete the first draft during NaNoWriMo? Sure. The likelihood if you’re reading this is that you cannot- and that is more than fine.


  • At this stage, write down every thought that is in your head about your piece. You may go off the rails from your outline so don’t panic. Outlines are made to be guidelines, they are not set in stone. (Unless you chipped them into stone for some reason and, in that case, maybe we should introduce you to our writer friend- the notebook.)


  • Eliminate distractions as best you can. This is the time to tell your spouse they can watch all the sportsball/reality TV/movies you hate that they want to watch with your blessing… as long as they do it somewhere else. Anywhere else- like the other side of the house or maybe down in Sedona- whatever feels right to them. Children too, though you may need to give them food at some point. Pets can stay for emotional support though.


  • Write as much as your fingers will take. Stretch. Repeat. Keep going until your fingerprints are almost completely worn away. Fantasize about a pulling off the perfect vault heist for a few minutes, then get back to writing.


The reality is, even with all my tips above, you still might not make it to 50,000 words by the end of November 30th. But, I’m going to let you in on a little secret here: a lot of people don’t. Big name people who start their novels during NaNoWriMo don’t always win. It’s true.


Sometimes despite your best efforts, life is going to get in your way or your story is going to take longer to tell than days in November.


Don’t beat yourself up if it happens. The actual winning from NaNo isn’t really the 50,000 words anyway. I could say something schmaltzy like “it’s the friends we made along the way” (which is true too), but the real winning is knowing you made a commitment to writing and you tried.


Every single day you got up in the morning with a goal in mind that you worked your behind off to meet. You didn’t always make that goal, but you didn’t give up.


The real winning of NaNoWriMo is knowing you have it within you to write every day. No matter what twists and turns life throws at you outside of November, you know you can always sit down at your computer and write.


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