The NaNoWriMo Misconception (The Book of Delusions 20:13)

What if there were no computers or typewriters? No Backspace key, no Delete button, no Wite-Out, nor erasers? Merely pen and paper.

ALPaperWhen you made a mistake, you’d ball up the paper and toss it in the trash, right? But after going through a whole thicket of Pine trees and finding your change purse empty (as well as having a guilty, wasteful conscience), you’d eventually scratch out the errors and continue forward.

NaNo13FBProfilePicThat’s the basic concept of National Novel Writing Month: trudging onward in spite of your mistakes—writing with complete literary abandon.

To paraphrase Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, the first draftthe result of NaNoWriMo—is the downdraft. You simply get it down. Making mistakes, e.g., plot holes, tense inconsistencies, POV issues, poor word choices, grammar problems, etc., is all a part of the first draft experience. After the month is over, carry no delusions you’re sitting on the finished 50,000-plus-word Great American Novel the world has eagerly awaited, because believe me, you’re not.

ALMessAnne continues with: “the second draft [after NaNovember is all said and done] is the updraft.” That’s the time to spruce it up; you clean house and make it suitable for company. Now your manuscript is ready to self-publish, or for querying agents, editors, and traditional publishers, correct? Again—not. Where’s the smell of apple pie in the air? Have the dogs had a bath? Is that a piece of spinach in your teeth?

ALTeethThus, the third revision: “the dental draft, where you check every tooth.” It’s time to break out the editing floss and do a line and copy-edit: go sentence by sentence, word by word and—dare I say?—bird by bird.

Now is my NaNoNovel ready to go? Once again, the answer is no.

All three of those earlier edits were performed by you, the author; now it’s ready for “pre-public consumption.” Those are my words, not Anne’s. Look for honest and gently brutal critique partners, then after their revisions, scout out beta readers to do the same. Revise and rewrite according to your heart, but thoroughly consider their suggestions with an open mind. Then expect more suggestions from your editor and possibly others. Again, revise and rewrite according to your heart.

In my opinion, all paths to publication require the steps listed above; anything less would compromise the integrity of your work.

My novel from last year’s NaNoWriMo still sits in the revision stage, with much work left to do, as it is a part of a series. I’d like to plan the remaining four books before continuing any further, therefore, it won’t see the light at the end of the publication tunnel for a long time.

This year, I entered NaNovember with the half-hearted goal of completing a first draft. It had been an unusually crappy year, which affected my desire to write, however, with the encouragement of friends and supporters, I threw my baseball cap into the ring.

NaNoWriMo was exactly what I needed to provide the motivation to write a novel-length work again. Do I expect to finish? No way! By the first week’s end, I had hardly written a single word—albeit, a decent first paragraph—for there had still been too many outside obligations which demanded my attention.

When Panda Smiled 3DNow, midway through the second week, I’m a few thousand words into When Panda Smiled and the year seems less crappy. A self-professed slow writer (editing along the way is my undoing), November’s yearly event helps put Anne’s “downdraft” suggestion into practice.

The point is, a novel can be written in a month and slapped up on Smashwords’ latest release shelves by December first—just in time for Christmas—that is, if you’re dead-set on releasing a mediocre (if not worse) novel. A good novel takes months, sometimes years before it sees completion.

To all participating in this year’s event, cheers to you in the completion of your goals, whatever they may be, but for those who have an idealistic approach to NaNo, or to the publication world in general, I encourage you to consider this more realistic outlook. Trust in the process. You’ll thank yourselves later.

And who knows? A couple of killer marathon days under my belt—after all, I am good at saying a lot about nothing—and I may even complete that 50K+ word novel.

At least the first draft.

Until next time…


ML Swift

MikeBeachML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.

An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.

He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.


60 thoughts on “The NaNoWriMo Misconception (The Book of Delusions 20:13)

  1. I love NaNo because the world is a happier place when I write 🙂
    (I won’t mention the angst of falling behind, crazed giggle)

    1. Oh, I definitely love NaNo. Fell in love w/ it last year. And I love to write. This was just a gentle nudge to take it easy and let your work rest after the month is over. Let it breathe and give yourself time to look at it with fresher eyes.

      And I’m in that crazed giggling stage with you, Lyn. 🙂

  2. Amen! It’s so easy to fall into the ‘rush and out’ temptation, but it doesn’t do anyone any good. I always have to tell myself again and again that the 1st draft is only a wobbly skeleton. . .but those editing fingertips itch to do their own thing. Patience is usually good 🙂

    1. Funny…I don’t have to tell myself that. One glance at my MS and it is all too obvious. I don’t let anyone see anything I write without revision. If it’s a book, LOTS of revision. I think my current almost-out book has been heavily revised six or more times, through two different editors.

    2. Tonja, thanks for your input. Yes, those itchy editing fingertips. And the overwhelming desire to rush the process. I continuously catch myself and adjust accordingly.

      Same here, Rebecca. “I will sell no wine before its time.” I don’t even let others see it until I’ve exhausted my own search for mistakes. Then and only then, will I hand it to another living soul. 🙂

    1. No, no, no, Annalisa…you must have misunderstood.

      You put your work through three drafts before even handing it over to critique partners. And by drafts, I mean, when you do the first revision (which is the second draft), you clean it spotless, like the room in the picture. You may have to go over each paragraph several times before it reads “right” to you, in essence, giving that paragraph six or seven revisions all at once. Do this throughout the book, and that “second draft” will have undergone many revisions.

      The third draft is going over it with a fine tooth comb, fine-tuning the grammar and word choices, fixing typos. Then, you turn it over to critique partners, which I suggest at least three…that’s three more revisions/edits in one step. You decide what you want to take and what you want to leave behind. Perhaps again to your most valued CP.

      All totaled, that’s about eleven or twelve revisions before the beta stage.

  3. Great post.

    All I could think about when reading your opening was my mom typing term papers on an old manual typewriter. If she made a mistake or didn’t leave enough room at the bottom for the footnotes, she’d have to type the whole page all over again. Gah!

    Good luck with NaNo. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Melissa, and for posting the news about Andrew.

      Ugh. I remember the days of manual typewriters (that’s what we learned on in high school). One of my graduation presents from my folks was a Smith-Corona electric with a ribbon cartridge, so those days of ripping out the paper is all-too familiar. I never got the hang of Wite-Out, it always made my papers look like they were typed in fresco.

  4. I think I’m going to print t-shirts and coffee mugs with what you said at the end of paragraph four: “…carry no delusions you’re sitting on the finished 50,000-plus-word Great American Novel the world has eagerly awaited, because believe me, you’re not.”

    Excellent words of advice, my friend. I’m hovering around 10,000 words, and very happy with what I’ve written. I likely won’t reach the 50k mark by Nov. 30, but so what? The story’s unfolding, and it’s going to take more than NaNoWriMo to get me to stay interested in it.

    1. I’ve almost 7,000 and am pretty pleased with mine, as well. It’s doubtful I complete it within the month, but I went in with that knowledge, and I’m happy. It did get a sense of enthusiasm back into my craft, though.

      Thanks for coming over and your comment! I’ll put an order in now for a coffee mug.

      1. I’ll take that at the END of NaNo, when I start revising (though not the NaNo Novel. I have two other projects on hold while I draft this one).

  5. Until I read your blog about NaNo I was not at all interested in doing it, sensing it was a game or worse – a way to terrify new writers (like me), but now I see it for what it is – a wonderful way to write with abandon, let my creative flag fly, and soar or hit the ground with a thud. But it would be worth it because of the sense of no judgement from the crowd inside my head – the stream of conscious is exempt from that kind of scutiny! Thank you for your great post! Next year – I am on board!

    1. Karen,

      Welcome to the world of writing, and even more, to my blog. My stream of consciousness writing is exactly that…a stream of consciousness…pity the poor fool who can follow along because that usually means they’re in need of a straight jacket. Thank you so much for coming by and for the nice comment on my FB page. And if you have any questions about anything, please feel free to ask.

      1. M.L.: I have enjoyed reading all the comments and your replies (to me as well) and how uplifting you are to others – it gives a soul room to breathe. And, thank you for the wonderful welcome. You’re pretty awesome as a writer and most importantly as an outstanding human being.

  6. My inner editor is grateful on a daily basis for the advent of computers and the backspace key!!! And so are the world’s hardwood forests 🙂

    Great stuff as always, Mike. I’m in your boat: the demands of life are squeezing away my writing time, and I am sadly, sort of pathetically behind in my NaNo count. I feel a bit terrible about this, BUT I am also cultivating a more positive attitude (per last week’s post of yours…) and will share it… tomorrow. When I blog 🙂

    In the meantime, GO FOR IT! Even if you don’t reach 50,000, you’re still writing, and that is the point.

    1. Hey Liz!

      Yeah, I went into NaNo expecting not to finish, so I’m not disappointed…I just wanted a fire under my ass to get something on paper. It worked. Plus it got me out of the doldrums I was feeling.

      I’ll check out your positive post today! Thanks, as always, for coming.

  7. As a new writer, I was ready to quit because I had this delusion that if I couldn’t write it right the first time, then evidently I stunk.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, I think most writers, me included, have felt that way at some point out of frustration, but if you write just for yourself – you can never go wrong. Write what makes you happy, not what you think others will like. Just express your self and let your writing Flag Fly!!! And, if you like it I think everyone else will too!! Karen

    2. Happily, I got that idea knocked out of my head early on writing essays in English classes. I always knew that if I had to rewrite essays a bunch, and even then the prof could come up with a dozen suggestions to improve it, that my stories would be no different.

      1. I should add that that would so that while telling me I was a very good writer. That’s the key lesson: you’re good. You can always be better

      2. Gads! It’s the iPad and its conviction that it knows what I’m trying to say. I usually check, but was in a hurry… (Bangs head on wall)
        THEY would DO that.

    3. In all my writing classes, we never critiqued each others’ works…only the teacher or professor did that. Of course, on the side, we’d share our efforts with each other. And that’s how we realized how much our initial offerings sucked. Every one of us.

      I love Bird by Bird and quote from that often…every writer has a shitty first draft. I don’t care who you are. I’m glad you stuck with it, Elizabeth.

  8. I like cheering people on during NaNo, but the tempo just doesn’t suit my curmudgeonly writer attitude of getting it right as I go. I tend to combine those first three drafts in one slow roll all the way through. And then go back and revise again. I do admire anyone who can get through an entire first draft in a month though. It’s positively mystifying to me how you all do it.

    1. That’s my same problem, LG, thus the drive to do NaNo each year. I really need to break through that editorial desire I have while writing. Just write like crazy and let the pieces fall where they may…then pick them up and make some sense of them.

  9. Nice reminder for those NaNo participants who are delusional. I’m not doing NaNo but that doesn’t stop me from being delusional. Best wishes towards your NaNo experience.

    Also my favorite part of this post were the words “NaNovember and NaNoNovel.” Nice word play.

  10. Hey Mike,

    I still say all you Nanoooo-ers are mad, but you know I wish you all the best 🙂

    I could never get 50k words in 30 days… it’s madness I say!

    PS… I know there’s a lot going on, so best wishes and positive prayers heading your way…

      1. That’s supposed to move. For some reason, some gifs will move on my blog and some won’t. For the full effect, just blink a lot and shake your laptop.

  11. Hey Swift 🙂

    I long for the days when I was a naive young writer and could NaNo it up and feel so accomplished when I was done. Now I’ve lost that magic a bit and only strive to work at my own pace and try to be content with whatever I can do. On the flip side, I’m glad with what I’ve learned and wouldn’t want to be that new writer again, so… I guess like everything, there’s pros and cons. Oh the joys of being a tortured writer!


    1. I’m using NaNo as a way to see if I can write like a pro–I.e., every day and for long enough to notice! To my surprise, that could well result in 50-70,000 words of a very rough draft.

      1. Practice makes BETTER. “Perfect” is ever and always, by definition (in my opinion, thinking of Platonic ideals and the like), out of reach.

        By the way, I finally broke down and wrote about NaNing over on this morning.

        Still haven’t had that second cup of coffee. I’m holding out for the greatest impact.

    2. Hey Red,

      You know, I think we all come into this game with the naivety we need to push through that first year or so…otherwise, we’d tuck our tails and run. I know I was full of piss and vinegar (still am, somewhat).

      We grow out of the newness of it all and into our own way of doing things. No, I certainly wouldn’t want to relive those days, but I’m thankful for them. Lots of trial and error.

      Tortured writers are the best kind. 😉

  12. Hey there, buddy. I love the title and cover, and I had to come over to see what you’re up to.

    If nothing else, NoMo is a great tool for proving to oneself that writing can be quick and easy, unlike revising. But ah, it’s worth it when you read something that finally makes sense, even if it isn’t publishable, and can say, ‘I did that.’

    I’m with you on the reality check. I’m not about to self-publish my efforts. This Nov will be my fourth novel. I’m hoping one day I’ll actually produce a good one!

    Whatever your pace, I know you’re a damn fine writer. What say we both keep at it, eh?

    1. Erica…so good to see you!!! That was a three-exclamation-point hug.

      Yes…the point of this whole post. Anyone can write a 50K+ word novel in a month, just keep in mind it sucks. The big one. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

      And I’ve seen your finished work. It’s all publishable. You just haven’t met the right publisher, yet.

      I say we both keep going, too. Goodness, it’s good to see you again. 🙂

  13. I love NaNo for the reasons you state. I’m so glad I did it last year because it gave me the motivation to get my Ghosts of Aquinnah draft completed and now it’s going to be out in the world soon. I think it’s a perfect and fun motivational tool. Glad to hear you are enjoying your writing and making progress on Panda!

    1. “Perfect and fun motivational tool.” Yes! That’s it exactly. If people go and get all serious, they miss the point. Not that you can’t be a serious writer and take advantage of the fun motivation. Oh, heck. You know what I mean. Pour me another cup of coffee, please. I need to start writing.

    2. See? A success story! And I really have high hopes for Panda, regardless of whether I finish within the month or not. NaNo was my muse this time. Thanks for stopping, Julie.

  14. ‘In my opinion, all paths to publication require the steps listed above; anything less would compromise the integrity of your work.’

    Spoken like a champ, good sir.

    1. Suze,

      Gosh, it’s funny how this post coincided with my comment on your blog. And in an indirect way, with your post that I didn’t even read until today. Cool. The universe at work.

      Thanks for coming by. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Julie. Isn’t that a cool cover? Even though it’s mock, it’s sort of what I envision when the book becomes real. I feel like a character from The Velveteen Rabbit whenever I say that.

      Just putting one word after another and hoping they make sense. 🙂

    1. Not sure I quite agree about that. There is an element of a gift, I.e.talent. And maybe inspiration at times. But I know the hard way that if you only write when you have inspiration , you’ll never write much. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, half of writing is 90% hard work.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s