3 Key Points Creatives Can Learn from #NaNoWriMo

November is #NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, where thousands of people all over the world write a novel of 50,000w in 30 days. Insane you say? Why put so much pressure on yourself?  I’ve not done NaNoWriMo myself, but I’ve recently been wondering what other creatives and entrepreneurs can learn from the discipline of #NaNoWriMo.

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to be portable. clickthing.blogspot.com/2008/10/tennish-anyone.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Immersion

When you start a new project, one way to get really involved is to totally immerse yourself in it. Set aside the time, try new things, look at it in new ways, don’t worry about someone looking over your shoulder. The important thing is to get it down. As a visual artist, I find when I only work at intervals I never really get to grips with the heart of the project and it’s easy to lose interest.

2. Quantity not Quality

I’m a firm believer in the motto my painting mentor, the late Fred Reichman taught me:

Focus on quantity not quality. The quality will come once you do enough work.

Another way to think of this is practice, practice, practice. Novelists often agonize over the first chapter and some barely get beyond it looking for that perfect gripping opening. In a novel you really want to just get down the first shitty draft of the entire book. That’s not to say that no good work will come from #NaNoWriMo, but the chance are it won’t  be people’s best work. Once you have the first draft in place you can start to edit, fine tune and make it the best it can be.

This could apply to any project you’re working on. Do whatever you need to do to keep going, improving things again and again until you like the look of what you’ve created.

Painters often do a series of works with the same motif, sometimes over a period of years. The continuity developed in a series can make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Fred Riechman, Akandrew.com

“Cat with Garden Hose #29” by Fred Reichmann 1969. Photo: Kathy Andrew

Fred was still working on paintings of cats like the one above not long before he died in 2003, over 30 years after the painting above was finished. I always appreciated his minimalist style.

3. Commitment

Writing 50,000w in a month takes a huge amount of time and effort. The single most important thing in order to actually accomplish this is commitment. If you work a little on this and a little on that, setting aside projects for months on end, clearly you are not committing to your work. And the results will reflect that. So if you really want to see some results, commit to the darn thing and start producing some of your best work!

Alternative to #NaNoWriMo for Other Creatives? #NaKiCreMo?

Could there be another dedicated month that is not so defined (ie. not just for writing) that other creatives can participate in instead of NaNoWriMo? There’s nothing like being part of a community of people who are all pulling together to achieve something.

I mulled over the possibilities of National Art & Creativity Month – NaArCreMo, National Arts & Crafts Month – NaArCraMo,  but decided the one I liked best was  National KickAss Creative Month – NaKiCreMo. What do you think?

How do you approach your projects? Do you like to move slowly, not at all immersed, and hope it will all somehow come together? What is your level of commitment, and what influences that commitment?

Come join the discussion and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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  1. AK let us know if you participate? Not having a desire to write a novel, likely doesn’t mean you cannot participate if you want to write a non-fiction book. I mean it’s about commitment to writing, right? Love the idea AK.
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  2. I generally don’t have a plan – I just jump into projects and see where they take me!
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  3. Good tips for how to succeed with a project, AK. Provided you are determined and persevere. Personally don’t have time for NaNoWriMo, besides if a plot for a novel formed in my head I would spend more time on it in order to get it published. Having said that I believe NaNoWriMo is a useful exercise for someone who feel they need to finally sit down and start writing the novel they have promised themselves to write but not yet started.
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    • I think NanoWriMo is useful for people who like to have that “push”. Plus I have to say trying to write that much in a month is definitely a big achievement. Whatever works is my motto, but I’ve considered it myself just to try something different. I know I’ve said this before , but I can definitely see you writing a novel.
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  4. I like the idea of this challenge! It is a tight deadline but not at all impossible if your mind was set on completing this.

    The most I have ever written was a 12000-15000 dissertation – cannot remember as it was over 15 years ago.
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    • Yes def. a tight deadline, and not for the feint of heart that’s for sure. 12-15,000 is def. a big chunk of work, especially if it was nonfiction. I think you get into a rhythm when you’re writing a novel, and while doing it all in a month is a huge challenge, it flows more easily overall than you might think. I have great admiration for all the participants thats for sure.
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  5. I like the idea of NaNoWriMo but don’t think I could stand up under the pressure anymore, even if I were writing a novel, which I’m not. that is a lot of words but one thing you did bring out which would help is being part of the community.
    The other thing Kathy, that struck me was this – “This could apply to any project you’re working on. Do whatever you need to do to keep going, improving things again and again until you like the look of what you’ve created.” When you look at the BHB members and the changes over time to their sites or their posts, I think it’s something we as members do all the time. Great post.
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  6. The closest I’ve ever come to participating in NaNoWriMo was registering during one summer and trying to network and learn from other participants, but as a nonfiction writer among a sea of fiction writers I couldn’t really relate to most of the conversations. Then I tried joining a group event that included fiction and nonfiction, but I was one of only 3 nonfiction participants among 200 fiction writers. And with that I pretty much wrote off these kinds of events. Fortunately I am comfortable with my writing process and have no commitment problems – in fact my biggest problem is making myself take breaks. But I gotta tell you I’m intrigued by National KickAss Creative Month so definitely let me know if that happens!
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    • Well good for you Marquita on seriously looking into it. wHile the encouragement etc would be nice for the run up, I don’t know how people have time to go on line while trying to write a novel in a month. I guess we all have different tolerance levels. Very glad you like the idea of NaKiCreMo! Maybe if I told enough people it would become something. After all NaNo only had a couple of hundred people the first year! Thanks so much for your input Marquita.
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  7. I did NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, but it was to work on a series of short pieces. That being said, it went well because short pieces don’t involve the foresight longer ones do. I pretty much hate writing by the seat of my pants. I wouldn’t mind doing NaNo again one of these years, but I would have to go into it with a great outline. That’s what I’ve realized the most about my writing process. I’m not much of a fly by the seat of my pants type. I am a planner.
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  8. Wait, is that a typewriter?!?!


    If I participated in NaNoWriMo with a typewriter, I’d be sunk from day 1!

    Great post; thanks!


  9. There is a lot of power in commitment and the feeling of community. The only book I’ve written is a product of many years of occasional writing down anecdotes and eventually pulling it all together but I have a friend who has workshops where she inspires people to write in a very short time period. The month deadline is an interesting concept.
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  10. I like the idea of NaNoWriMo because of the focus and commitment participating can bring. One cannot produce high quality writing in one month, but it can be great for getting the full first draft done. I have only partially participated because November often seems to be a month with too many distractions (travel, e.g.). Approaching NaNoWriMo with an outline in place would be the most effective approach for me. I personally alternate between a slow approach and immersion in my creative work.
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  11. I have never heard of the expressions Focus on quantity not quality. The quality will come once you do enough work. Always thought it was the other way around. I like immerse myself in a project because I like to get things done so they are off my plate. I t know I could not write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days, I admire your tenacity.
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  12. I love the idea of focusing on quantity, not quality; that the quality will come eventually. I like to think that after participating several times in NaNo, I’m starting to see quality in what I’m producing. I’m learning as I go, but then in between NaNos, I’m reading as well. You’re right: it’s a huge commitment, and I get testy when something interferes with my scheduled time to write (I’m on a deadline, after all!). I just wish I could give myself the same kick in the pants the rest of the year 🙂
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    • Well Im in total awe that you’ve taken the time to comment on this post during NaNo Marie – thanks so much, I’m honored. Commitment in the long haul is really hard I find, and I tend to go in waves. I’ll be interested once it’s over to hear about what you’ve come up with. Good luck for the rest of the month. Go Marie!!!
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  13. A.K. — love the idea of National KickAss Creative Month! Let’s do it. I also like quantity over quality. I think writer’s block is nothing more than being unable to get something down on paper because you’re already editing your copy before you’ve even started writing. I’ve been getting my personality more into my writing these days because I feel it frees me up to write what I want to write about. I’ve been too concerned about what other people will think of my stuff. It’s liberating.
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  14. My favorite saying “Writing is easy, getting the words in the right order is the hard part” goes along with how I write my novels and your point about quantity not quality.
    I wrote the first draft of Legend of the Mystic Knights in less than a month. I was around 100,000 words when I was done.
    After I am done, I edit it, fix it, add some take some away. In this case it ended up at around 114,000 words.
    I believe the best way to accomplish something is to do it. Get it done, worry about how it looks later. Anything we create, (paintings, writings, etc) ends up having its own personality, it (with your help) creates itself. We should not push it into something it is not.
    This is a wonderful post, and thanks for sharing it with us.
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    • What a wonderfully insightful comment William. Thanks so much. I’m def. behind your comment about the words being in the right order. That’s incredible that you managed to write a 100,000w draft in a month! And Im totally in agreement too that the work ends up having it’s own personality, and trying to push it into something it’s not never works, but does a good job on tearing our hair out. I like your style!
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  15. I’m not cut out to be a novelist: I don’t have the attention span for it. Picture a flickering fluorescent light bulb on the verge of going out – flicker, flicker, flicker, pfffft! – that’s what I’m like after about two hours of blogging work; at that point I have to stop and go do something mindless for a little while. Having said this, I tip my hat to writers with the focus to go it for the long haul.
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    • Have to say I love this comment Andy – I think your work is just very different. So much more complex- to the point that I must confess I don’t understand what you are writing about which is why I haven’t commented. I guess anything behind the scenes in computers shuts the curtains over my brain. So I wouldn’t worry too much about being a novelist. I can see why you need a break after 2 hrs of blogging such in depth stuff. Thanks so much for stopping by . Always appreciated.
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  16. I started doing a version of immersion with my blog. I decided to pick one topic at a time and to concentrate on one topic at a time and do a series of posts on that topic. I find it helps my creativity because I’m constantly thinking about that one topic. So, even if I’m not at the computer my mind is still “on the look out” for relevant information.
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  17. Hi Kathy. As someone who always writes to the proposed word count, it seems to go against my grade to focus on quantity vs quality. Perhaps because I don’t write fiction. If it works for some, all the power to them! But I do agree with the principle of immersion. when you’re working on a larger project, you absolutely DO have to immerse yourself in it to maintain the flow.
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    • I think if you think of it in terms of each piece being a rough draft for the final work then perhaps it doesn’t sound as sloppy as it might. I think you can still have a target goal like a word count to work to , rather than blethering on without saying anything. That’s pointless. But sometimes editing down to a fine point as it were can be more effective than trying to be perfect the first time round. But basically I think we all have different ways of working, and whatever works is the way to go. Clearly you’ve found a path that works!
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  18. Great post AK. I think total immersion is the way to go. That seems to be the way one learns the quickest. Look at the kids, or adults sometimes, that they put in a different culture where their language is not spoken and how quickly they are able to pick up the language compared to trying to learn it a bit at a time. Didn’t realize it would work the same way with writing, but it makes sense. 🙂
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    • Immersion can work for all sorts of things I suppose, but languages as you mention are a great example. I think with writing there is something to be said about actually learning the craft though, and that would be something to do before you immerse yourself. Some people will have natural gift of course and don’t need to be taught. That said I think we can all improve by learning more about whatever craft we choose.