Confessions of a NaNo Rebel

While the oldest NaNoWriMo debate may be Plotters vs. Pantsers, there’s another equally entrenched debate that simmers up during this November challenge. And that is, NaNoWriMo Rebels vs. Purists. Purists are the rule-followers, the ones that do NaNoWriMo by the book. Traditionally, those rules go as follows:

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Only count words written during November. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
  • Upload your novel for word-count validation to our site between November 25 and November 30.

In the past, the rules also specified that your NaNo novel had to be a brand new project that you’d never written any part of before November 1st. Many purists still adhere to that rule as well as the spirit of NaNo that dictates no going back to edit, just write, write, write until you hit 50k. Short stories have also been in the gray area of official NaNo-dom as has fanfiction, but both are now deemed acceptable within certain parameters.

So what does make you a NaNoWriMo rebel? Well, hold on while I practice my Jeff Foxworthy voice for a second. During NaNo, if yooouuu…

  • Write multiple, unconnected short stories/essays/vignettes, etc.
  • Write a screenplay or stage play
  • Write poetry
  • Write nonfiction, including a memoir
  • Create a video or board game
  • Create a graphic novel

…you might be a Rebel.

As a Rebel, you may be accused of “cheating” or doing NaNo wrong. But, true to the inclusive nature of NaNo, the organizers don’t see it that way. As they say in their handy Rebels Forum post, NaNoWriMo is a self-challenge, and it’s up to you to decide whether what you’re writing “counts”. If not following the rules makes you feel like you shouldn’t validate your word count and get your official win, that’s cool. If you wrote your 50k words and want your shiny Winner title, that’s cool too. You do you.

For every one of my previous NaNos, including the years that I won, I’ve tried to do the challenge by the book. Not a single word written before kickoff, working on one novel-length project for the duration of the month, fiction all the way; check, check, check. But as the month progresses, I get burnt out on my story and the crazy pace of NaNo that my attention starts to wander and I find myself going off on tangents that are completely unconnected to the project I’m “supposed” to be writing. But hell, they’re words written in November, so I would count it. Sometimes that would push me over the edge into the winner’s circle, sometimes it would just pad my word count and help me feel less bad about my inevitable loss. But whether I won or lost, I always felt a little guilty about my rebellion. This year, though? I’m loosening up my rules a little bit from the very beginning.

What I’ve learned from my six years of NaNo is that, the fast drafting mentality necessary for NaNo success isn’t the best approach for me. While I love the community and collective drive that November brings, I’ve never been happy with the drafts that I’ve produced during the month. Inevitably, they’re full of holes big enough to drive a truck through, and not just in the sense of plot. Settings, conflicts, entire characters and motivations will disappear from the story in the time it takes to get it out of my head and down on paper. In fact, when I recently went back to revise the draft I’d produced during last year’s NaNo, I was left wondering what happened to the story I thought I’d written. Where did it all go?

I’ve discovered that in order for me to write a good first draft, meaning a draft that has enough meat on its bones for me to come back and shape with editing, I need to slow down. Like waaaay down. I need to revise as I go, retreading the same scene multiple times before moving onto the next one. The end result probably still won’t be perfect, but it will at least contain all the details that were in my mind when I envisioned it. Knowing this, I decided to let myself off the hook a little bit for this year’s NaNo. The plan was to focus on one main project—a reimagined version of the novel I’d drafted last year—while giving myself permission to write this blog and explore other ideas that might develop into future novel projects, all of which would count towards my 50,000 word goal for the month. I’m keeping track of it in a combined Scrivener document with separate folders for the blog, the novel, and a “random ideas” folder.

Now, four days into NaNo, I’m somewhat reconsidering my approach. Because ironically, this new approach is helping me write more words in my novel. Go figure. As I’ve gone back and layered more details into the scenes I’ve already written, my novel has started to catch up to the daily word count pacer and I’ve started deleting the random extra writing from my consolidated document. As of right now, I’m down to just the novel, this blog and a blank document I’m leaving open to record plot bunnies (random unconnected ideas that pop up while writing) that I don’t want to forget as I push forward. My goal by the end of the month is to have my novel take over and be the sole basis for my NaNo word count. But until that happens, I’m taking the pressure off myself and claiming the title of NaNo rebel.

What about you guys? Are you a NaNo purist or a Rebel?

3 thoughts on “Confessions of a NaNo Rebel

  1. Personally, I’m a purist simply because 50,000 words in a sustained story is good practice for me. But your overall approach to writing sounds a little like mine, with the “lets get it right the first time damn it” attitude. A 70,000 word novel not during November took 2 years, but I’m capable of decent work at the breakneck pace.

    What is your novel about?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Another purist, but I’m testing myself in a manner slightly rebellious. I want to get the novel written, polished and published. In one month. The few moments of madness, but hey, you never know until you …


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