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On being an NaNoWriMo ML, a writing role model, and my own writing journey

by Nov 11, 2014Clone Rocker, My Writing, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), On Writing: Craft and Commiseration0 comments

I don’t know how to write this blog post without sounding like a jerk but here goes.

I’m ahead on NaNoWriMo. Like, really ahead. And this is going to sound like bragging but it’s really just a statement of fact: I’m ahead and I’m not even working all that hard. 

Every single word of that was written at a write-in, specifically the twice weekly online write-ins and the Kick-Off Party write-on Nov 1st, and one daily 15 minute sprint at lunch. That’s it. I’m not doing anything special besides attending the events I have to attend as an ML, which are only a fraction of the events going on this month, and I’m not just on pace, I’m ahead by a lot. I think my speed this year is a result of a couple of things.

Firstly, I really like this book idea so I’m whipping through it quickly. Secondly, I do, admittedly, type pretty fast (thank you, Catholic school home row training!). Thirdly, I’ve done NaNoWriMo so many times and written so many things before this that a lot of the mental hang-ups people get when writing a first novel aren’t an issue for me and that’s sort of an unfair advantage I completely acknowledge. Fourth, as I’m an ML, failure is literally not an option and my presence is required at certain events whereas both are optional for the average participant which I’m sure has an effect on motivation because I know it did for me pre-ML hood.

But the real reason I’m so far ahead is that I’m not holding myself back this year. Ever since I became an ML, I have been very conscious of the fact that I’m a role model for all the writers in my area doing NaNoWriMo and it always seemed so much easier to approach pep talks and advice from the angle of, “Look, I’m behind too! Let’s catch up together! We can do it!” and pull out the victory in the end right alongside them. To make myself seem like one of the gang, I have, very literally, been holding back with the intention of staying on pace and not letting myself get too far ahead.

This was not really great for me as a writer because it meant that I was often holding myself back from writing when I was inspired or taking days off from my novel and finding it hard to pick it back up all because I was trying to rein in my word count instead of writing at my natural pace. And it was, frankly, dishonest because I was pretending. This year, I realized that, just as with my blog readers, that I was projecting things onto the participants in my area based on nothing. For all I knew, they might be inspired by an ML that was ahead!

So, this year, I’m (trying) not to obsess about how my word count looks to outsiders and just doing my NaNoWriMo the way I want to do it. And what I want to do is whip through this novel while I’m inspired and finish it so that I can use the inspiration and write-ins of November to finish something else in the second half of the month. I’ll be honest, I’ve already got a couple of weird emails from participants that make me suspect my original theory is correct and that they prefer an ML who’s a bit more on pace than one that’s ahead. It’s made me go from excited about my word count to weird and self-conscious about it. But I’m not going to let it effect how I’m writing this month.

I’ve written before about how you shouldn’t feel bad if your word count is lower than others because everyone writes at their own pace but I failed to realize that I was not taking my own advice and feeling embarrassed all because I wasn’t comprehending that the reverse of that is also true. That you also shouldn’t be ashamed if your word count is higher than others. That sometimes being ahead makes you a very different kind of target than being behind because people accuse you of cheating or lying and you need to remember that is coming from jealousy and their own feelings of inadequacy. It doesn’t mean that you should slow down or stop because you’re not the one doing anything wrong.

The one thing I do keep saying to fellow Wrimos that throw a little shade on my word count is that, if it makes them feel better, my novel is truly awful, which is true. I absolutely love these characters, this world, this whole concept, but I will be the very first to admit that it makes not a single molecule of sense. But, unlike a less experienced writer who might panic about that, I’ve done this writing thing to know that that’s actually just fine, that I’m just giving myself some rough material to work with later when I sculpt this whole mess into something readable. That’s the real secret to this whole writing thing, the understanding that when you embrace the suck  and trust that you can fix it later, you can really let your fingers fly unfettered on the first draft.

Anyway, no matter what your word count, I stress again, do your own thing and don’t worry about how your word count compares to everyone else’s (or try, at least, because it’s hard). You’re the only one writing your novel and you need to find your own path without worrying about how that compares to what everyone else is doing.



  1. My NaNoWriMo novel is DONE, to the surprise of everyone (including me)! - Hillary DePiano - […] for the NaNoWriMo 50k challenge, I’m ahead for the month anyway. I’m a little over 45k as I write…

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Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.

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