My NaNoWriMo Lesson: Tinkering Is Not Writing

A lot has happened since I last posted here:

  • I finished NaNoWriMo (yes, this year, I did it!). Now I need to look over and begin revising the very messy, incomplete draft birthed in November.
  • The term at the college where I teach ended just before Thanksgiving, which means I graded papers and exams and projects during NaNoWriMo… and survived!
  • My husband and I spend a wonderful few days over Thanksgiving with our son and daughter-in-law in Boston (that’s us, below, in the photo on a frigid pilgrimage to Fenway).
  • I’ve begun a new academic quarter, this time with five classes. Don’t ask me why. I’ve never taught more than four, so this is a bit of a test of my competence or sanity or both.
  • A former student allowed me to use as a guest post at Psychology Today a terrific piece he wrote on what it’s like to live with ADHD: “We half-bloods need the ideals of Rome: Order. Structure. Integrity. Discipline…” Read MoreFenway

My NaNoWriMo Lesson: Writing Is Not Tinkering

I learned a lot from completing NaNoWriMo—for some reason “completing” feels better to me than “winning” as a way to describe the process. The first week to ten days went more smoothly than I expected. I cranked out my word goal most days without much trouble and even had time to do some tinkering along the way. More about that later.

The middle third of the month was much harder. While I had sketched out some of the story in my head beforehand, I didn’t have much prepared, and I quickly ran out of plot and direction. This coincided with the work needed to submit over 100 students’ grades. Frustration was never far away.


By the end, however, my fingers were once again flying over the keyboard. What changed? I no longer had the luxury of doing that word tinkering I’d mentioned. I do love to tinker with words, but the whole point of the month-long challenge is not to revise during the rough draft phase, as Tai Reichle, a NaNoWriMo middle school author, reminds us: “Every word you delete, every font you change, and every link you click will bring you closer to my hopeless state.”

When I finally took that mission to heart, my story really came alive. New characters barged on the scene and quickly made themselves at home. Two new time periods (this is a time travel story) and new points of view grew from nowhere. I was able to get to 50,000 words with one day to spare.

What’s Next?

Now that I know I can get my writing mojo on, I’m seriously considering doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) for January. I’ve missed the deadline to sign up for December by just a couple of days, but I will probably get a head start on it by posting here more frequently in the coming weeks.

What is your experience with either NaNoWriMo or the ongoing battle to resist the temptation to tinker rather than write?

2 thoughts on “My NaNoWriMo Lesson: Tinkering Is Not Writing

    • Nina, I’m glad I’m not the only one! 🙂 My downfall when I’m drafting is changing the tense, switching to (or from) first person, moving various paragraphs to and fro… During November, one thing I did was to ignore Facebook, and it did make a big difference. Not sure I could or would want to do it forever, though.

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