On NaNoWriMo and the “Work” of Writing

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It figures that in the middle of my “writing brain reboot” session, the infamous NaNoWriMo would waltz into my life to taunt me. That’s an exaggeration. In reality, I haven’t paid much attention to it in years. I’ve only tried NaNoWriMo and NaPoWriMo (the poetry one) once. Both times, I failed. Both times were in high-production years for my writing. And both times left me totally exhausted by the whole process. Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that NaNo just isn’t for me.

NaNo was a painful experience for me. The frantic pace, the “end goal” of total completion, etc. produced more stress than they did enjoyment, and if there’s one reason I want to write fiction, it’s the pleasure I get from telling stories (and vice versa for reading). NaNo just never gave me those feelings. It made writing into a chore. It became “work.” And the more things become “work” for me, the less I find value in that thing. You can probably blame this on the fact that my experience with work hasn’t been a positive one. I’ve been fired from a job (without being told) for something the general manager had been doing for at least a year (stealing money from the register; he got caught about 4 or 5 months later).1 I’ve worked in jobs that aren’t particularly fulfilling or don’t pay me enough to live comfortably or don’t provide benefits.2 I’ve even worked as an illegal farmhand as a young teenager, and I didn’t even realize it at the time. So, for me, work isn’t synonymous with “good things.”3

For me, writing is a slow process. I edit while I write. I re-read before things are finished. I try to get things down that interest me even if they don’t fit into anything yet. I research way too many things. Some of this keeps me from actually doing the real writing. Some of this is just part of what makes writing enjoyable. If I’m going to get the writing brain working again, I’m going to have to find the energy and desire to have those experiences. Obviously, I haven’t a clue what writing tricks actually work. I’m rebooting. That might involve reinventing my proverbial wheel or rethinking my strategies or finding ways to detox the brain of all the stresses of day-to-day life. It might involve therapy and pills. I don’t know. I just hope I can do it the same way so many people have done NaNo year after year.

None of this should be taken as me saying you shouldn’t do it. If you want to try it, then try it. There are literally hundreds of writing methods out there, and you should give some of them a try. You never know when something might click with your writing brain. If there’s one thing I like about NaNo, it’s that so many people have found something great in it. I may be skipping it, but a whole lot of people are going to try it. Some will come to love it. Some will hate it. And that’s OK.


  1. I never received an apology, and the owner of the business lied to the State of California Labor & Workforce Development Agency about my firing, screwing me out of pay I would otherwise have received.
  2. Being a cancer survivor will likely keep me in jobs I don’t enjoy, too.
  3. I’m not particularly interested in arguments that say that work isn’t meant to be fun or enjoyable. If you’re going to spend 1/3rd of your life doing something you don’t find fulfilling and enjoyable, what the hell is the point in doing it? That’s a subject for another day…

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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