Across the world this week, writers began spinning stories and obsessively checking their word counts, all in pursuit of that magic number: 50,000 words. Every year, I tell myself I don’t have time to do NaNoWriMo, and every year, I end up participating anyway.

How to Break the Rules for the Best NaNoWriMo Ever

But a couple years ago, I decided to break the rules and I had the best NaNoWriMo month ever. Maybe you need to break some rules yourself to redefine your writing this month.

The Beauty of NaNoWriMo

Before we start breaking rules, let me say I am grateful for NaNoWriMo. The first time I participated in 2012, I completed 50,000 words and sat back November 30th exhilarated, astonished, and exhausted. I had no idea I could write something that long, especially in thirty days!

Unfortunately, the manuscript (If I could call it that) was terrible. It didn’t have a defined genre, the character arc was a line, and the plot resembled several black holes. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: I learned that I still had to outline, but the outline work came after the first draft as the first step of revision. Painful.

Maybe I needed those words to find my way through the story or to convince myself I could actually finish a novel, but after working with a coach, I scrapped nearly 40,000 words and began again after I’d studied genre, structure, and character.

I’ve completed a traditional NaNoWriMo three times since then, with better results, mainly because of all I’ve learned and applied about genre and structure.

A NaNo Disruption

A couple years ago, I felt that November NaNoWriMo itch, but I was halfway through a revision. Shiny object syndrome struck hard.

I started a new project for NaNoWriMo against my better judgment, and five days in, I was over it. I knew I needed to get back to revision, instead of creating more fodder for the revision inbox.

I quit. It brought an odd mix of relief and sadness. I missed the clear daily goal and the support of the community, but my revision could now fill the writing time I had set aside.

Then it occurred to me that I could create my own NaNoWriMo experience, one based on my goals and the experience I wanted to have.

Breaking the Rules

Some writers are hardcore about their NaNoWriMo experience and what “counts.” They will argue that you must not begin until November 1, that only words written on your actual novel count (as opposed to including outlining, characterization, etc), and a host of other rules.

Let me remind you that the only thing that counts in the end is a good story that captures a reader. They do not care if you wrote the story in thirty days or thirty months. The reader wants to love a character and share their world for awhile.

Also, the NaNoWriMo site is much more forgiving, and its main goal is to support writers writing (and it has a ton of great resources too!). There is even a forum for rebels redefining their NaNoWriMo experience.

So don’t feel pressured to plow through words for words’ sake. Make those words count.

Where are you on your writing journey? What is your highest priority the next three months?

Focus on that one thing and use your NaNo time to write and track your progress this month while you reach out for community support.

Redefine NaNoWriMo for Yourself

Resist the compulsion to let someone else’s definition of NaNo or writing success define your journey today. (Including me!) Any progress you make toward your goals this month is a win!

Are you learning craft? Great, set aside the twenty to sixty minutes you would have spent solely on pounding out words to read an article or two about a craft move like dialogue or setting. Then practice applying what you learned. Repeat the process the next day, and the next. Your notes and practice are all “words” toward your monthly goal.

Are you trying to outline or structure a new project (or start revision for an old one)? Use your NaNo time to shore up the plot line and beats or study genre to get your outline in tip top shape before you start writing. All the exploration, ideas, and possibilities all “count” toward your goal.

Whether you set a word count, craft, or time goal this month, use Nano fever to propel you forward in the direction that best fits your goals and season.

My favorite thing about NaNoWriMo is the habit and the community. Both of those things are still available no matter how you structure your writing month.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you broken the rules? Tell us about it in the comments.

PRACTICE

Today is November 2, the second day of NaNoWriMo. For this practice, you have two options:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo according to the rules? Have you started a new manuscript, and you’re confident this is the perfect writing project to accomplish this November? That’s wonderful! Take the next fifteen minutes to write your NaNo novel and make progress towards today’s word count goal.

Are you considering NaNoWriMo, but you’re not sure what project you should tackle right now? Take the next fifteen minutes to make a list of all the writing projects you’re currently working on and the goals you have for your writing in the next month. Use that list to determine what your rebellious NaNoWriMo project will be. If you have any time left, get started on that project right now!

When you’re done, share your writing practice and your NaNoWriMo goal in the comments below. One of the best parts of NaNoWriMo is the community of writers all writing together, so be sure to leave feedback and encouragement on your fellow writers’ posts!

Sue Weems
Sue Weems
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveller with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.