The Most Important Rule for NaNoWriMo

by Ruthanne Reid | 21 comments

You'll see a lot from us in the next couple of months to help you finish your novel in thirty days.  I promise the articles and tips are gonna be good.

The Most Important Rule for NaNoWriMo

But over all the advice, over all the fun and the pressure and the late nights writing, there is one rule I want you to keep as the foundation of everything you do during the month of November: Write it anyway.

Your Inner Critic Wants to Make You Quit

I know how difficult this is. The inner critic gets vicious during NaNoWriMo, especially right around the middle of the month. That's the point when you'll “realize” several things:

  1. Lie number one: what you've written is drivel (translation: your inner critic will make it almost impossible to see the good in what you've written).
  2. Lie number two: your plan for the story is stupid (translation: your inner critic will try to make you afraid of finishing).
  3. Lie number three: you can't write and you don't know what to write next and you have nothing to write down (translation: your inner critic will scream so loudly that you'll find it hard to believe otherwise).

This will be the most important time not to stop. Yes, even if you think you have writer's block.

Your Inner Critic Is a Jerk

As you may recall from my previous post, your inner critic is a jerk. You can't listen to it because the inner critic's goal is not to make you a better writer. Your inner critic is trying to get you to quit.

Your inner critic is going to stalk you especially hard next month. NaNoWriMo isn't necessarily about producing a published book. It's about getting your butt in the chair and writing so consistently that you learn it as a habit. That means giving yourself permission to write poorly because that's what it takes to write better.

That's important enough to repeat:

Your inner critic will tell you anything to stop you from getting better. It's gonna stalk you like a tiger. I'm going to try to help you recognize the pattern of its approach.

When Your Inner Critic Stalks You

Does this pattern sound familiar?

  • You start writing on November 1st, and whether it's good or not isn't the point. The point is that you're writing, and it's fun, like pushing off the top of a snow-covered hill in a slick, red sled.
  • A few days later, writing becomes more like work—kind of like the sled slowing down near the bottom of the hill. You want the story to make sense; you've got good taste, so you know what you're writing isn't necessarily great. But it's still fun.
  • And then the sled comes to a stop, and the real work begins.

Up to this point, the inner critic has been stalking you steadily. There's been a rustle in the grass, an occasional deep-chested growl that scares you, but it hasn't come into view yet. You might even be telling yourself you're safe. That it won't strike this time. That you'll make it through.

Your inner critic will wait until your back is turned to pull the sled up the hill before pouncing.

  • All of a sudden, it's going to feel like everything you've written is crap.
  • All those lies I mentioned above will seem true and logical and right.
  • You won't see what was good.
  • You won't be able to remember how much fun it was on the way down (or worse, your inner critic will say it'll never be fun like that again).
  • All of a sudden, your writing will stutter—like stumbling through the snow up the hill.
  • And here, one of two things will happen: either you will push through until you reach the top of the hill, throw the tiger off, and sled down again, or you'll stammer, stutter, believe you cannot write more, and give up.

Writer's block is a real thing in the sense that it will trip you and stub your toe real good.

Writer's block is not a real thing in the sense that it's a metaphysical chain that keeps you from going forward no matter what you do.

I know how that inner critic works. It sinks its claws into your back and tells you you're done. It breaths on the back of your neck and tells you you're through.

It's a liar.

Write it Anyway

Yes, you can.

Yes, what you write will probably be lousy. That's okay. Write it anyway.

Yes, you may lose the thread of where you're going and why. That's okay. Write your characters washing their clothes until they tell you where they're going next. Write them going to the bank or brushing their teeth. Write the weird neighbor across the street staring at them through the window like a creep. It doesn't have to be good. Write it anyway.

Yes, you will probably not end up keeping the stuff you write when powering through writer's block. It doesn't matter. Write it anyway.

When you write it anyway, you're strengthening your muscles, training your brain, and teaching your soul that no matter what your inner critic claims, you will not be stopped. Write it anyway.

You Will Beat Your Inner Critic

Your inner critic stalks you like a tiger, but you know what? It doesn't actually have any teeth. It can't make you bleed. It can't actually stop you. It can only convince you to stop yourself.

As we plunge into November and NaNoWriMo, you're going to experience all kinds of things. You're going to have fun; you're going to discover you have more words in you than you thought; you may also discover this isn't the book you wanted to write, or that it's more than you intended to share, or that it's bigger than you dreamed. Characters will do things you never expected. So might your inner critic.

You can do still this. Shed the idea that what you write has to be good. It doesn't have to be good. It has to be written. Once it's written, you can make it good.

Writer's block won't stop you.

Your inner critic won't stop you.

Hang those three words on your wall: Write it anyway.

Now go forth and prepare to conquer NaNoWriMo. Make November your own.

Have you gotten tripped by the inner critic's lies before? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Today, I want you to practice fighting off that inner critic. I've got a challenge for you today. Are you ready? Of course you are.

Find an old piece of writing that got you stuck. Maybe it's a practice from another article, or maybe it's a work in progress you started and then put down.

Now, take fifteen minutes to continue working on it. What you write doesn't have to be good. You don't have to keep it. It doesn't even have to make sense. Write it anyway.

You can beat that inner critic. I promise.

When you’re done, post your practice in the comments, and be sure to respond to your fellow writers and encourage them to stamp on their foreheads those three words: write it anyway.

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Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.

Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.

When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.

P.S. Red is still her favorite color.

21 Comments

  1. James Wright

    I have most definitely been tripped by Mr. Inner Critic. I’m at a point where I carry a big stick to beat him off. I love this article.

    Reply
  2. LilianGardner

    These three word will be my mantra all through November.
    Thanks, Ruthanne, for the encouragement, and telling us how to banich the inner critic.
    Here’s a post from an unfinished story.
    A Step From Insanity

    I mixed the pasta and sauce in the bowl on the diningroom table and glanced out of the window of our small appartment in Venice, glimpsing the gondolas in the canal. Our appartment was on the second floor of a three-storeybuilding.
    With lunch over, my twenty two year old daughter cleared the table, while I sat on the
    sofa in the lounge.
    I heard her arranging cups on the tray and the strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted on the air. This always brought me a special sensation of peace and relaxation,
    knowing that we could sit together for a couple of hours; no visitors, no phone
    calls, no one to break the peace until teatime. Oh! Yes. Although this was
    Venice, and teatime was not a habitual thing for native dwellers, we stuck to the
    habits of our Anglo Indian culture, and afternoon tea remained a special moment.

    Presently Sheila entered the lounge balancing the coffee tray in one hand and a plate of cookies in the other.
    “I made a batch of coconut biscuits this morning. I hope they’ve turned out o.k,” she said.
    “Darling, these cookies are delicious,” I said after nibbling one.
    When she finished drinking her coffee, she sat on the carpet near my feet and rested her head on my knees. I ran my fingers through her glossy, dark curly hair. We
    remained like this for a while, silently sorting out our thoughts.

    I scanned my life rapidly, and thought, we’ve comea long way. I learned about Venice from History and Geography books, but Inever imagined we would live in this enchanting, beautiful and unique city.

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      I like this. It is simple and conveys a sense of reality.

    • LilianGardner

      Thanks for feedback, Bruce. It feels good to see that you read my assignment.
      My writing is simple but I wish I could give it a more sophisticated twist.

    • Bruce Carroll

      1) Write like yourself. Don’t add a complexity that doesn’t come naturally to you.

      2) Be grateful for your straightforward style. Too many writers try to write sophisticated twists and end up muddying their work until it is hardly readable.

    • LilianGardner

      Thanks, Bruce. I love your comment and advice. I will take it to heart and not try to overdo my natural style.

  3. Kobe

    This is exactly what happened to me two years ago with NaNo. Loved my characters, started off with a bang. About 14,000 words in the story took a twist and started to go south. I attempted to fight through it, but it was a struggle and that Inner Critic was MEAN. Sometime during the second week, I caved. Incidentally, this wasn’t my first attempt at NaNo – I completed it the year before successfully – have since added 35K words, done tons of editing and am currently looking for an agent. This was a great article!!

    Reply
    • Rose Green

      Good luck with the search for an agent!

  4. esloan

    We drove out of San Francisco slowly. The traffic held us back, giving us time for second thoughts. We approached a large green sign that read, “Last San Francisco Exit.” We drove past it. We had to go.

    After the billboards and the sparkling, sinking Millennium Tower full of multi-million dollar condos that were now worth hardly anything, we crossed the Bay Bridge. We looked over the glittering Bay to the Golden Gate in the distance. We passed over Treasure Island and crept past the the giant hangers at the Port of Oakland. We snaked our way through Emeryville, then Berkeley, then Richmond. The buildings began to get shorter and longer, the road straighter. Strip malls with their familiar signs and their expansive parking lots blurred together. Starbucks, and again, Starbucks—this time with a “Drive-Thru.” Super 8. Target. Lowes. The ubiquitous corporate outposts, the speeding cars, and the straightness of the road plunged us into anonymity.

    We had five hundred miles to cross in this way, my sister and I. Five hundred miles for a corpse.

    Reply
  5. Erik Bressler

    I enjoyed this article a great deal. This article presented me with some terrific self-reflection and self-realization.

    The inner critic in my writing is something that I have had to deal with for many years. It wasn’t until I attempted a practice Physical Fitness Test for the Marines last week when I realized that the inner critic is always there no matter what challenge you are facing. Knowing that I have pushed past the inner critic and succeeded in all other aspects of my life up to this point, I know that I can beat the inner critic when I attempt my first Nanowrimo this year.

    Reply
    • Rose Green

      There really is nothing like your first Nano! It’s such a rollercoaster. I always envy people who are doing it for the first time because it’s impossible to recapture the adrenaline rush. I wish you luck!

  6. Joanna Morefield

    It is clear I will have to either sleep with my critic-stick, or get up much earlier! Thanks for the heads-up!

    Reply
  7. Deena

    Ruthanne: What a gem of a post! Thank you. Deena

    Reply
  8. GGRIENER

    Thanks, Ruthanne! You describe his lies perfectly. And I have believed them often. If I had not named my inner critic, Snidryk, just this past six months and also read “The War of Art” by Pressfield, your words here would have frightened me to death. Thanks for the wise warnings. I once heard that successful people actually try to guess what the obstacles to their goals will be ahead of time and then pre-emptively design their “just in case” responses to them so they are not blind-sided. This is such a warning, but a prepared mind is a powerful mind.

    And I love your advice to just keeping writing about anything! Always do insanity one step better than your critic. He won’t know what to do! 🙂 And he may be temporarily “tasered” giving you time to leap ahead of him.

    Reply
  9. bernadette

    I’m getting a great laugh, James has a stick to beat his critic, Joanna Sleeps with her stick, Ggriener has a taser at the ready…we writers are a rough and ready tribe!

    Reply
  10. Rose Green

    I’ve done ALL the things you describe during NaNo! I’ve abandoned novels completely (once due to technical issues, once because I was convinced it was terrible), I’ve also got to the end of the 50k and realised ‘that was OK but I don’t want to go back to it’, I’ve looked at the finished product and thought ‘well, that was some bad writing I’ll never have to do again’, and then there was 2014 where I knew I had something REALLY good that just needed some polish (it’s actually had a LOT of polish but the point still stands).

    My inner editor is at least as much of a pain as my inner critic. Actually, I think they’re in league against me! I do normally manage to ignore them both and push through. My mantra is ‘quantity over quality’ and I find that really helps. Writing in November becomes a case of just hitting today’s target.

    I also have a small band of faithful beta readers who not only give me a reason to keep going – because they’re waiting for the next chapter to land in their inbox – they are also very honest about what I’ve produced. They wouldn’t say ‘this is terrible’ but they would point out where there is room for improvement!

    Reply
    • Erik Bressler

      I find that having a support group to be a great motivator in anything that you do in life. Having that support really helps to keep that inner critic at bay.

      Have a great NaNo this year!

  11. EmFairley

    Thanks for this timely reminder, Ruthanne!

    Reply
  12. Jason Bougger

    Good tips on NaNoWriMo. You’re right that you must silence the inner critic. Really that pesky person has no business sitting the table with anyone doing NaNoWriMo.

    But if he is there, and starts whining about your quality, throw him a bone by making an note in the text and keep writing.

    Good luck to everyone who tries it next month!

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      I like that advice.

  13. Bruce Carroll

    I didn’t revise any old writing for this practice. Instead, I am sharing some of my thoughts about the “Inner Critic.”

    ….

    Thoughts on the Inner Critic

    It seems to me a lot of writers have been writing (and reading) a lot of stories. The whole idea of an “inner critic” is really just another story, and a classic one at that. We have a writer (a character, the protagonist) who wants to write something. Maybe the writer wants to write a novel, or a how-to book, or a blog post. It doesn’t really matter. The writer has a goal, a motivation. The thing the protagonist wants to write is the MacGuffin.

    Of course, to have a story, we need conflict. Enter the “Inner Critic,” the villain, the heavy, the antagonist. This story is particularly effective because the inner critic is really just the protagonist; the writer’s own doubts and fears. It is the classic “Man vs. Himself” plot, or more accurately, Character vs. Self, since protagonists don’t have to be male or even human.

    “But that inner voice is real,” I hear some of you saying.

    Yes, yes, it is. So how is a writer to respond when the Inner Critic says your writing is no good?

    Maybe I am the only one who does this, but when I am convinced my writing is worthless, I start listing all of the terribly written yet remarkably popular things that have been written: things that, had I written them, I wouldn’t show my own mother that have earned millions. I won’t bore you with a list: you can probably name some of them off the top of your head.

    Once I’ve listed a dozen or so of these terribly written, terribly popular things (books, TV programs, movies, plays), the “Inner Critic” usually quiets down. If not, I point out that my terrible writing may just may become a cash cow franchise.

    So write some brilliant garbage, I say.

    Reply

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