Episode 17: NaNoWriMo or ‘how to force yourself to write 2000 words a day’

On November 3, 2018, Rex and Kat represented Write On SC at the Writing Workshop of South Carolina and this episode aired about NaNoWriMo which kicked off Nov 1. Here are the show notes:


Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer

Rex Hurst, Fiction Writer & English Instructor

Theme for the day

NaNoWriMo or How to Force Yourself to Write 2000 Words a Day


  • Who we are and why we’re here
  • NaNoWriMo
  • Planner or Pantser?
  • Book discussion — currently reading and its analysis through the lens of the topic
  • Craft book discussion
person writing on notebook
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Segment 1

What is NaNoWriMo

Here are the Basics (NaNoWriMo 101)

  • National Novel Writing Month — no, it’s not a United States officially recognized holiday, it’s kind of like Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept 19th) in that it’s primarily and online thing.
  • Visit nanowrimo.org to get more information.
  • You sign up, you write like crazy for every day in November.
  • You finish 50,000 words and copy & paste them into their word counter
  • You win.

No, they don’t drop balloons from the ceiling. No, you can’t put it on your resume. But you will have a pretty good first draft — rough draft — of a novel with which you can begin playing to shape into something valuable, meaningful, and publishable.

Advantages of NaNoWriMo:

  • Chance to try a different writing project.
  • Chance to meet some new writing friends. (local and online meetups)
  • Chance to create some new (or revive some old) writing/creation habits.

Here’s a blog I wrote about loving NaNoWriMo and how good it’s been for me

NaNoWriMo is a frenzy and that fenzy can be both invigorating and exhausting.

Disadvantages to NaNoWriMo:

  • It’s November and that’s a pretty busy month as it is with Thanksgiving and football season.
  • It sets you up to achieve a VERY HIGH volume of words which can be intimidating and frustrating.
  • Because it’s such a big challenge, the possibilities for failure are numerous.
  • There’s very little actual payoff since the draft will probably be pretty bad and need numerous revisions.

Here’s a blog Jodie Cain Smith wrote about how much she hates NaNoWriMo

Segment 2

The age-old NaNoWriMo debate: What is pantsing and what is planning?

Almond Press has an article on this. They say:

Start a plan with:

  • An Outline — general, overview, high-level character arc; action plot and emotional plot (motivations); character
  • Chapters — Specific by number or name, include which characters are in there, give the action plot items and then the emotional plot items
  • Scenes — Specific by location, characters, time in relation to the time of the book and the time of day/week/month
  • Details — do you need some foreshadowing details here?

ShortSpark.com suggests these ways to begin pantsing:

  • Write with a few key scenes in mind — this can be the inspirational scene and become the inciting incident, then the questions that go with it have to be answered.
  • Start with character — the voice of the person who demands his or her story be told; it can feel like being possessed

Try not to get distracted by the details when pantsing — historical accuracies, clichés, time, weather, character voice, setting or costume

Dan Johnson’s blog:

“Stories written this way are driven from subconscious instinct rather than conscious decision-making.”

Why is there a debate between these two styles?

Most writers will only be comfortablewith one of these styles. So figuring out which one can be a step in a writer’s maturity. And learning to work in either can be another step in a writer’s maturity.

For pansters, there’s still a romantic ideal about process, the exhilaration of following a voice or what have you into the depths of their experience, thoughts, or beliefs.

For planners, there’s relief in having a plan of where to go.

Famous Pantsers:

Lee Child

Stephen King

Famous Plotters:

J.K. Rowling

James Patterson

Segment 2

Is there an element of both in every complete process? Yes.

The difference is in the chronology. Pantsers begin with the creative flow and have to backtrack to plan. Planners begin with a direction and let the creative flow take them off course as needed.

This Writer Unboxed author (Lisa Cron, LA story doctor) argues that both planning and pantsing miss a key point:

“your protagonist’s inner issue, her inner agenda, and the story-driven evolution of her internal belief system, is where the real story lives.”

The debate: How do we find the character’s inner issue, inner agenda, and the story-driven evolution? Can it appear magically through a pantsing frenzy like NaNoWriMo? Or must we deliver it in a well-crafted plan using specific and finite details to unfurl it?

Planning and Pantsing are DRAFT techniques.

No one pants or plans and entire book. There’s a balance between frenzy and focus.

And there’s this big thing called “revision” that happens between drafting and publishing.

Unless you believe Faulkner’s claim of writing As I Lay Dying in a single, unedited draft.

Which techniques from each method can be implemented and for what purposes?

Pantsing can help lead to the relief of problems arising during the creative process (dialogue leading nowhere, boring scenes, or scenes that talk about the action without showing the action).

Plotting helps to set direction and create cohesion during the revision process.

Segment 3

Book Shares: What are you currently reading?

Segment 4

Craft book of the month:

The Fire in Fiction: passion, purpose, and techniques to make your novel great by Donald Maass

Chapter 1: Protagonists vs. Heroes

  • Protagonists are someone real, with real desires and real problems; we humanize them and give the reader a reason to care about them.
  • Heroes are out of proportion to Protagonists — they’re exceptional, good, decent, friendly, strong, patient, and kind. But we give them some dark pain or tragic flaw to overcome or strive against in order to make them seem fallible.

This book is great because it’s got exercises at the end of every chapter. Maass even says writers will read the exercise but not do it. So I’ll challenge our listeners to take on the exercise.

At the end of this chapter it’s to Find the Protagonist’s Strength by

  1. Find a strength inside that ordinary person.
  2. Work out a way for that strength to be demonstrated in the first 5 pages.
  3. Revise your Main Character’s introduction for your readers.

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