On November: NaNoWriMo and PAD Challenge

The other day I received an email from a former student in my writing class.  Chris wanted to let me know he was still writing, but that he’d been stuck lately on the first ten pages of a story–he kept rewriting those pages and never got any further.  Then he asked whether I was familiar with NaNoWriMo:  he thought he might try it, to see if it gave him the kick in the butt he needed to write forward.

I am familiar with NaNoWriMo, the name of which is a mash-up of National Novel Writing Month.  According to the organization’s own description, “NaNoWriMo is an annual (November) novel writing project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world.”  I have, upon occasion, been one of them.  I’ve been registered at the NaNoWriMo website for a couple of years.  The goal of the project is for each participant to complete a 50,000-word novel over the 30 days of November:  you do the math.  That’s a lot of words, every day.  On the site, participants keep track of their completed work each day, in order to, ostensibly, give them the push they need to finish.

In my first year participating, I tried.  God knows I tried.  I was at the time sweating through the first draft of a novel manuscript, and hoped having this theoretical Big Brother breathing down my neck would provide impetus.  For a couple of days it did.  Unfortunately, I found myself up against a place in the writing which I could not find a way around:  I suddenly realized that a major character, one who had become very dear to me, had to die in order for the story to become what it should be.  I had to kill her.  I knew this in my blackest of hearts, and yet–I couldn’t do it.  I began to fall behind in my word count.  This added to my anxiety no end.  I kept telling myself I’d make the lost verbiage up.  Tomorrow.  Really.  And I did try.  Sadly, I was writing in circles:  I tried to get at the death one way, and then another.  Nothing worked.  I found myself composing and deleting stuff on the computer, writing things out long-hand in my daily notebook (another story for another time) and crossing them out.  I couldn’t get to the point where I dropped the curtain on the poor girl, because I loved her far too much.  Eventually, November and NaNoWriMo were over, and I had not come close to the goal.  I felt like a failure on two counts:  the word count, and in the actual writing, where it truly did count.

I’ve stayed away from attempting to buy into that particular artificial deadline since.

But for those whose bent is poetic rather than prosaic, there’s the November PAD Challenge to consider. PAD stands for “Poem A Day.”  The challenge here, is, obviously, to construct a viable poem every day:  30 poems, give or take a few, make a chapbook.  I’ve tried this as well.  There are any number of places one can go for prompts, though one of the most well-known is Robert Lee Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog.  A few years ago, the Wom-Po listserv had an online poetry festival during the month of November, featuring a series of art-related prompts, with all art created by women.  I participated in that one…for a few days.  Unfortunately, I found the same thing happening there as I had with NaNoWriMo:  as good as my intentions were, I went to hell.  I fell behind; I kept telling myself I’d catch up–tomorrow–and I never did.  (I am grateful, however, that I didn’t have to agonize over killing anyone in the poems.)

This year, I am revising the finally completed novel manuscript during the month of November;

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, my conversational partner

probably I’ll be revising in December, too, because this is still a difficult story to tell.  At the same time, I am working on another challenge, originally conceived with the help of the kids in this year’s writing class:  composing a poem every day in response to one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. However, I started this poetic exercise–I call mine anti-sonnets–in late October, and since Elizabeth has more than 40 sonnets, I’ll be writing away on the project into December as well.  I’ve decided, quite frankly, that I have to impose my own deadlines on myself–or reject having deadlines altogether–rather than have them artificially imposed by some outside entity.  The ones I decide upon, or don’t decide upon, make far more sense to me.


I am ever thankful for my writing classes.  Every year–every day–the members give me something to think about.  Something to write about.  Invariably something to laugh about.  Some of them give me inspiration long after they’ve graduated.  It’s the month of Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d just throw that one out there.


I told Chris he’s suffering from perfectionist’s paralysis, and he should stop rewriting those ten pages for now, and move on.  Otherwise, he’ll never get to the end of the story.  Once he’s done, he can always go back and revise.  But he has to stop strangling himself–figuratively–first.


  1. I absolutely despise these artificial writing gimmicks, such as NaNoWriMo. I say this an individual, however: for all I know, they are useful to many people. But not for me. I’ve just written an essay about the importance of “nothing” in a poet’s life–include the “nothing” of not writing. I’ll send it to you if you want.


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