Book Review NaNo for the New and Insane: A Guide to Surviving NanoWrimo


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Book Review:

NaNo for the New and Insane:
A Guide to Surviving NanoWrimo

Reviewed By


Kelly Eileen Hake

Copyright © 2013, K.E.Hake, All Rights Reserved




*This review will not be complete. I am first reviewing it as a novice, entering a NaNo competition for the first time. Later, I will review the advice contained in the book more thoroughly, from the perspective of a writer who has undergone (and hopefully conquered) a NaNo challenge.*



This year I signed up for JulNo—the July session of NaNo, or National Novel Writing Month—as my very first NaNo challenge. Shortly thereafter, I heard about NaNo for the New and Insane: A Guide to Surviving NanoWrimo by Lazette Gifford andjumped on it like Willy Wonka after a golden gleam.


The entire book is a mere 100 pages, which is shocking considering how much Ms. Gifford fits into it. My favorite section is the final portion, which is admittedly bonus material. Her write up of “Author Vs. Character” will have you falling out of your chair with laughter…but the rest of the book will have you sitting up straight and taking notes.


She begins with the always-applicable advice that, while any author is welcome to use her ideas as a guide, in the end you’ll have to find your own path and that any reader should take what works for you, and don't worry about the rest. From there, she gives an excellent and encouraging definition of the NaNo challenge itself:


NaNo is an adventure for writers…The goal is to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. You have to start with a brand new story --no working on something already begun. You can have an outline, character worksheets,

sketches, and anything else except for any actual writing on the story…Everyone should remember the cardinal rule for taking part in NaNo: Have fun. 


Have fun while writing 50,000 words on a new novel in 30 days. This makes me feel better already, and I haven’t even gotten to the in-depth tips yet. Anything centered around fun can’t be bad!


An interview with Chris Baty, the creator of NaNo, produces some valuable insights, including his views that:


Giving yourself permission to write horribly is a really liberating process. It immediately turns off that stultifying, self-critical voice that has a way of dooming

creative undertakingsWe could all use more deadlines that encourage us to make neat stuff.


Lazette Gifford expands on this crucial point that the writing in NaNo should be done swiftly, without the expectation of perfection. Writing during NaNo isn't about quantity-versus-quality, as many people seem to think. It's about letting your muse loose to run wild for a few days and seeing what your imagination can do when broken free from the restrictions we place on ourselves when we believe something has to be perfect the moment it hits the screen. Nothing is ever perfect the first time through, no matter how much you edit as you go.


Let your muse run wild? Break free from restrictions? Don’t buy into the misguided belief you can make it perfect the first time around? If I weren’t already signed up, at this point I would’ve headed for the forums.


As a writer who wrestles down her inner critic on a daily basis, I am excited to experience the dual benefits of liberation and encouragement to embrace my misbehaving words on get then on the page!


On the other hand, Ms. Gifford has a track record of writing over a quarter of a million words during the course of a NaNo month. What seems simple and fun to her seems impossible to me—which is precisely what makes her an excellent resource for tips and tricks!


I write 10,000 words a day during the first few days of NaNo, she reveals. Sometimes over 3,000 in an hour.She quotes Timothy Clarke, who wrote the following about her even all the way back in 1999, before she reached such astronomical word counts: But you are a writing animal. I'd be afraid to get between you and a sheet of blank paper if you had a pen in your hand


Well, I don’t have to worry about coming between Ms. Gifford and a piece of paper (or her computer), but these numbers do fluff up an entirely more realistic fear. My fear of failure.


Forget 250,000 words plus—comparing my style and speed to another writer is foolish, as Ms. Gifford baldly states. But even so… little ol’ me might not even manage the prescribed 50,000 words in 30 (or in the case of JulNo, 31) days. What then?


As she puts it, Even if you don't reach the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the

month it doesn't matter. No one, including you, is going to die from not writing enough words.


Unfortunately, I have a bad habit. When someone seems to have all the answers, it makes me ask more questions. So a defiant (and doubtful) part of my brain is demanding to know how on earth what I write is going to be worth anything, if I’m just blitzing through at super speed?


She answers those concerns, too: Writing speed and writing quality have nothing to do with each other. Get used to that fact.


Still, I encounter resistance to the idea of NaNo. The vulnerable part of my writing self still hides behind an adversarial side, sneering. Fine. I can write, maybe even write a lot, and maybe the speed won’t destroy my style. What if the story I’m telling isn’t told well. Or worse, the storyline itself turns out to be weak or flawed?


For this, Ms. Gifford’s guidelines offer up an absolute jewel of wisdom and reassurance:The goal isn't to write the most. It's to write to your own challenges… Your personal challenge might be just making yourself believe your story is worth writing. This is one is the hardest to overcome. But here is a little truth: All stories are worth writing.


In spite of myself, I feel better. And, armed with the segments on how to begin novels, how to outline novels, how to phase outline novels, how to work around getting ‘stuck’ in your novel, how to create characters, how to end novels, and an entire list of online research and naming references, what author wouldn’t feel better?


This positive attitude is important in just about any facet of life, and NaNo proves to be no exception. Attitude is the important part. You have to be willing to admit this is fun and to share the joy others feel without getting upset if they outstrip you…Sometimes being able to encourage and help others can also help with your attitude toward NaNo writing.


In case it’s not clear, that attitude should be one of joy and love. That’s right, she said love! Actually, there is one very important facet to writing fast that most people don't consider: You have to love what you're doing. If you aren't enthralled with telling the story, you'll start looking for other things to do, and then you're doomed.



This makes sense to me. Writers write because we love words and want to share stories. Even if we’re trying to meet a word count goal, the underlying reason we write has to go beyond competition. And, I’m glad to read, so does NaNo: NaNo isn't about proving anything. It isn't about writing the great novel or about perfection. It isn't about winning. NaNo is about enjoying the act of writing just for itself and letting yourself fly for a whole month without worrying about anything else.


 Of course, the cynics could say that setting the bar so high already gives us plenty to worry about and keep us busy. To keep things under control, there re four self-explanatory rules:


Embrace the insanity.

Do not edit while you write.

Back up your work!

Don’t Start Over



Throughout the work, Ms. Gifford gives pointers on preparing for the challenge beforehand to maximize your productivity. She begins in the most logical place—pre-NaNo preparation. She exhorts participants to clear their schedules as best as possible, begin with a good attitude, prepare to let words fly by coming to the challenge with research, character profiles, outlines and any other necessary material ready and waiting for midnight, November 1 (or, in my case, July 1!) so you can start strong.


All of this, and still the book keeps offering useful examples and tested tidbits! The author gives examples from her own work, pairing a 20-word scene sentence with the 200+ word scene it spawns, and so on. There are scene or ‘phase’ breakdowns, how to construct your writing day to realistically move your plot forward and meet your word count goals.


For increased productivity once the month is underway, she covers a variety of strategies. For those with a competitive drive, she suggests checking your word count status on the member list to make moving up a slot the motivation of your next achievable goal. Once you have found your spot, look at the person who has the next highest word count above you. You have to beat that number by one or two words to move up the list. Once you do, check the next one and write that amount.


One of my personal favorite of her productivity spurs is engaging in a Word War with other authors. In a Word War, no one loses since everyone ends up with more words than they would have had if they hadn't taken part. Whether that's a couple hundred words or a couple thousand doesn't matter. They're fun, short intense ways to get some writing done when you haven't much time.


 Another tactic for the time-challenged, or those who find they focus better in smaller bursts, is 100 word leaps. This can work because, as she puts it: the smaller goals are easier to accomplish and help generate the feeling that you are making progress because . . . well, you are. This can work well for people doing NaNo who want to take part in on-line gatherings, but still want to get some writing done.


 Again and again she mentions the community of writers engaging in NaNo as one of the primary sources of encouragement, inspiration, and fun. . It's about joining in the only intellectual activity of its kind along with thousands of others from around the world… Imagine yourself as part of the largest collection of writers ever gathered in one place, nearly all of them excited about their upcoming projects and bubbling over with ideas, plans, and suggestions…


 This sounds like heaven. I can hardly wait to get going with an entire month devoted to challenging myself, applying a good portion of Ms. Gifford’s guidelines to grow as a productive writer, and encourage my fellow artists.


 Perhaps I am, as the title of this book mentions, a bit insane.


Ah, well. If I am, at least it sounds like I’ll be in good company!