This one is for all the people who experience dread when their peers start talking about NaNoWriMo. I used to abhor the entire affair, which is ironic because few things motivate me better than competition with myself. As a child, I used to set summer reading goals to one-up last year’s version of me. (I’d pick an obscenely high number of books to read and go for broke.)
In theory, NaNoWriMo should have engaged that tendency with immediate effect. But friends, for years, it instigated only nebulous aversion co-mingled with rage.
Rage, as my impeccable therapist often reminds me, is generally a secondary emotion. My rage was motivated by fear.
Fear that, because I wasn’t a plotter or an outliner and so much of my writing process couldn’t be externalized and explained, I was bound to fail any attempt at NaNoWriMo. Frankly, I started to resent its enthusiastic “I’m such a plotter!” devotees a little bit; it felt like they were saying a non-plotter, non-outliner wasn’t really a writer—these perceptions were not accurate, by the way. Nobody in the community was ever unkind to me.
If any of this sounds familiar, consider my nudge of encouragement at the start of a season that can be alienating despite all of its good intentions.
It is okay to be a non-plotter. A non-outliner. An “I know precisely where this will go and it will arrive there, but for the love of heaven, don’t ask me to explain because I cannot” person. The “I have to commune with the gods; it is mysterious and ineffable” author.
Even a pantser, if you will. Technically, though, it’s still plotting and not plotting’s opposite.
It just took me far too long to recognize my own ways because I was too busy wondering if I did it all wrong given what I was told I “should” do. (Dangerous and limiting word, is should.) I make notes, I do beat sheets, I have fully cogent ways of organizing myself… but that’s just it. They’re mine. To a lot of people, I’m sure it does look like I’m steering my ship in unpredictable ways. Luckily, I’m not accountable to them—only me.
But seemingly erratic navigators can take up space in the NaNoWriMo sphere, too. You can chart your course and succeed.
Perhaps you’re also the kind of neurodivergent who is truly allergic to outlining, which is my personal curse to bear. Once, my favorite undergraduate professor sighed resignedly when I said—in front of a whole seminar of fellow impressionable, first-year minds—that I never outlined any of my perfect-marks papers.
That sounds like a humble brag, only it isn’t at all, because I’d previously had disgruntled teachers in school who sent me out of class for forgetting to submit a preliminary outline for an essay or paper. Occasionally I did forget… mostly, I freaked out because I was incapable of breaking up my thoughts according to someone else’s formula. Thus, no outline, but plenty of shame.
If you aren’t neurodivergent, allergic to outlining, or the sort of neurodivergent guy who is allergic to outlining, I hope I can still provide something uplifting for you by saying: NaNoWriMo is for everybody. It’s about creating and belonging.
But sometimes, you gotta figure out what that even looks like for you. Maybe your process doesn’t resemble what you’ve been told it should. On top of that, you might be contending with years of being told you’re doing this whole writing thing wrong. That’s grueling for even the adult brain, even when—or especially if—you love to write.
This isn’t an advice post. This isn’t a troubleshooting post. If anybody asks, I’m happy to share.
Largely, however, my hope is to give those who needed it a tiny piece of courage—though, all along, you never needed it. Go. Finish that novel and win.
You absolutely can.
Camille is a thalassophile who sadly spent too long residing in Chicago, where there’s just a very large lake and no sea. An enquiring and possibly over-educated mind, she’s been described as “the politest contrarian.” Though everyone believes she’s tall, she’s not. Likewise, she doesn’t dress in all-black.