How To Win NaNoWriMo: Be A Rebel

Being a NaNoRebel begins where you’d least expect

How To Win NaNoWriMo: Be A Rebel
Photo by Robert McGowan / Unsplash

Every November scores of writers around the globe commit to 30-days of epic torture. National Novel Writing Month challenges participants to write 50,000 words in 30-days. That’s 1,667 words a day for the entire month of November. 1,667 words a day might not seem like much until you sit down to actually attempt it.

Some writers love the challenge. I don’t. I love creating goals and pushing toward them but I’m not a fan of the daily word count goal. Instead of conforming to the man’s understanding on NaNoWriMo, I’m going to rebel. Since you’re reading this then you should join me.

Welcome to the NaNoRebels! Ben Folds has much to teach us.

Wait… what?

Ben Folds is the musical genius and founder of the ironically named Ben Folds Five (there were only three of them). Earlier this year Folds published his memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs. The title might not scream rebellion, but Folds provides a treasure-trove of unexpected writing advice.

Like anyone, when I get impatient and before I have a solid idea, I might rush straight for an instrument, hoping to stumble upon something that will lead the way. From the piano to the iPad, I can turn my brain off and play something. That’s fun sometimes, but remember that a menu of drum loops are far more limited than your imagination.

Have you ever sat down at the keyboard attempting to write before an idea was fully baked? When I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo in the past, that was more or less the plan. Go full on pants-er, typing whatever immediately popped into my brain without spending any time pausing to think.

Or, like playing with a set of drum loops, I’d spend days tweaking the settings in my writing app. Because, you know, changing the font will make the words come out. Pro tip: it doesn’t.

Maybe tweaking settings and forcing words works for you, but it has never worked for me. Instead, Ben Folds suggests a different route:

Ask yourself if you have anything to say yet. If not, keep working or playing upstairs in your brain. … Don’t let your tools make you their bitch.

NaNoRebelRule 1: Don’t Let NaNoWriMo Make You It’s Bitch

If you want to be a full on NaNoRebel, forget the 50,000 word rule. NaNoPurists are screaming right now because the word count is the whole point. But that’s why we’re rebels. We’re not going to let the word count own us. Instead, develop your own goal and use NaNoWriMo’s global encouragement and accountability.

Now that’s rebellious!

My goal is to write more in November than I did in October. More is subjective but if I write more words than I did in October I’ll win NaNoWriMo. Ok, not officiallybut we’re rebels. We don’t care about certificates and thank you videos!

Now that we’ve set a NaNoRebel goal, it’s time to get to it. Have you started typing yet?

No, then you’re exactly like me — stuck. Tapped. Drained. Lacking inspiration, motivation, and determination. It happens. I get it and I’ve been there (for months). It’s time to turn back to our master rebel, Ben Folds.

Years ago Folds began composing music live on stage, taking suggestions from the crowd. Each night he’d create a new work of art to delight the crowd. Then it’d immediately case to exist (except when bootlegged and posted to YouTube). At some point in the show he calls out to the crowd, “Let’s rock this bitch!” and then gets to work creating.

NaNoRebelRule 2: Rock The Bitch

Relentlessly work toward your goal. Tap into the #WritingCommunity and ask for suggestions. Help. Encouragement. Whatever you need. Use the energy and excitement of NaNoWriMo to keep you creating.

If creating art live, on stage, in front of thousands of people sounds intimidating then you’re probably right. Though, according to Ben Folds, free-styling taught him to tap into creativity and jump-start his brain. That doesn’t mean what came out was always good.

If free-styling on stage teaches us that you can always turn on the faucet, and that some kind of music will always flow, then song writing in solitude confirms the water can sometimes flow muddy brown. Non potable melody. You have to let it run for a while until it begins to run clear. Yes, it hurts to hear the brown ides coming from the center of your soul, but you don’t have to show them to anybody. Don’t let the brown get you down.

Here’s a common bit of advice I’ve heard from every songwriter I’ve ever met: just keep moving.

I personally do not believe that there’s any such thing as writers block. It’s just that we don’t like everything that comes out. When our self-judgement takes over it shames us into submission and we shut off the faucet. We say we have no ideas, no, we have ideas, but we aren’t willing to fess up to how bad they might be. But really, who gives a damn? Own them. They suck and they came form you. Fine. That’s not a crime. That’s normal. Remember that you can always write something. It’ just that sometimes, it’s shitty. Let it be so. And then follow that brown until it runs clear.

Ever composed the perfect sentence in your brain? Your internal dictation arranges the words in a prose that would make Dickenson weep for joy. It’s beautiful. Elegant. Then you start typing and it turns into something a three-year old would scrawl out with a broken crayon.

Anyone who’s ever called themselves a writer experiences this often. Wait, it’s just me? Cool. Everything isn’t perfect the moment our fingers hit the keys. But hey, we created it! It might be utter garbage but it’s our utter garbage and no one can ever take that away.

NaNoRebelRule 3: Celebrate Your Shit

This might seem like the ultimate participation trophy, but Rule 3 is what being a NaNoRebel is all about.

Fast forward to the end of the month. So what if the words didn’t come out the way you wanted. So what if your goal wasn’t met. Did you try? Did you create? Then you won NaNoWriMo.

Being a NaNoRebel is about celebrating our creations whether they’re crystal clear or not fit for the light of day.

If I write more than I did in October, no matter how terrible, you better believe I’m celebrating. With donuts.

Right now go into your calendar and create an all-day event on December 1. Title it “Celebrate.” At the end of NaNoWriMo, celebrate the shit you created in November. Even if it’s terrible. Especially if it’s terrible. It didn’t exist today and it will then. Celebrate your win.

Congratulations fellow NaNoRebel, you won NaNoWriMo!

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!