10 Biggest NaNoWriMo Fails (And How To Sidestep Them Like a Sentence Samurai)

Nano Rhino

Running of the Nano Rhinos

In my last post, I shared the 10 best links to win National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or as my voice to text likes to call it, Nano Rhino, which I love, so I’m sticking with it). There are also 10 big fails to avoid. In this post, I want to show you how to sidestep those Nano Rhinos like a sentence Samurai.

(cue classic Samurai music and at least one giant clamber of a gong)

NaNoWriMo = A challenge in November to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days 

10 Biggest NaNoWriMo Fails (A.K.A Nano Rhinos)

1. It will be easy

No, no it will not. Okay, maybe. Maybe you’re some superhuman speed writer who dashes off 1,000 words without a sweat. Then again, if you live among us mortals, odds are you will be challenged. Ironically, it’s the awareness of the difficulty of writing a novel in 30 days that lessens the difficulty. What? Is that right? Yes, it is. If you march into this challenge unaware, you may decide to give up when things get hard. On the other hand, when you enter with eyes wide open, you can mentally, physically and emotionally prepare to overcome the natural obstacles that crop up.

2. I don’t need to plan

Neither did the person who built your car, or the house you live in, but odds are they had one and it made things significantly easier. The fact is, most people who consistently win NaNoWriMo had some sort of plan going in. The level of detail and sophistication of your plan will vary. But I strongly suggest you at least think about what you’re going to write. Better yet, create a sketch of a plot outline with the main plot points like the beginning, a few in the middle and the climax to give your writing focus so you don’t spend time coming up with ideas but executing them on the page. Not only will you come out of this experience with a better story, you may end up really enjoying yourself.

3. I will do nothing but plan  

Of course, there are planners and then there are planners. The latter are people who live for planning. They often sit alone surrounded by calendars and checklists and note pads where they gleefully create to-do lists and organizational charts and diagrams of minute details of the character’s best friend’s sister’s dog and it’s very elaborate canine backstory. There are world maps and complicated magical systems the rival a thesis in biochemical neuro-bicycle psychology. And well there’s nothing inherently wrong with detailed planning, if you never get around to writing your story, all you’re left with are great plans that never took you anywhere. In short, planning is good unless it’s not. So plan enough to know what you’re going to say and then get about saying it. After all, you are a writer not a planner (except for those of you who are :).

4. I’m going to write 10,000 words per day

I believe you. For the first three or four days anyway. After that, you’re likely to collapse in a insomnia, post energy drink-fueled coma. When you wake up 10 days later you’ll be right where most everybody else is on their journey toward 50,000 words. Beware of burning out early by exhausting yourself with unrealistic expectations. Each person will have their own word count goals and abilities. If you usually write 300 words a day, thinking that you will somehow miraculously leap to 10,000 is likely a recipe for disappointment. On the other hand, pushing yourself to get more words down and increase your output is a worthwhile discipline. Now that I have safely talked out of both sides of my mouth, I’ll close at this point by saying don’t overextend yourself. The challenges of writing a novel in 30 days is a big enough challenge all by itself.

5. I’m going to write 1,600 words per day

This is definitely more realistic and the plan of many a Nano Rhino runner. However, assuming you won’t stumble in the path of a Nano Rhino at some point is probably poor planning. We all stumble. I repeat. We. All. Stumble. Even that one girl who finishied her 200,000 word epic historical fantasy romance with Zombie Werewolfs (that actually sounds kinda cool, so feel free to steal it if you want) in 2 days. Ok, maybe she’s a writing robot. For the rest of us, we sometimes find ourselves in the path of a Nano Rhino. It’s different for everyone. Maybe a kid gets sick. Work gets  busy. The country decides to celebrate Thanksgiving. Whatever. At some point, life gets in the way of our daily goal, however balanced it is or commited we are. Just know it going in, and have a back up plan. Double up the next day or two and you’ll be fine.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 6.39.22 AM

It is a known fact that Rhinos feed on grass and the discarded souls of Wrimos – NaNoWriMo writers

6. Family? What family?!

Ah, family. It’s not uncommon for a Nano Rhino runner to look up mid-November and remember with alarm that they have a spouse and three kids. It is so tempting to ignore them for a month. I mean, you give them the other 11 months of the year, right? Even teachers get a month off in the summer. Come on! Truth is, and this may be shocking to you, that not every family member will agree or support your November writing retreat. They may look at you oddly and mutter to each other about brain damage, cults and staged interventions. Trust me, you don’t want to try to explain NaNoWriMo to a group of your closest friends and families when they are in crises mode. Mentioning Rhinos will not help your cause. Instead, consider letting your family and friends know upfront that you will be MIA in November. You have a writing project to do and it has a serious deadline. Reassure them that you will not completely ignore them, that you are still sane and that you will just be uncommonly busy.

7. My boss will never know

If you are thinking of writing instead of working, I caution you to rethink your strategy. I like your creativity, but finding yourself in hot water with your boss is usually not the best way to win NaNoWriMo. Sure, you can probably get away with it – for awhile. But writing has a way of stealing time, and attention. You might find  yourself staring into the dead eyes of a Rhino (and  your boss – not that he or she has dead eyes) 2 hours later when your report is due. Explaining that you got 3,000 words of your novel written instead won’t look good on your annual review. Or a pink slip. Your family also probably won’t understand. So, do yourself a favor and figure out a way to get your novel written on breaks, lunches, or before and after work. Keep writing toward your dream, but in the meantime, keep your day job.

8. I’ll break all the rules 

You can win NaNoWriMo by changing the title of story you have already written 10 years ago, but you probably won’t feel very good about it. You can set a bottle of barbecue sauce on the “Q” key while you sleep and wake up to a glorious 10,000 words (well, letters). You can get yourself into all kinds of chicanery (I’m pretty sure I’ve never used that word in an actual sentence before). Again, there are ways to break the rules and win. But why? The goal of NaNoWriMo is to ignite your writing machine. To get your story moving. To shock you out of  apathy and into serious writing mode. Play along. Besides, there are very very few actual rules. 

From the NaNoWriMo.com website:

So what are The Rules of NaNoWriMo as they have stood since time immemorial*? What are the guidelines you have to fulfill to be a traditional winner? Wonder no more. 

  • Write a 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Only count words written during November. None of your own previously written prose can be included in your NaNoWriMo draft (though outlines, character sketches, and research are all fine, as are citations from other people’s works).
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction. If you consider the book you’re writing a novel, we consider it a novel too!
  • Be the sole author of your novel. Apart from those citations mentioned two bullet-points up.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

9. I’m going to follow all the rules – even make up a bunch that don’t exist 

Which leads me to this next Nano Rhino. There are rebels who break the rules and then there are these people. The Rule Rhinos. They not only follow the formal rules, they invent a bunch of other ones and demand everyone else follow them. If you don’t, you didn’t really win (in their eyes). These invented rules are sometimes logical – you’re supposed to write a novel not a nonfiction manifesto on the glory of indoor plumbing (but who’s to say that’s not a novel in your mind?). Other times, the rules they come up with are downright crazy – you can only use a word once per page, even prepositions! Don’t worry about them. There are few *real* rules to NaNoWriMo. Just follow those and ignore the Rule Rhinos and naysayers.

10. This will be a perfect manuscript to submit unedited to every literary agent that shows up in my Google search 

Hold up there, just breathe. You have survived the NaNoWriMo experience. Let’s enjoy that for a few minutes. Heck, for a few days. Let that manuscript cool off. Return to it in a few days and read it anew, objectively. NaNaWriMo is about quantity, not quality, although there are ways to do both. If the month of November is for writing your novel, the month of December (and maybe January, February, March…) is for polishing it to perfection. I know you may be tempted to hit the submit button. You may feel an overwhelming urge to do something with those words you splashed on the page. Most of the time that is a mistake. I’ve heard literary agents expect to receive a flood of poorly written, typo-plagued manuscripts in December. Don’t be one of them. Stand out by revising your story as best you can. Get family and friends involved. Consider hiring a professional editor. The difference these simple steps will make in the quality of your novel and the chances of obtaining a literary agent are well worth the pain of waiting to submit.

What to do Next?

Armed with the foreknowledge of these ten Nano Rhinos, you can now deftly avoid being trampled as you run the 30 day race that is November. You are prepared to not only win NaNoWriMo but to win at life, too.  That’s right. Go you!

Now I’d love to hear about your personal Nano Rhinos. Any tips, tricks or war stories? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @Chris_Kokoski. 



Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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Posted in screenwriting, writer, Writing
2 comments on “10 Biggest NaNoWriMo Fails (And How To Sidestep Them Like a Sentence Samurai)
  1. mazeface says:

    Great stuff. I love nanowrimo and this will be year eight. I wrote a blog post a few years ago as I finished up nano:

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