Notes From A 2016 NaNo Rebel
Written by
Jude Walsh Whelley
December 2016
Written by
Jude Walsh Whelley
December 2016

I am a NaNo rebel. That means that while I aim for 50,000 words in 30 days, I liberally interpret where those words go: novel, memoir, essay, or short story.

The NaNo guideline that I do adhere to closely is no revising, only fresh words. I do not care if they are all words from the same novel. I actually did that one-year but with a small twist (hey once a rebel, always a rebel!). I had heard so many folks say that once they got their 50,000 words, they stopped, probably from exhaustion or maybe beginning carpal tunnel pain. But I wanted to have an ending in place so I promised myself that at 40,000 words, no matter where I was in the story, I would write the ending. Here was the problem with that. I did not yet know the ending. So, I wrote three! That was amazingly satisfying. In December I went right on with the book, filling in the rest of the middle. By the way, skipping to the ending helps take away all that saggy middle anxiety. And by the time I had the middle, I knew which ending was the right one. Voila! I had a complete first draft.

One year I wrote memoir. It was one of my first NaNo years (I have done five) and I worried about the book not being a novel. I was still a strict rule follower. It was then that I learned about NaNo rebels, folks who get the words done but follow their muse as to what kind of words. I had found my tribe.

In 2015 I listed my book as Life in Brief because I decided to write short. I started with essays and then morphed into short stories and even some flash. As I was writing one essay, an idea for another would pop into my mind. I would stop, open a new file, and write enough about that idea that I would know where to start when I returned to it. Then I would go back to the essay in progress and keep going until I had a full draft. I’d close that file and either start another essay or open the file with the saved essay start and work on it. By the end of November, I had almost 30 files. I spent most of 2016 revising those essays and submitting them for publication. My 2015 NaNo project helped me get over my fear of submitting and start being published. It really is true that you cannot be published if you do not submit, ha! 

This year I vowed to devote all 50,000 words to a Christmas book that has been tugging at me for two years. I love Christmas stories and harbor a dream to have one of my Christmas stories made into a Hallmark movie. I have a folder of Christmas book ideas and chose two to work on this November. I figured if I ran a bit dry on one I could switch over to the second book. I was working at a good clip, staying a few thousand words ahead of the pace when I was derailed in the most delightful way.

My essay “The Unfolding Story” was selected to be in the anthology The Magic of Memoir edited by Brooke Warner and Linda Joy Meyers and published by SheWrites Press. The publication date was November 15th and I got my author copies a few days before that. I try to not do too much reading during NaNo because I need most of my time to write. I decided to allow myself one or two essays before bed each night. The book is a treasure trove of inspiration for memoir writers. I’m sure you know where this is going. As I read those essays I started thinking about how I could apply what I was learning to my own memoir in progress. Here is the beauty of being a NaNo rebel. I am open to change!  So part way through the month I found myself writing new words for the memoir.

My 2016 50,000 words are part memoir, part Christmas stories, and all inspiration. I am ready to begin revision and expansion on both fronts. Which brings me full circle to why I love NaNoWriMo so much and why I am a rebel. I love the discipline and dedication of committing to 50,000 words in 30 days. I love that I allow myself no revision. I find that so liberating. The other huge bonus is being part of the NaNo community, both locally at write-ins and on line with word wars, pep talks, and writing buddy emailing. I love watching my graph and tracking my words. I love the energy of being part of this huge writing tribe. Every year I notice the same thing. As I keep writing new words, new ideas flow. I get plot twists, new characters, and new book ideas. I love that I give myself permission to explore all facets of my writing. The more I write, the more ideas I have. The more I write, the more I have to revise. The more I write, the more I see myself as a writer. Every year I feel more deeply embedded into the NaNo writing community. And for all that, this rebel is grateful.


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  • Jude Walsh Whelley

    Karen Szklany Gault I also followed you here on SheWrites. I just love this community!

  • Jude Walsh Whelley

    Karen Szklany Gault I love the idea of finding some new NaNo buddies via this post! What a clever thought. I went over and found Dracofire and buddied you. My name on NaNo is novelone. Any one else want to add to your NaNo tribe of buddies? Make a comment here with your NaNo name and lets get together! I put She Writes in my subject line on the nano email.

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    I love your approach, Jude!  I bailed on NaNoWriMo because I convinced myself that all of my words had to be about my novel-in-progress.   I will totally "take a page out of your book" for Camp NaNoWriMo in July, and the main event next November....and in between as well! 

    You are right in keeping connected with the NaNoWriMo writing tribe.  So important.  If you want to friend me on the site, my Nano name is "Dracofire."