How I don’t do NaNoWriMo

I tried to do NaNoWriMo a few years back. I lasted four days. 

It was all about word count.

I needed to write everyday. 

Other people were doing this, why couldn’t I?

Maybe if I just plotted and outlined….

I needed to be productive, dammit!

Why wasn’t this working?


The pressure was too much. I got anxious, exhausted, and eventually, I seized up. Instead of prompting and encouraging me to write, I stopped writing all together.

From then on, every November, I said ‘Fuck it’ and promptly shelved this writing event, along with most other communal writing activities. I was alone again. And I still wasn’t writing. 

It was too much pressure. 

It was too much stress. 

It wasn’t helping me feel connected with anyone.

I felt more alone and isolated than ever.


However – 

I’m going to attempt my own version this year. 

I found out a few years back that I’m an INFJ. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a personality type in the Myers-Brigg system (see here). How did I find this out? My therapist recommended to me Lauren Sapala’s book, “The INFJ Writer”. I hadn’t ever ‘typed’ myself, didn’t know about Myers-Briggs, didn’t care, but, holy shit, the book hit me and my plight on the head. It was as if I’d beamed back in time, written the book myself, and was now reading my own words. 

That was in February 2020. 

Since discovering I’m an INFJ, I’ve probed into my own writing process. Mostly, I did this because I hadn’t written for a LONG time. Like, ten years long. I wanted to write again. Desperately. So I did a bit of self-analysis of how I used to write.

  • Characters spoke to me. 
  • I often saw or dreamed of entire scenes. 
  • Vignettes or scenes would pop into my head, fully formed.
  • I could hear dialogue. 
  • I felt that I was an observer to what my characters did, rather than a director. 
  • With this knowledge in hand and Lauren’s own guidance, I have begun to write again…with my own caveats. 

The first caveat was to approach my writing with curiosity and fun. I always remind myself of Ray Bradbury’s words:

“The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me.”

I suspect Bradbury was an intuitive writer – he approached the act of writing with wonder; he never knew what would happen next. He, too, was an observer to what happened on the page, rather a director. 

I now approach the blank page with curiosity. “What will happen, I wonder?” I open up and I listen to my characters. I wait for scenes to appear in my mind. I let my mind wander. 

I also approach the page with fun. I don’t *expect* to have fun. Instead, I *let* myself play. There is an inherent difference here with holding this expectation. If I don’t have fun, that’s okay. I don’t put pressure on myself, but I set the stage so that I can play. 

The second caveat is related to the first: to release myself of all expectation when I write.

Curiosity and fun release me from the pressures of expectation. Because expectation – either mine or another’s –  suffocates me. And this applies to all my activities, not just writing. If someone is standing over your shoulder, watching you work, and expecting greatness, how productive and great would you feel? 

Now, I don’t give a shit what I write. This isn’t just because I don’t write for the market, with an audience in mind, or even with the thought of eventually publishing it. I write because it gives me joy. The act of writing is a joyful endeavour. I focus on the act, making the journey fun, rather than the output and getting to the end. 

As such, I am now free to write whatever pops into my head. It usually surprises the hell out of me. Where did THAT come from??? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m writing and I’m having fun. (And sometimes what comes out is pretty good.)

How do I know this works? 

In 2017, before I knew about Lauren and my own INFJ-ness, I sat in a coffee shop with my laptop. It was a normal, everyday coffee shop. I’d had coffee there regularly for years. I had no expectations, no thoughts in my head about what to write. I started to type: 

You’re sitting, alone. You don’t know if he’ll come today, or tomorrow, or the next day. Or the next. But you sit here. Waiting.
Along the shelves to your left are books of necromancy. It’s his kind of shop, you think. Along the shelves to your right are crystals and tarot cards. It’s your kind of shop too.  Out the window at which you are sitting stroll tourists, residents, and a few more witches and warlocks than one would normally find in a small town. If you could find your way here, so would he. So you wait.
It’s not a long wait. The bell over the door tinkles. Your coffee is only half done. You’ve only been in town two days. It’s like you knew it would be today and allowed yourself a day to get settled. Then again, maybe he did likewise.
You don’t look. You don’t need to. The small hairs on the back of your neck stir.  A finger of gooseflesh tickles the base of your spine and you adjust the hem of your shirt.  ‘What if’ visions dance across your cerebral cortex; this has occurred so many times in your mind, you’re not sure if this is the real thing or if your imagination is shifting into overdrive.
At the counter, a voice. It is a hit to the chime that resides at the centre of your soul.  Your soul seems to weep, collapsing inward on itself, cradling the memory of that sound, that feeling of glory. You could live on that sound, may it be recorded in the memory banks of your mind and played on continuous loop for the rest of your days. But it is a false sating, you know. It already has you yearning for more. The craving runs deep and pierces the belief that you could live as you were before. There is no before. There is only more.

I wrote nearly 30 pages over the next couple of weeks. It was glorious. I got to meet new characters. It was completely unpredictable and filled with wonder.

Have I finished this book / novella / story / whatever? Nope. It’s been over five years. I’m still working on it – it’s growing and evolving. And that’s okay. I’m in conversation with my characters and that’s all that matters. 

Do I still feel alone? Isolated? Not so much. I ‘see’ my own needs; I don’t need to be ‘seen’ by others. I don’t need to be part of a tribe that stresses me out; my characters are my tribe, and they and the act of writing fuels me. 

I will be rejigging NaNoWriMo to suit my own needs. 

  • I won’t be counting my words. 
  • I won’t be writing everyday. 
  • I won’t be outlining or plotting.

My version of NaNoWriMo aims to be fun. To be surprising. I want to live in a sense of wonder. 

  • I will be allotting time to daydream.
  • I will be talking with my characters and engaging them in idle conversation.
  • I will be walking outside and letting my mind wander aimlessly.
  • I will be playing the game of “What if…?”

Most of all, if I don’t write a single word during November, I’m okay with that. 

Doesn’t this sound so much better than being stressed for an entire month?

How will you reconfigure NaNoWriMo to suit your own needs? 

  1. Figure out what puts you into a state of wonder. What is it about writing that makes you curious? What is it about writing or creativity that is fun for you? 
  2. Apply what puts you in a state of wonder. Instead of doing everything about writing that stresses you out, do what makes you want to run to your keyboard / notebook everyday because you feel inspired!


I’m offering a NaNoWriMo writing coaching special for the month of November: $60 USD for a one-hour Zoom call (regularly $90 USD).

Reach out for a FREE 15-minute consultation to see if we’re a fit.

Further Reading / Watching

Lauren SapalaThe INFJ Writer, NaNoWriMo Prep for INFJ and INFP Writers (video)

Becca Symes – QuitCast “5 Tips for Intuitive Writers”

Dean Wesley Smith – Writing into the Dark

The Creative Penn – Writing Tips: Creating Memorable Characters


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