Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo: Why Editing is the Devil

There’s a lot of advice running around the internet as to whether or not an author should self-edit during the initial writing process. Keep in mind that different methods work for different people, so what I’m sharing below is what worked for me and why. Arguments could be made both ways, but the important thing is to find what works best for you.


For me, self-editing turned out to be my biggest weakness. To break it down simply: I got too distracted by trying to make things look presentable. I hyper-fixated on everything that was wrong with what I’d written, and I eventually discouraged myself from continuing. “You can’t even get this sentence right; you really think people are going to want to read this?” was a familiar mantra. I’d get to maybe 15,000 words and stagnate, eventually losing all desire and motivation to carry on.


So, when NaNoWriMo started, I vowed I was going to get it done. It was easy for me to see what I needed to do in order to make my word counts. Doing it was going to be the problem. Because of that, I had a shaky start. the words came slower because I was trying to incorporate everything I thought I wanted. Occasionally I found myself going back and tweaking some things just to make them match what I wrote further on.


Not good.


Eventually I lightened up and I kept the bare-bones descriptions, the skeletons of dialogues, and flatbread characters. It was like a crack appeared in the dam. Words began to trickle out faster.


Then I hit the writers mortal enemy: the block. I had a scene coming up that I could see in my mind’s eye, yet had no idea how to articulate it into words. Pretty sure I stopped writing for a few days after that. I started adding up the deficit I was going to have to make up on my days off. Panic settled in around 10,000 words or so. I had two days off coming up, so I thought whatever, I’ll bust it out then. I figured maybe taking a few days off would replenish the urn of inspiration.


No such luck. The moment I sat down I knew I was doomed. I was getting angry. I was starting to see the discouragement coming. I was disgusted with myself. Finally I got fed up enough that I outlined the scene as an actual paragraph, and moved on to the next scene. Or, as I’m going to demonstrate below, when my scenes began to contradict things that I wrote earlier, I wrote notes to myself to go back and fix areas later. Sometimes it happened right in the middle of a paragraph.




Some of those notes happened to refer to scenes I hadn’t written, but now wanted to write based off ideas that were literally just written down. I chose this particular paragraph because it also demonstrates my lack of caring when it came to how well-written things were (i. e.: word vomit).


Now, for me, this switch was easy enough to flip. I managed to shut my brain up long enough to look at an annoying, glaring error and continue on.


Some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve found a couple of things that might help those that need a little extra motivation, or maybe a heavier, more disciplined hand. These are the two easiest that come to mind while also maintaining the low price of: free.

  • BlindWrite blurs out your words as you go so you can’t judge what you’ve already written
  • Earnest locks you out of editing, formatting, grammar/spellchecking, ect…


RescueTime and Freedom are both paid, internet browser writing apps.


Freedom is also available for free in the Apple App Store. so is Unplugged and Focus Keeper.


Much like the time-constraints of NaNoWriMo itself, I’ve found that setting a timer will increase the likelihood of me just writing. Some people perform well under applied pressure.


Now these methods aren’t for all people. Some manage to make it through NaNo just fine, editing the whole way. Ted Boone’s managed to finish several rounds of NaNo, all the while editing his novel as he went. If you’re struggling one way, try it the other. If you’re struggling that way too, try a blend of both. Find what works best for you and stick with it.


PREVIOUS: WORD VOMIT                                                    NEXT: OUTLINES ARE GUIDELINES



What I Learned During NaNoWriMo


So, with November behind us, National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is behind us as well. I really want to take a few minutes and discuss just what I learned in such a short amount of time.

I think that as an author, there are many concepts of which we are aware of–things that we see written in every advice column. Things like: “write what you know,” “show, don’t tell,” and “don’t use adverbs/passive voice.” Sounds familiar, right? With rules like those, it’s no wonder that so many authors get intimidated before they can get a single word down; some level of perfection is required of a rough draft. Perfection? From a rough draft? Looking back, it strikes me as one of the most ridiculous concepts, and I can’t believe I thought that was actually a thing.



From 6 of the Best Pieces of Advice from Successful Writers:

[…] writing well doesn’t come so easily for a lot of us (including me). It takes a lot of mental energy, strains your working memory and often makes you feel vulnerable if you try to be open and honest in your work.

The pure effort of writing is hard enough, but coupled with the pain of putting your work out into the world and letting others judge it, this can be enough to stop you from getting started at all.

The trick to overcoming this isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly effective: give yourself permission to write badly, and just start.

I would honestly give the links provided above a look-through. All three articles were very relevant and helpful.

Below is an excellent example of ‘give yourself permission to write badly.’ I did it using my phone, which I later e-mailed to myself. This will make you feel better about yourself, guaranteed.


Oh, man. That’s terrible on so many levels. However, it is the result of just getting the words out. I didn’t give a lick about punctuation, spelling, or even what words emerged. As long as the basic concept was written out, I stopped caring. The time-crunch associated with NaNo puts enough pressure on you that caring becomes too much effort. Additionally, the more you care, the slower your word count will come. 50,000 is already an intimidating number, you don’t want to slow the process down any more than you have to.

To be honest, this might be the single, most important thing that I learned. With your aspirations as an author, your work is going to be seen by millions, right? Sure, they’re going to see your best effort, but the people working with you to get you there will be seeing your worst. You need to get comfortable with that, and this is a good way to start. Now, not everyone can flip that switch in their brain to just stop caring. For some people, it’s nearly impossible.

If you’re someone that is bothered by the thought of someone reading over your shoulder while you’re spewing out this absolute garbage, take your phone and hide in a corner where no one can see you unless they’re actively trying. And even then, you’ll easily be aware of it. Writing on your phone can be a pain (hence part of the reason why the excerpt just sort of runs together), so I found a few nifty apps to help me out. Please note: I’m not being compensated for the following.


Werdsmith is the one I use most often. It does have a “pro” version which gives you access to different layouts (screenplay, novel), and categories to sort your different projects. However just the vanilla version is fine for me, as the singular category that I have allows me to have multiple projects within, just in a less organized manner. It keeps track of word count (which really came in handy). You can set word goals, get breakdowns, and even an undo button in case you accidentally delete everything (I can’t tell you how many times that’s saved me).

Now, go figure, the one I use the least is the one that I paid for. Writing Toolkit is $3.99 in the app store, but this one is more of a portable literary reference guide.

It’s got lots of nifty little tools for where you’re on the go or don’t have access to the internet. Writing terms, a place to organize your characters, and plot devices are all available in one place. This one’s more dedicated to keeping track of everything you need while you’re writing so you can focus on more important things: like writing. I flipped back and forth between the two the entire time. Using these apps kept prying eyes away from my really crappy writing and therefore gave me a bit more confidence to keep going.

You can always use a notebook or a laptop towards the same end, but as I quickly learned, it’s easier to keep your phone away from nosy passerby. It took me a few days to acclimate to being so secretive. Eventually, though, I found that without anyone looking over my shoulder, I could just write, write, and write. The very last day was a word sprint of approximately 5,000 words. It wasn’t the only day I had word sprints like that, either.

The point is: JUST GET IT OUT! Is it relevant to the plot? No clue. Sort it out later. Is it what you wanted? Not really, but it’s a good placeholder. Hell, you might not even end up using it, which is okay. Quite a few difficulties authors face are in their heads, and are usually the hardest things to overcome. IT. WILL. BE. OKAY.

In the next blog post for the NaNoWriMo series, I’ll talk about the hangups of editing.



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