NaNoWriMo: An ML’s Perspective [REPOST]

~ By Erin O’Brien

A note from Melissa / Melina: 

I first met Erin during my first NaNoWriMo in 2007. Until I moved to Jerusalem in 2012, she was my ML (Municipal Liaison). I was very lucky to have her encouragement and the write-ins were fantastic. 

I’m an ML now, for the first time, and in my application I mentioned that she was a great role model. 

So, I thought I’d repost some of her wonderful advice for those of us facing the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. 

The moral of the story? Write in packs! 

When I explain the concept of National Novel Writing Month to people, I’m often met with one of two reactions, either “Wow, cool,” or “Why would you do that?”

The why is easy enough to answer on the surface. I came to NaNoWriMo as someone who had been poking at stories for a long time but, unless you count the overwrought scribblings of a seventeen year old, I’d never finished a novel. But I knew I liked writing fiction, so I thought, What the heck? This seems like a fun writing challenge!

I think a lot of aspiring writers are kind of in the same boat. They want to write, but they don’t. They have ideas, but never commit them to paper. They talk a lot about the craft, but never flex their muscles. That’s understandable to a point. We live busy lives. We have obligations to work, to family, to friends. It’s hard to find the time.

Nora Roberts once said, “You don’t find time to write. You make time.”

This is maybe the greatest piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard. Because you won’t accomplish anything unless you make the time. NaNoWriMo forces you to make time to write, because the only way you’re going to come close to meeting the goal is to set aside at least a little time every day of the month to write.

So that’s the why. Kind of.

A funny thing happened the first year I participated. I logged onto the forums one day and noticed that people in my region were self-organizing meet ups. I had just moved to New York a few months before and was looking for some social outlets. How serendipitous that other novel writers wanted to get together, too! We met that first time in mid-October, at a cafe in the West Village (that, sadly, no longer exists) and I wound up meeting an amazing group of people, some of whom I still count among my friends. (That was in 2002, back in the early days. I loved the experience so much that the next year, I volunteered to be a municipal liaison. That means that I, with a small team of others, plan public events here in my home town of New York City and act as a cheerleader and question answerer and cat herder… I wear many hats. It’s hard work sometimes, but it’s also a ridiculous amount of fun.)

One of the weird things about NaNoWriMo is that, by virtue of it being something that many people are participating in at the same time, it brings people together. Writing is such a solitary activity, so it was a strange and unexpected experience to meet all these other writers, and even to sit in the same room as them while we all typed away at our laptops.

I took an informal survey of some municipal liaisons in other cities, and one universal truth seems to have emerged: NaNoWriMo participants who attend events have a greater rate of success than those who don’t. Maybe it’s the extra encouragement from other writers. Maybe it’s the support and camaraderie. Maybe it’s peer pressure. Maybe it’s the word sprints (that’s when we set a timer and everyone writes as much as they can before the buzzer). All I know is that going out to a write-in and participating in this strange community of writers is a good thing and can help push you over the finish line.

In the more than ten years that NaNoWriMo has been around, it’s gotten some negative feedback, too. All those writers banging on their keyboards! Writing 50,000 words in a month is crazy! Those novels can’t possibly be any good!

Well, they aren’t. That’s an important element of the challenge, in fact. The point is not to write well. The point is to just write. The point is to finally get that idea you’ve been kicking around committed to paper. The point is to write without looking back, to get that novel written. The point is to make the raw material. You make it good after November.

(Take note, writers. Finishing a novel is a tremendous accomplishment and there should be much back patting and throwing of confetti. But you wrote a raw novel in November. Before you do anything with it, let it sit for a few days, a week, a month. Revel in your victory over time and writer’s block. Have a glass of wine, eat a slice of cake, do whatever you do that makes you feel good. Then go back and reread your novel. Revise it. Revise like the wind! Because what you just wrote? It ain’t gonna be good. That’s what revisions are for. Please don’t subject overworked, underpaid publishing professionals to your raw manuscript. Nobody’s first draft is perfect, and you are not an exception. But your novel can be delightful, wonderful, fantastic, the stuff of legend and bestseller lists! Most definitely it can. If you take the time to revise.)

So that’s the challenge in a nutshell. You ready to give it a shot?

Erin O’Brien is a writer/editor in New York City. In her spare time, she writes romance novels under a pseudonym (a few of them have even been published!). She’s a NYC municipal liaison for NaNoWriMo and an annoying overachiever. She blogs sometimes at

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