Why I Did NaNoWriMo Again But Didn’t Tell Anyone (sorry)

I didn’t tell a single person what I was doing and the odds were ever in my favor.

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Last year, I said it was my last year.

And then October 31 happened.

I completed my first NaNoWriMo in 2008, and went on to win nine more years after that. For me it became an annual tradition — something I actually looked forward to, like Christmas or the end of the school year.

But after 10 straight years, I (supposedly) decided I was done. While I was 16, bored in high school and still unsure of my career goals during my first run, by year 10, I had a full-time writing job, a fairly successful (?) blog, and very limited time to spend rushing through the first 50,000 words of yet another book I might not finish.

I was completely OK with this decision. I was prepared to focus on unfinished projects, take my time, and work on my fiction when it suited me.

And then I was sitting at my desk on Halloween and I thought: “What if I just did it one more time?”

You see, I had this idea tugging at the back of my mind. It had been there for at least six months. The more I thought about it, the more something inside me begged me to start writing it.

I attempted to shrug those temptations off. Then I realized I couldn’t. NaNo had become something so critical in the course of my year that not beginning a new novel on November 1 would have felt, somehow, wrong.

So I decided — yes, the day before beginning — that I would try to win again.

Except I wasn’t going to announce this fact to anyone. After all, I’d said plenty of times already this year that I was overwhelmed with work and barely had time to do, well, anything.

So I started writing. And I told no one. and immediately I felt happier. Less stressed. More fulfilled.

Almost as if writing was something I, like, enjoyed. Who knew?

But if the whole point of NaNoWriMo is social accountability, why did I keep my participation secret for a month? Why not announce my word count, tweet about my progress, roam the forums?

The answer is simple: Distractions.

I love NaNoWriMo and everything it stands for. Even if I never actively participate again (at this point, who knows what next year holds?), I will always support the organization and other participants in any way I can. On the surface, it encourages people to sit down and write. On a deeper level, it embraces creativity and drive, and lets people of all ages see the vast array of possibilities their ideas may become.

But I had precisely an hour, maybe 90 minutes, per day to write. I didn’t have time for coordinating word sprints, answering questions, or even posting on social media or my blog (or YouTube channel) about my progress.

Could I have not even bothered with the site at all and just kept track of my own word count in a spreadsheet? Yeah, sure. But to be clear, accountability is NaNoWriMo’s most attractive characteristic because it works. I WANT that badge for hitting 5K. I WANT to get an email congratulating me for hitting the halfway point.

I want to feel proud that I made progress — or that I won. Hitting that daily word count is what keeps me going.

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in NaNo forums, getting to know fellow writers in my home region, and even serving as a municipal liaison (region leader). What I learned — and the reason I actually thought I was done after year 10 — was that these extra things were causing unnecessary stress.

For me personally, they were making the experience more distracting and less fun.

They are great features for writers who want/need to connect with other participants. I just decided that I wanted my main focus to be working on a book and not worrying about word sprints or answering messages.

And do you know what? I had a great month. I averaged just 1,700 words a day (all I honestly had time for — another reason I almost didn’t do it), I fell in love with my story, and I have plenty of energy and motivation left to hopefully finish a first draft by the end of the year.

My only goal for 2018 — the only one I could afford to have — was to write 50,000 words of a story I really needed to write. And I did that without needing to announce it to the world.

It’s kind of fun to keep a secret, even if it’s not really a secret that needs to be kept. I really enjoyed getting to know my story and characters without feeling like I had to talk about the experience when I really wasn’t ready to.

Social accountability helps many writers make progress on their projects and reach their goals. I’m not against it at all. Sometimes, I simply focus on and accomplish much more when I’m on my own.

Once again, NaNoWriMo has given me the time and space I needed to tell a story I truly care about. I probably would not have begun this project if I hadn’t had a reason to work on it for 30 days straight. Now, my next step is to finish it, revise it, and see if anyone wants to turn it into a real book. I guess we’ll see what happens.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

12 Reasons Writing for Free Isn’t As Terrible As It Seems

Is it really that bad all the time?

1. How else are you going to learn what kind of writer you are?

2. You’re more likely to succeed if you have a long-time loyal audience backing you up. Give them free things!

3. Sometimes you “volunteer” for fun writing things because they’re fun! And that’s OK!

4. As much as we joke about it, you really DO need the exposure.

5. It’s also a chance to try new styles/genres and solidify what you do/don’t love writing about.

6. Publishing credits still look good on a resume/CV regardless of whether or not you got paid for them.

7. If you’re not consistently updating your portfolio (collection of writing samples), are you really a writer?

8. The more people in the industry you know/have past experience working with, the better.

9. A lot of the writing you’ll do in your life will be “for practice.” Practice makes better!

10. Money matters, but it shouldn’t be the ONLY reason you write.

11. There’s value in sharing your work even if you don’t get compensated for it.

12. As long as people realize what your words are worth and actually pay you for things eventually, you’re OK. Right?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

I Didn’t Learn How Powerful My Words Could Be Until I Accidentally Made a Teacher Cry

It was a lesson I didn’t intend to learn, but am glad I learned nonetheless.

When I was a freshman in high school, one of our English assignments was to write a poem about whatever we wanted. So I wrote one about (as far as I can remember) how important it was to appreciate our teachers.

We read our poems aloud to the class. And when I read mine, my English teacher had a hard time composing himself for a second after I had finished.

It wasn’t at all my intention to make a grown man weep. I swear it wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking at all about how he would react to the words on that page. I just had an idea for a poem and wrote it and shared it with the room.

But maybe that was the problem — that I wrote something emotionally charged (in this case, in a positive way) and didn’t consider how my audience might respond to it.

Apparently I unintentionally wrote something that meant a lot to him that day. I don’t remember exactly what the poem said or the message it might have sent his way. But I do remember the very important lesson that experience taught me: Your words can affect people, whether you mean them to or not.

And yes, this applies in the negative sense as well. Words can hurt. We all know this, even if we don’t always consider it before speaking/tweeting/hitting send.

But right now I’m referring to the inspirational impact your words can have. The emotional connections they can make between people, or between your readers and yourself.

As writers, we spend a lot of time in our heads. And sometimes this means we don’t always see how the things we publish can influence the people around us in a positive way. But they can. I’ve been publishing a lot of stuff on Medium lately, and they’re literally just essays about my life, but it still surprises me when people highlight their favorite passages and thank me for being insightful and helping them see things in new ways.

I don’t ever really mean to do that. It just kind of happens, because I’m a human and humans are reading what I write and even though we don’t all experience the same things in the same ways, we all have the same emotions and we all understand certain feelings often portrayed in each others’ writing.

I’m not saying you should go out and try to make people cry. Like, why would you do that? But do keep in mind that your words really do matter. They have the potential to reach a lot farther and deeper than you often might expect them to. Be careful with them. But also don’t hesitate to, as much as you can, set them free.

When you actively choose to publish something, there is ALWAYS  a chance that someone will resonate with it. You’re willingly taking that risk, willingly serving as a potential channel through which someone receives a message they’ve really been needing to hear.

Is that a responsibility you can handle? Are you ready? Then dive in.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Is it Better to Focus on Writing Only One Thing at a Time?

How much does it really matter?

From what I can tell, there are three types of writers: those who only work on one project at a time, those who can balance many projects at once and still do fine, and those who try to commit to three dozen writing projects simultaneously and pretty much end up not actually writing anything.

Whichever of those categories you fall into (I’m a mix of the second and third depending on my mood that week), you might find yourself wondering if you’re doing something wrong. If you work best only focusing on one thing at a time, could you potentially be doing more by splitting your time between projects? And if you do try to do multiple things at once, would you be more productive if you narrowed your focus?

Is one way better than the other? That depends.

For whatever reason, there are some people who can successfully and rapidly shift their focus from one thing to another without much struggle. There are also people who find their focus and productivity hopelessly derailed every time they try to move on to the next thing without finishing the first.

The good news is, there’s probably nothing wrong with you if you’re a one-project-at-a-time kind of writer. It’s also totally normal if you’re capable of working on multiple things at once — as long as you’re not burning yourself out, making yourself miserable, or neglecting your personal needs in order to get it all done … or all of the above.

Every writer is different. We work best under different conditions, write at different speeds, prefer different methods, and worry about different details. That’s why it’s so hard to give writing advice to a large, general writing audience. I always have to be careful to remind readers that just because I’m recommending something doesn’t mean it will work — or that any other strategy they try won’t.

So it’s actually impossible to tell you that one way is “right” and the other is “wrong.” Really what you should be asking is: “Is the way I’m doing it the way that’s going to work best for me?”

How many projects you work on at once really depends on your preferences and whether or not you can manage multiple ongoing tasks simultaneously. There is no right or wrong way to do it, no way that’s necessarily better or worse. What works for you works for you, even if it’s not the way most experts or experienced writers recommend it should be done.

There’s also nothing wrong with switching it up — spending a solid week on only one thing and then spending the next several diversifying your creative outlets. In the end, it really doesn’t matter HOW you do it — as long as you’re doing something and you’re (mostly) happy with the results.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

14 Reasons to Just Submit It Anyway

Because CAKE!

1. If you think you’re ready to submit, it means you’ve (hopefully) come a long way from your very first draft.

2. You can reward yourself for taking a big step by eating cake. CAKE!

3. While you’re anxiously waiting for a response, you can also ease your anxieties … with more cake!

4. The only way to truly fail is to never bother trying.

5. You wrote a thing! It must be important to you!

6. A rejection is not the end of the world.

7. Every time someone says “no,” you have the chance to learn something.

8. Haters gonna hate. Don’t be one of them!

9. Submitting is a major milestone, even if it doesn’t feel like one.

10. You’ll always wonder “what if” if you don’t.

11. Just because you’re worried it isn’t good does not mean it’s bad.

12. You have a story to tell and you should do everything you can to try sharing it.

13. You have nothing to lose.

14. You never know — someone might really like it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Why a Writing Retreat (Probably) Won’t Help You Write Better

Is it really the best solution to a much bigger problem?

Wouldn’t you just love to be able to drop everything, escape to an isolated cabin in the woods, and spend day and night working on your latest writing project until it’s finally finished?

It’s the dream. No distractions. No excuses. Only words.

I used to picture what life would be like when this finally became my “normal.” After all, isn’t that one of a writer’s many luxuries — having a quiet, distraction-free place to go when an idea comes calling?

I don’t know about you. But I learned the hard way that’s not exactly how writing as an adult works.

It turns out writers have just as much to deal with on a daily basis as everyone else. Friends, family drama, errands, meals — all the stressors that come with being a grown-up, except you also have to write. Or, you want to write. Maybe a little bit of both.

That cabin-in-the-woods fantasy is tempting because we all wish we could write without being interrupted. Unfortunately, that’s just not a realistic expectation. It’s not something we should really hope for, because most days of the year, it’s not going to happen.

Most days we will have to figure out how to write amidst the chaos. How to write when there are three TVs blasting at once in different parts of the house, when there are more people than usual in the coffee shop, when we haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in over a week. When we’d just rather … not.

You can go off on your own, isolate yourself from the world and its many problems and distractions, and write at least some of a really good book.

And for those who have a hard time getting started or focusing, this might be a great thing in the short-term.

The problem is that retreating isn’t really teaching you how to write in the real world.

In the real world, distractions are prevalent. You can’t always easily shut them out. I would love to take the next week off, lock myself in a room, and work on some personal writing. But I can’t. I have to write “for fun” on top of work and taking care of my puppy and … everything else. It’s not ideal. It’s just How Things Are.

There are pros and cons to writing retreats. I think everyone can benefit from the occasional quick escape — as long as you actually write while you’re there! But it isn’t necessarily the most practical or realistic strategy for everyone, especially those who want to make writing their full-time job.

You’ll be much better off treating writing retreats as a very special luxury and doing what you can to learn how to create consistently despite life’s many distractions. In the long-term, you’ll be able to endure many more writing obstacles — and increase your chances of publishing something truly amazing.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

People Don’t Always Read — or Write — to Escape

Not everyone picks up a book to forget what they’re going through.

There are people who say books, movies, and shows — and the people who create them — should focus purely on entertaining an audience and avoid commenting on current events, social issues, and the like.

There are also people — like me — who believe writing should seek to inform and educate just as much as, if not more than, it should entertain.

I’m all for being entertained, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve never personally been one to treat books or TV as an escape. I don’t judge those who do — sometimes you just have to get away from it all for a while. I’m just always looking for a deeper meaning, a moral, a takeaway.

I write this way, too. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m not being entertaining ENOUGH because I focus in on the lessons I’m trying to get across. But I try my best.

I think it’s extremely important to remember that it’s not just your job to make people smile or laugh or cry by telling a simple story. As a writer, you have a chance to take a stance, to say something important through a narrative. I don’t believe we should “back down” from these opportunities because there are people who want to escape when they pick up a book or turn on a show.

There are people out there who are looking for someone or something to relate to. For a story or essay or blog post to put into words what they can’t seem to be able to do.

Not everyone is looking for a way out, for a way to forget. Sometimes they WANT the drama, the deep stuff, the “real talk.” Not everyone will, and some people will criticize you for being “too political” or for hitting “too close to home.”

Those people aren’t the ones looking for the kind of stories you might be telling. And that’s OK. You can’t please everyone no matter how much you might be tempted to try.

Whether you write to escape or to tell stories relevant to the world around you — some much more so than others — you should trust your gut. If you have an idea for a story and you really want to dive into it, but something in the back of your mind says it’s “too real,” as yourself how much that really matters. Aren’t some of the best stories the ones who make us feel things — and isn’t it easiest to feel things when we can relate to the content on a personal level?

While it’s true that listening to your audience is important, you shouldn’t always tell stories based on everything they do or don’t want. Write the stories YOU want to tell the way YOU want to tell them. Especially if that’s going to mean the difference between an unfinished work-in-progress and a query-ready novel, for example.

If there’s something you need to say, say it. And if there’s an audience who will benefit from it, you’ll find them. Or they’ll find you. Either way, everyone wins. You told the story you wanted or needed to tell, and, if you’re lucky, someone else got something out of it, too.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

No, You Don’t HAVE to Write.

“Have to” can change the way you think about your work — and not always for the better.

I don’t like it when people treat writing like a chore. More accurately, I don’t think it’s helpful for people who want to be successful but aren’t quite sure how to stay motivated long enough to get their work done.

“Have to” implies that something will automatically be unpleasant. And that’s not the best way to approach a writing session, at least in my experience.

Let’s be clear: As a writer, you do “have to” write. And there will be days you really won’t want to, and this is completely normal. Just because you have ideas and are an overall creative person does not mean you’ll be driven to make things 100% of the time. You’re only human, after all.

However, there does need to be some kind of balance between “want to write” and “need to write.” Something that is a hobby can also sometimes feel like a chore, but it shouldn’t always feel that way. Imagine waking up in the morning, looking at your to-do list, and realizing you’ve made it a point to get some writing done before you go to sleep.

“Ugh, I have to write today,” you think.

THAT is when you start slipping into the wrong creative mindset.

Because when you tell yourself over and over that the writing you are doing today isn’t somehow beneficial to you in the short- or long-term, you’re unknowingly adding more stress to the activity and to your life.

Attitude matters. Even when it’s just you and your laptop and there’s no one around to judge your pouting. None of us WANT to do our chores, and this makes starting them so much more difficult than it would be if we just said, “Alright, I’m going to do this thing I’d rather not do but it’s going to be fine and I’ll feel better once I start doing it! Yeah!”

I know you can’t always approach everything with that kind of mindset. There are days I just wake up in a bad mood and I don’t feel like doing anything and complain my way through the day. These are not good days, but they do happen sometimes.

It’s when this becomes an everyday occurrence that you really have to ask yourself why you aren’t enjoying what you are doing.

Sometimes, it’s OK to write “just because.”

In at least some of your writing, don’t do it because you have to. Do it because you want to. Or at the very least, tell yourself — convince yourself — that the writing you are doing is for the right reasons. Try to stay positive, at least a little bit. You may not feel like doing it. But the work is going to be worth it. It always, somehow, is.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

12 Things to Tell Your Family When They Ask (AGAIN) Why You’re Not a Bestselling Author Yet

I forgot how to write. Yep. I have no idea how to do it. What?

1. I forgot how to write. Yep. I have no idea how to do it. What?

2. Bestselling author? Who’d want that??

3. Writing is hard, dude.

4. Sometimes I almost finish books and then I just abandon them and start new ones. I hear it’s a common issue.

5. I DON’T WANNA.

6. The Green Brothers keep writing books and stealing my spot.

7. It’s taking so long because GENIUS CAN’T BE RUSHED.

8. I have this procrastination problem? I’m thinking of seeing someone about that.

9. Oh, I also have this problem where sometimes all my fingers spontaneously break and then magically heal.

10. I’m almost done!

11. I’m secretly a bestselling author under a pen name? No I can’t tell you what it is??

12. I’ll let you know when I’m close. I’ll get there someday, I promise. :)


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

Is This the Hardest Thing About Writing a Book?

Keep writing anyway. Try.

It’s no secret that writing a book is hard. If it were easy, everyone could do it.

But writing a book isn’t difficult for only the reasons most people assume. From the outside looking in, it can seem like writing is difficult because a writer is trying to expand a unique idea, or they have Writer’s Block, or it’s just generally assumed writers spend most of their time talking about writing but not actually writing anything.

What I don’t see writers talking about enough is WHY writing a book is so hard. I don’t mean that telling a story is a hard thing to do — weaving together a decent plot and all that.

Writing is an extremely physically, mentally, and emotionally draining activity. WHY ARE WE NOT TALKING MORE ABOUT THIS?

It’s not that writing is not enjoyable (most of the time) or that it’s so easy we put less effort into it and appear as though we aren’t doing much.

No. It’s that writing is like exercising physically while doing a crossword puzzle and watching a really intense, emotional movie simultaneously. You walk away from it and you feel like you’re DYING.

Not because the experience was bad, but because you. Are. Just. So. Tired.

This is one of the many things about being a writer that is so difficult to explain to family and friends. “Why are you so tired? All you did was write all day.” Yes. And like every other job, I leave mine feeling totally drained. As I should. It means I worked hard and I am proud of that.

To me, THAT is the hardest part of writing a book. Finding the energy to do it — and the energy to do everything else in addition to it. There are days there simply isn’t any left, and as much as I desperately want to make more progress, I physically, mentally, emotionally, cannot do it.

And on those days you know you can’t do it, you have to accept the fact that you can’t do it and move on to the next thing. Wipe away the guilt. Try again tomorrow.

But on most days, you have to Deal With It. With coffee, with a babysitter, with a drink and a few ounces of hope that somehow you will miraculously meet your quota for the day without staring at a blank screen and/or writing 100% garbage.

(Not that writing garbage is a waste of time. But … some salvageable content is nice, sometimes, you know?)

Here’s the good news, friends. You are not alone, if you are also feeling this way. I know it can feel like no one around you gets it and they don’t understand why you work weird hours or why you’re always so tired or why sometimes you just need to be alone (with your work-in-progress).

Well I get it. I get how exhausted you are. But the only solution is to keep inching forward until you figure it out — until you figure out how to balance work and play, wants and needs, writing time and things-that-don’t-require-thinking time.

To write while physically and mentally spent is a challenge we all wish we could avoid. But the reality is, we can’t avoid it. We have to practice and learn to do the work despite the moments we no longer want to.

Keep writing. It’s going to be worth it someday. I promise.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.