The Five Stages of NaNoWriMo

Most writers, being studies of the human condition, have a working knowledge of the 5 Stages of Grief. They are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These are not necessarily in order of chronology or importance, but there they are. They also apply to most emotional tragedy or loss beyond death, such as a bad break up or acute victimization or injury.

Humans deal with big changes or events of all types, good and bad, in different ways. Happy changes involve excitement, bragging, and celebration. Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, and I woke up early to write. I got over 700 words down in 30 minutes, and have felt pretty good about it. I saw excited, optimistic, and fearful posts in my Facebook group all day, and it occurred to me that there are stages to dealing with NaNoWriMo. Writers deal with the daunting 50,000 word goal in different ways.

I submit that there are 5 stages of NaNoWriMo. With at least 3 minutes of serious thought, I decided they are:

  1. Excitement
  2. Fear
  3. Motivation
  4. Bargaining
  5. Discipline

Allow me to break them down.


You’re in a supportive community. You’re swept away. You imagine placing your hand satisfyingly on a thick bound stand of papers that is Your Manuscript. You’ll be famous, of course, and look back on NaNoWriMo and shake your head and say things like, “Boy it was hard but it sure was worth it!” At least that’s what you’ll tell the New York Times when they interview you about your astronomical success. You RSVP to daily write-ins a WEEK. “This will be a breeze,” you think.


At some point you think, “Holy shit FIFTY THOUSAND FUCKING WORDS.” Pardon my French, but I’m probably echoing some of you verbatum. This just isn’t the fear of the task, but the barrage of other fears that come with being a writer. Fear of judgement. Fear of failure. Fear that all of this will be in vain and at the end of 30 days you’ll have 50,000 words that don’t even make sense. You seek help from the message boards and Facebook groups in a way that betrays as little bravado as possible. “Little help here guys…” you’ll write.


Your WriMo friends come through. Pinterest supplies you with more than enough motivational quotes. You read, again, about the success of Water for Elephants and start to make actual serious plans about how you’re going to do this. You look back on those write-in RSVPs and cross reference it with your real-life calendar and drop five of them. You download software to help you. You sketch out a rough outline or character sheet. “I got this,” you’ll write on a yellow post-it note to stick to your bathroom mirror.


You don’t got this. Real life happened, and you only got 4,000 words the first week. You spend too long figuring out the math and setting astronomical sprint goals. You think bitterly of your favorite writers and how they get paid to sit around and write all day. If only you didn’t have any distractions, this would be over already. “I can call in sick to work one day next week and knock out a 10,000 words,” you reason.


You get over yourself. You’re not Stephen King, and you will never be Stephen King until you freakin’ write the book. So you sit down and write. You get up early to write, you stay up late to write, you sneak off during your lunch break to get out a few words. Your growing word count starts to encourage you. When you hit a slump, you read a few blogs for motivation or download a new tool to help. One day turns into two days turns into a week turns into a month. You reach 50,000 words of a totally messy, hole-filled manuscript littered with typos and a character whose name changed three times, but it’s YOUR manuscript. “I did it,” you say to nobody in particular as you seriously consider throwing it dramatically into the sea (but you’ll kill anyone who tries to take it from you.)


Now, I will say, just like grief, everyone experiences NaNoWriMo differently. Today, November 1st, 2017, I wish you all eternal excitement, motivation, and discipline. I wish you never have to math out how many sprints you need to do to make up for a bad day, and I hope that you never find yourself gripped with fear of reaching day 29 with a crazy number of words to go.

What are your stages of NaNoWriMo? Leave them in the comments!

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