NaNoWriMo – Is it Cheating?

My NaNoWriMo journey began in 2011, with the drafting of my novel Roadside Zoo. I participated four more years. I did not NaNo in 2016 or 2017, although I was writing more than ever. Let me explain why I began NaNoWriMo, and why I stopped after five years of passionate dedication to this amazing international happening.

Why NaNoWriMo?

When you announce you are dedicating the month of November to writing a novel, magical things happen.Understand your own writing process.

1) You make a public commitment to write 50,000 words in thirty days via the website. Stating concrete goals ensures success, or at least a stronger effort than those dreams you whisper to yourself in private.
2) People sigh with relief that you’re finally going to write that book you’ve been yammering about for the past six years, and hope you’ll shut up about it once the thing’s completed. They cut you slack when they see you are seriously pursuing your dream.
3) You push yourself harder because this is a time limited engagement. A lifetime? Intimidating! Thirty days? Eminently doable.
4) Working on an entire novel in a short space of time enables a mental continuity. You know your story inside and out, backwards and forwards, in ways you never grasp when writing a scene or chapter every month or so.
5) The website tracks your word count. You can’t lie to yourself. Unless you’re such a reprehensible cheat that you type “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over, which has already been done. So now you’re a cheater and a plagiarist.
6) You have a fantastic excuse to guzzle gallons of coffee.

With all these great reasons, why would I give up NaNoWriMo? Because with my last entry, I felt like a cheat. Instead of writing 50,000 words of a new work, I used the month to heavily revise an existing novel.

NaNoWriMo is about slamming down 50,000 fresh words, right? I voluntarily banned myself from NaNoWriMo for two years. Now I’m rethinking my attitude.

How to make NaNoWriMo work for you:

1) The point is to give you thirty days of laser sharp focus on your writing. Use the time in a way that makes sense for where you’re at in your writing journey.
2) If you have trouble finishing writing projects, the month of November gives you no excuses. Dust off that manuscript moldering away in your desk drawer or electronic file folder. If you truly dedicate yourself to the process, you’ll be at least 50,000 words closer to The End.
3) Begin at the beginning, begin with an outline, or begin with a flawed manuscript that needs thirty days of tender loving care and a brutal no-holds-barred rewrite. Dare to be different and draft several short stories.
4) Understand your own goals and writing process. Don’t try to follow a path doomed to failure.

I no longer care if I am playing by a strict set of rules. The point of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to write. I’m jumping back in with a detailed outline. That’s not cheating, is it?


Catherine DiltsWhen Catherine Dilts began the NaNoWriMo journey, she was unpublished. She is now the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. Her short story Do-Over appears in the 2018 anthology Blood and Gasoline. She takes a turn in the multi-author sweet cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library with Ink or Swim. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction on her website.