Fighting Writer’s Plaque

(Migrated post. Content originally published 11/2013 on

23,000+ words into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I have to say I’m feeling pretty good. True, I am about 2,000 words behind today’s target of 25,000 words, but I know I’ll catch up.

After all, I had one very busy weekend and a few very strenuous days at work which put me 3,000 words behind by Sunday, but I caught up.

Little by little. Being persistent. And…I think that’s the most common thing writers lose perspective on while tackling this month-long challenge. In many ways, NaNo is like a writer’s diet. You put your novel on the scales at the end of every day and see if target numbers match up.


The first week feels great. Most writers hit well over the daily targets. They fist-pump until they contract a mild case of carpal tunnel.

But then the fateful day arrives when they inevitably slip up. Like a dieter indulging in a velvety bowl of chocolate pudding, the writer indulges in a blank page. It feels good. Boy, was that little break needed! But then the next day, the guilt is an ax hacking at you! The numbers are off. You’re behind. You suck. What were you thinking? Now whatever words you cobble together on the page feel worthless. What’s the point? This is too overwhelming! Too big to tackle. What the hell were you thinking a few days ago — bragging on Facebook like some kind moron!?

But to all that, I say: Whoa! Breathe! Calm down!

Despite all the daily word targets, all the numbers, stats, and pep-talks, NaNo is neither a diet nor a race. Sure, it can be, but I don’t think that’s the true intention behind the concept.

Because I suspect many writer’s lose perspective, I want to try to take a few steps back and look at this whole thing from another angle. Climb up on the monkey bars with me, will you? Hook your legs to the bars and hang down from your knees. Remember how? I know its been a while for most of us.


Okay, now that we’re looking at NaNo from a whole new perspective, what do we see? Well, I see that rooted in its name is the word “nano.” Think of that not as a contraction of National and Novel, but as just nano. Something small, minute.

I don’t mean to suggest that NaNo is a some small, insignificant event and thus you can totally give up on it and not even care, because you’ve been told before not to sweat the small stuff. I DO mean to suggest that what NaNo is asking you to do is attempt something small in order to lead to a huge payoff.

In effect, all this month is asking you to do is write. Consistently. Persistently. It encourages and seduces you to make writing part of your daily cycle. Rather than treating writing like the divine miracle that only comes about when the ether of muses oozes at its strongest, NaNo purports that writing can be as routine and simple an act as brushing your teeth. (Yes, I am assuming you brush your teeth daily.)


Remember how when you were little, your mom or dad always had to remind (read: nag) you to brush your teeth? It just wasn’t incorporated into the fabric of your lifestyle. But eventually, with persistence and practice, it was. Eventually, you needed no reminders. And to this day, you do not skip it because when you do, you go around with bad breath. You go the whole day feeling icky and yuck.

And the same is true for writing.

So you missed a day. So you’re behind on the daily targets. So what? When you do forget to brush your teeth or plum run out of time, do you kick yourself  and condemn your whole future to the dungeons of acrid plaque, rotting gums, and tooth-blackening cavities? No.

Why? Because dental hygiene is a life-long activity. It’s small in the grand scale of all that you do with your day, and its payoff is huge. Take good daily care of your teeth, and you won’t wind up in dentures when your forty. You can crack into as many apples as you want. You can crunch-anunch all the crunch-anunchy things the world has to offer. In short, you can indulge in all the splendifous flavors of life!

And the same is true for writing when you do it every day. So, if you are at this point in NaNo, kicking/hating/bagging on yourself: STOP IT. The more you do that, the more discouraged you’ll feel and the less likely you’ll be to take up writing again. Then your plaque just builds and builds around your imagination. And then it calcifies! And then, you’ve got this big smelly crust around your once beautiful mind!

“A Beautiful Mind” by TheLionofOz on

Pick up that pen and perform a small, seemingly innocuous act. Remember that it is a life-long activity requiring very little effort for a very big payoff. Working it into the fabric of your lifestyle means that you will continue doing it in December…in January, then February, and so on.

Now I can see that all the blood as run to your head. Ease yourself off the monkey bars. Look at NaNo now that you’re upright once more. Can you see now that it is not a race? Rather, it is a path we all travel at our own pace. It is a path you chose as much as it chose you.

Remember, too, that it is not a diet — a quick-fix with temporary results. It is a way for you to indulge in all the marvelous flavors of storycrafting everyday of your writing life!


And speaking of storycrafting flavors, be sure to tune in again soon when I take a look at the kinds of writing that may not be ideal for completing NaNo. It’s like when you decide to turn over a whole new leaf and get yourself in better shape. You take up jogging, buy bushels of fruits and veggies, and evict all the junk food inhabiting in your pantry. How long does that last? Yeah, not long at all. In my next post, I’ll look at similar patterns in writing that lead to ultimate self-defeat.

Join me then, but for now, go write! Go remove some plaque! And smile more (knowing you stink a whole lot less than you thought you did a few minutes ago)!

By jenmichellemason

Jenny is a story hunter. She has explored foreign countries, canyon mazes, and burial crypts to gather the facts that make good stories. Once, she sniffed a 200-year-old skull...for research purposes. Jenny received an M.Phil from Trinity College Dublin and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. She has authored nearly 20 STEM books for young readers. Her inquisitive and funny nonfiction articles have appeared in Mountain Flyer, Cobblestone, and Muse magazines. Jenny also works as a freelance copy writer for nonprofits and small businesses.

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