Cleaning House Before NaNoWriMo


How many people out there are participating in NaNoWriMo? Raise your hands. Wow, that’s a lot! Good for you!

Those of you who are NOT participating probably have a variety of reasons for skipping it this year:

  • You’re already in the middle of another project and don’t want to break your momentum to start something new.
  • You’re editing.
  • You have a deadline you need to meet for a different project.
  • You can’t write 50,000 words in November.
  • You prefer a slower pace for your writing.
  • You already have a dozen unfinished projects, so how can you possibly justify starting a new one?

Okay, hold up. If your reason for NOT participating in NaNo has to do with a backlog of unfinished projects, let’s talk about that for a moment, shall we?

What’s wrong with having a lot of unfinished projects? Really, what is actually WRONG with that? Most writers have more than one iron in the fire at any given time. It’s okay to work on more than one project at a time, and it’s okay to switch back and forth, if that works for you.

But, if your list of WIPs is truly out of control, I want to run you through an exercise that might help you out with your backlog. I did this a few months ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of unfinished projects languishing in my computer. I felt unaccomplished, disorganized, and depressed. And, if I had a new idea for a story, I tried to squash it because I was afraid of starting yet another project that I wouldn’t finish.

This exercise helped me eliminate some of the literary dead weight that was pulling me down and stealing my joy. I hope it will help you.



STEP ONE: Create your folders

Create a new folder on your computer desktop and label it “Archive.” Now, create a folder on your desktop and label it “WIP.”

STEP TWO: Take a long, hard look at your manuscripts

Go through every single incomplete manuscript saved in your computer. This might take a while, but it’s worth the time spent. Trust me.

Each manuscript is going to be assigned to one of the new folders you have created. It’s either going to be “Archived” or considered an open, active work in progress. Today is the day you’re going to make a decision. Either the manuscript is worth getting on with, or it isn’t. Period.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you are reviewing each manuscript:

  • Does the writing reflect my current writing style, or is this amateurish writing that no longer reflects who I am as a writer?
  • Does the story have a complete plot?
  • Am I connecting with the story?
  • Would this manuscript give me joy to write, or would it feel like a chore?
  • Is this manuscript part of an existing series?
  • Why did I start writing this manuscript?
  • Feel free to add your own questions.

Notice I didn’t ask how long the manuscript was or how much time had already been spent writing it/plotting it/researching it. That’s because it doesn’t matter. We aren’t going to worry about the past. This exercise is about cleaning house and setting yourself up for an organized, streamlined, focused, and (most importantly) a joyful writing present and future.

Take a day or more to objectively review each manuscript. Read a few pages of each one. Are you getting caught up in the story? Are you a little bit amazed by how fantastic your writing is? Well, then that’s certainly a manuscript that’s worth going into the WIP folder!

Is the manuscript just a few pages of disjointed scenes based on a weird dream you had one night? Is it one of your early attempts at writing and out-of-step with who you are now as writer? Then let it go. Archive it.

Once you’ve decided which manuscripts to revive and which manuscripts to archive, you’re going to do some house cleaning:

STEP THREE: Let it go

If you have determined that it’s time to let go of a manuscript, you can move it to your “Archive” folder. Yes, you can delete it if you wish, but that’s up to you. For me, archiving didn’t feel quite as final as deleting, but it has enabled me to let go. I no longer worry about those archived manuscripts. They’re off the table. I’m free.

When you archive a manuscript, you want to move all references to that manuscript into the Archive folder. No lingering files should be left behind in any other folders on your computer. If you want to, you can even move your Archive folder off your computer completely and save it to a flash drive, Dropbox, or somewhere else where you won’t be haunted by manuscripts from days past.


For the manuscripts you have decided to save, we are going to create shortcuts so your projects can be easily accessed from one place. You can move everything to a WIP folder if you want, but for me, it was more practical to create shortcuts, especially for projects that are part of series.

(If you need help creating a shortcut on a Windows desktop, this link might help you:

Here’s what my WIP folder looks like. You can see there’s a mix of shortcuts, folders, and word documents. You can arrange yours any way you’d like:


STEP FIVE: Prioritize

Now that ALL of your manuscripts have either been archived, or can be accessed from your WIP folder, you will want to prioritize your projects.

  • Which manuscript is the closest to completion?
  • Any deadlines or reader expectations that should be taken into consideration?
  • Which manuscript are you the most excited about working on?

If you don’t have any deadlines, I think you should work on whichever manuscript would give you the most joy to work on!

If you’d like, you can prioritize your projects by organizing a spreadsheet, making a list on your calendar, or just jotting down which project you’d like to complete first.

Now that your WIP folder is a little less cluttered, it might be easier to choose a manuscript to work on. You might even feel inspired to work on something new for NaNoWriMo!

A quick note about NaNo: If you’re in the throes of editing, or are trying to complete a project, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of NaNoWriMo. Though NaNo was designed to help writers complete a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days, no one is keeping score. There aren’t any NaNo police who are going to arrest you for setting a smaller goal, or for picking up where you left off on an existing project. There’s so much MORE to NaNo than writing 50K in 30 days. There are inspirational articles, word sprints, writing prompts, and cool goal trackers. So, whatever your goals are for this November, see if you can make NaNo work for you!

Anyway, happy writing everyone! May the rest of your year be productive and joyful!

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3 thoughts on “Cleaning House Before NaNoWriMo

  1. I had to log onto my computer just to leave you a message. I sat down to go through my WIPs while reading this. Wow, I was hanging onto a lot of WIPs that I just wasn’t ever going to get back to doing. Thank you for the reminder and helping me get off my toosh to clean it all out.

    Liked by 1 person

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