What I Learned from Doing NaNoWriMo

I know, a month ago I was saying I probably wouldn’t bother trying to win NaNo this year. Here I am saying it’s great.

This makes my second win in four years. My first win was in 2013. I’d been wanting to do NaNoWriMo since I first learned about it more than five years earlier, but unfortunately I was in school. In August 2013, I finally graduated with my Master’s degree, and in November 2013, with just a full-time job and no homework, I was able to pound out over 1,667 words a day to complete NaNoWriMo a day or two before the end of the month. This year, I demolished the word goal and won the whole kit-n-kaboodle in 20 days.

Here are a few thoughts on NaNoWriMo, things I learned, habits I developed, and why I think NaNo is a valuable expenditure of your time (even IF you don’t go on to complete, revise and/or publish your draft)

1. It forces you to make writing a habit

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’ve always had things to write. Usually those things were persuasive essays, comparative research papers, and analyses of other peoples’ literature, though. Things change when you get out of school and no longer have deadlines and assignments to keep the words and thoughts flowing, no longer have classmates struggling alongside you to hit that page goal and finish that paper, no longer have teachers there to guide you. If you’re the kind of person who needs to set a goal or have a deadline to get anything done, NaNoWriMo is a great motivator. It gives you a deadline and an achievable goal. All you have to do is make writing a habit. In order to achieve the 50k word count goal, you need to write 1,667 words a day. For me, that’s about 45 minutes of focused writing. If you have other habits–morning coffee, going to the gym, brushing your teeth–then you can attach writing to one of those pre-existing habits to help make it stick. Get up, have coffee, write. Or, brush your teeth, write, go to sleep. Whatever works for you. If you make it into a habit, soon you’ll feel weird if you’re not writing, and NaNoWriMo will be a breeze.

2. You may (probably will) surprise yourself

If you’re not a habitual writer, it may surprise you to realize how much fun it is to write. If you are a habitual writer, it may shock you to realize how productive you can be–and how much you may have been selling yourself short all this time.

I am a habitual writer. I write every night… But if I must confess, I’m very lax about it. I pull out my laptop and sometimes I devote some solid focused effort into my project, but other times I open a word document, get on Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc etc, and then fall asleep on my computer (that happens really often you guys. When I was a kid I would fall asleep on books–Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets suffered several breaks in its spine thanks to me zonking out on it–and now that I’m an adult I doze off on my computer).

This year, I participated in NaNoWordSprints. They’re led by NaNo staff on Twitter, and the idea is that you sit and focus on writing for a set amount of time–anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Really focus. Don’t sit there with twelve tabs open and the TV on and your word document minimized and call it writing.

I wrote nearly 12,000 words in one day doing that. It took me almost the entire day (I took a few breaks), but I’d been hoping to maybe bust out 5,000. I realized that I have been selling myself short for a long time. I can be way more productive than I think, if I just stop dicking around on the internet and calling it writing.

3. There is a great community around NaNoWriMo

If you’re the type of person who needs other people to hold you accountable for your goals, or if you get motivation from competition or from seeing other people succeed, engage yourself in the community. The NaNoWordSprints Twitter account is very active and responsive and supportive. They keep things fun with competitions, such as the #nanocivilwar and #nanohousecup, where your word count per sprint is points scored for your chosen team.

If Twitter isn’t your thing, there are forums on the NaNoWriMo website.

If you’re a more in-person socializer, there are write-ins and meet-ups in most cities.

Authors write “pep talks” which are sent out via message and email to registered NaNo participants. One of the most encouraging things I’ve ever read about writing was the pep talk Neil Gaiman wrote for NaNoWriMo, where he admitted that about 3/4 of the way through his own books, he starts telling his editor/agent how awful his writing is and how he should just quit and trash the whole project. I read that and thought, if Neil frikkin’ Gaiman doubts his own writing, and he’s successful and prolific and talented as heck, then maybe my writing isn’t as awful as I think it is.

The whole environment of NaNoWriMo is nothing but encouragement and support. It’s delightful. So take advantage of it.

4. Maybe you should hire a maid in November….

If your SO/roommate/child/house guest/pet is not a tidy creature, maybe you should hire a maid for the month of November, because when you build that habit of writing and engage yourself in the headlong rush to meet word count goals and finish a novel, suddenly the facts that autumn leaves have been tracked all over your house (thanks dogs) and the dishes haven’t been done in two weeks (…we have plastic cutlery) and there’s no food in your house that isn’t frozen and microwaveable (or stale or rotting from neglect) don’t seem very important anymore. Then, on December 1, when you poke your head up out of your fantasy world and take a breath for the first time in a month, you realize… yikes.

Then, if you’re like me, you shrug and say “Fuck it” because who cares what’s going on in the real world when your characters are about to find the treasure they’ve been hunting for the past 50,000 words?!

5. Never give up, never surrender!

Even if you find yourself 10,000 words behind with only two days to go, IT IS POSSIBLE TO MAKE IT! Obviously sometimes real life interferes, but if you have time, don’t stop. Never stop writing, because even if you only write 20k or 30k words the entire month, you’ve still done more than you did in October, right? And just because you didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean you should quit on your novel. Don’t lose that writing habit you developed in November. Keep plucking away at it. Even if it takes you until next November to finish your first draft.



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As yet unpublished author of m/m romance.

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