Lessons Learned from National Novel Writing Month

50,000 words in 24 days. It can be done! Yes, I’m bragging – just give me a moment to pull myself together. *Ahem*

I’m not going to lie, winning National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is HARD! A lot of things have had to go by the wayside (exercise, cooking, house cleaning, social life – oh who am I kidding? I never had a social life.) So I’m looking forward to poking my head out of the writing cave and rejoining the world. Well, at least partly. I’m still hoping to have a draft of Book 2 finished by the end of the year.

But I digress. The real reason for this post is that you can’t go through something like this without learning a thing or two. Here are a few unexpected things that NaNoWriMo taught me:

  1. Making writing a priority = more time for writing. During the month of November, my work days went something like this: wake up, eat, go to work (where I write, but it doesn’t count for this), write on lunch break, come home, eat, write for two hours, take a shower, sleep. Repeat. Weekends were simpler: wake up, eat, write, maybe eat again, fall asleep on keyboard. I was exhausted most of the time, but it worked. Those two hours at night usually equalled about 1,50o words and most weekends my word count was around 2,00o-4,000. Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I’m going to try to find a way to write a few nights a week – just not at the breakneck pace I’ve been going at.
  2. There are only so many hours in the day. This is the flip side of #1. When you’re spending all your time working and writing, there’s not much room for much else. In September and October, I trained for my first 5K. In the course of November, I think I’ve lost all the muscle tone I built up (literally no exercising and lots of sitting) and probably gained 10 pounds (eating out and frozen food saves time over cooking). That and my house should probably be cited by the health department (okay, not really, but I’m OCD, so it feels that way). They should call December National Catch Up on Life Month.
  3. Learning to turn off your inner editor is very liberating. I tend to be a perfectionist writer (yes, I hear your sarcastic gasps from here), so the idea of just writing and not going back and revising scared the crap out of me when I first started this. But over time, I’ve grown to love it. Using whatever word comes to mind and moving on is a great way to keep the excitement going (yours and your plot) and it frees you from obsessing over a single word, phrase, or name. That is what editing is for. And that comes after writing. “Just get the idea down and keep going” has become my new mantra. (Remind me how much I liked this approach when I get to the editing phase and wonder “what the heck was I thinking?”) But once you have a full draft MS, it’s much easier to see where you need to edit or cut, versus trying to do it blind with half the book unwritten (trust me, I’ve done it both ways).
  4. The support of a writing community makes a world of difference. I have made more friends during this month than I usually do in a year. Thankfully, most of them are local, so I’m hoping to get together with them throughout the year. The write-ins were a blast (where else do you end up quoting The Princess Bride and Spaceballs with no alcohol involved?) and I’ve never experienced anything like the intensity of a room of writers during a word war. But I’ve also met some amazing people online (thank you, Twitter!) Lizze Vance and I even got into a NaNoChallenge to see if we could finish by a certain date and time (we did!). I’m hoping all of my new online friends with be ongoing support, too. After all, the writing doesn’t end December 1.

I think that about sums up my first NaNoWriMo experience. It was wonderful and I will happily do it again if the stars align and I have a plot ready to write on next November (it very well could be how I finish book 3). To all the other NaNo-ers out there, congratulations for making it. To everyone else, if you’ve ever thought about writing, this is a fun way to try it out.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? What was your experience like? What did you learn? If not, would you want to be part of a program like this?

5 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from National Novel Writing Month

  1. After putting it off the last 8 years, I’m glad I finally took the plunge too (think I signed up literally on Nov. 1). I surprised myself. Now I need to clean the house! Good luck with your work.

  2. Great post, Nicole. I know a couple of other writers who have done this and it’s a great motivator, although for me I’ve never tried it. One issue is that when NANO is over, I don’t think a lot of writers write regularly again until the next year. I always have the goal of 500 words a day which may not seem like a lot, but that’s 180,000 words a year – a full book, maybe two – I’ve written two books that add up to about that length in the past year – just rough drafts mind you – yet to be revised, but for me, finding a half hour or so each day works. But whatever motivates a person is great. I also belong to two groups where we share pieces of our writing which makes me have to produce at least something each month, which I never thought I’d like, but for almost two years now, those groups have motivated me to write more.

    Can’t wait to read your novels someday!

    • Thanks, Tyler! Personally, I don’t understand people who only write once a year for NaNo, but to each his/her own, I guess. For me, writing is a drive, a need. I feel better when I do it.

      I’m not a “write everyday” adherent, but then again I write 8-10 hours a day for my day job, so maybe that counts and I am! But i get to fiction writing as often as I can.

      I’m amazed how much you’ve written in a year. Can you send some of that mojo this way? Best of luck to you and your writing group!

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