What I learned from NaNoWriMo

As we all know, I didn’t quite follow the rules in that I participated starting on December 7th, and ended January 5th. But for those of you not savvy, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) takes place every November and is a challenge for writers to write at least 50,000 toward a novel in 30 days. You can learn more at NaNoWriMo.org

Because I was in school and experiencing a lot of stress during November, NaNoWriMo was not an option for me. I kept saying that one day, I would like to save up my money all year and just take an entire month off to participate. Then, it struck me that I have five weeks off over Christmas. Thus, I began.

Here’s my experience:

  1. Keep Trudging no matter what
    I didn’t know what I was going to write about when I started. In fact, I came across a blog called Writing Prompts that Don’t Suck. I had been scrolling through them when I decided to write a scene that I thought was absolutely disgusting. I wrote my few paragraphs, and called it done, a good writing exercise. Then I found a line in one of the prompts that I really liked, something along the lines of waking up every day in the armpit of this continual alien reality. I stuck that in there as well.
    I was at breakfast, and I was eaves dropping on a conversation at another table, a girl talking about running into her ex, and how they ended up hanging out, and then they had to talk and they talked about how one of them could never forgive the other..so on an so forth. I wrote a scene about someone running into her ex, being forced by politeness to make plans, even though they had a pretty seedy past. I didn’t know what the past was, but I just kept writing until I knew what it was. I wrote about one of them leaving the grocery store, and built the character. I wrote about them meeting up, and then I finally figured out what their past was.
    I didn’t know what I was going to write about, but I forced myself to write little scenes that were seemingly unrelated. The disgusting scene I wrote about turned out to be the main character’s apartment, and from that I was able to build her entire character.
  2. Keep to a daily writing goal
    Ok, so I didn’t quite do this, but I tried to keep close to it. If my goal was 50,000 words in 30 days, then that equates to 1,666.66666666….. or 1,667 words per day. I aimed for this. There were some days that were too busy and I wasn’t able to get time to write, and there were other days when I was Miss Over-Achiever and was able to pump out 3-4,000. In the end, it averaged out. Also, by rounding up say to 1,670 words per day, it makes your goal closer. When I was in my last five days, I was at 45,000 words – which mean that my word goal dropped down nearly 700 words a day, making the stress less.
  3. When in doubt, write it out
    So this is kind of piggy-backing on Number one, but still valid. At one point I didn’t know which path to take – actually, a couple times I didn’t know which path to take. So I wrote out both options to see which one took me which direction. I kept both, I never deleted the one I didn’t use. Part of me still wanted to go back and explore that option. So I copied it in another document and saved it for another day. It can be a writing exercise next time I’m stuck.
  4. Constant writing meditation
    When I was in a position where I wasn’t able to write because I was driving from Seattle or something, I would think about where my characters were headed, what I wanted the plot to entail, and so on. Keeping my head in the game really enabled my ability to keep writing.
  5. Don’t listen to the corner cutters
    While I had a great many supporters surrounding me, and people to bounce ideas off of, there were some that said not to stress it too much – if I was a couple thousand words short, so what? If I’m not directly entering a competition, then what does it matter?
    Ok – yes, what does it matter if it’s just for me? Well – if I can’t stick to this goal, why should I be able to stick to any future goals? This is an exercise in being able to accomplish something. I – along with the many others that participate in NaNoWriMo and any other competition – am trying to hold myself to a standard, to train myself to be able to accomplish something within a deadline. If I say that I made it – it’s first of all a lie, second of all cheating.
    Don’t cut corners, you’ll like yourself better if you keep it honest. After all, if you don’t, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.
  6. Set the Next Goal
    I have a mountain of editing to do. I’m hoping to expand my novel to 80,000 words just in editing. I have a list of details I need to iron out, things that I need to put more dedicated research into (I neglected that aspect since I was on a schedule. Now that the deadline has been reached, I can go back and make things more accurate), plot points that might need to be altered and so on.
    My next goal is to have this completely edited by the first of February. This would be a much sooner goal if I weren’t about to start a very heavy work load in school. However, for now, I’m giving myself a little under a month to make this puppy sparkle.

I loved this exercise. It was amazing – stressful, but amazing. Knowing that I came out the other side somehow unscathed and with more than 50,000 words towards a completed work is absolutely unbeatable to me. So, I set myself more goals – I would like to produce a novel every three months. It could be absolute swill, but what matters is that I’m writing. It seems like a tall order, but if this is where my heart and passion is, then I need to make it so.


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