What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

5:06 PM

Hello! Today is December 1st which means a) NaNoWriMo is officially over and b) the holidays will soon be upon us.

*cue music*

Rocking around the Christmas tree
Let the Christmas spirit ring
Later we'll have some pumpkin pie
and we'll do some caroling

You will get a sentimental feeling
When you hear, voices singing
"Let's be jolly; Deck the halls with boughs of holly"

I certainly have a good reason to be jolly because I won NaNo! That's right, I wrote 50,000 words of my novel Cursed in only one month!!!

While my book is only about halfway written at this point, I still am ecstatic to have met the goal I set for myself.

Now that I have finished NaNo, I thought I would share with you the four lessons I learned through participating in NaNo 2015.

Lesson #1: You do not need to write every day.

You have probably read writing advice which says YOU NEED TO WRITE EVERY DAY (in all caps just like that too). This writing advice is well intentioned. It is important to set aside time for your writing; however, saying you need to write every day can also cause you to feel guilty when you don't write.

I didn't write every day in November. In fact, there was an entire week of NaNo when I didn't write a single word. My grandmother passed away at the beginning of NaNo, and I was a complete wreck. I needed time to grieve, so I gave it to myself.

Even though I lost a week of writing, I was still able to meet my goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. I simply put in 4k writing days for the last week or so of November.

Write when you have time. You will enjoy it so much more than when you stress yourself out trying to squeeze in writing sessions every day.  Because, let's face it, some days you have a lot of fires to put out in your life.

Lesson #2: Let your first draft suck.

Turning off your inner editor as you write can be a beastly task. As writers, we often love to waste several minutes trying to find exactly the right word or spend an entire day rewriting a chapter because we aren't satisfied with it. If people are going to read your book (hopefully lots of people), you want it to be the best it can be. While this is an admirable goal, you can't think this way when writing your first draft of a book. Save that mindset for when you've actually finished the book and are ready to go back to edit and revise.

I have to admit, I am still learning to let my first draft suck. (I seriously need to make this phrase into a poster and hang it up in my room.) At the beginning of NaNo, I spent way too much time reading over the chapters I had written and revising them. I could feel myself slipping into a revision loop. Read, revise, edit, read, revise, edit, read, revise, edit, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, at the rate I was going, I wouldn't hit 50k by the end of November. So, I stopped reading my past chapters and focused on keeping the story going. This was a big step for me as I am notorious for never finishing the stories I write, often because I have trapped myself in a revision loop.

Lesson #3: Small goals are more manageable.

When you are working on a big project, break it down into smaller parts. It is something I teach my students and something I'm sure many of you have heard before.

When I realized I had to write 4,000 words a day for the last week of NaNo in order to reach my goal by the end of November, I honestly didn't know if I would be able to do it. I am a slow writer and am not used to writing more than 1,000 words a day. The idea of writing 4,000 words in one day was pretty intimidating. So, I decided to break the 4,000 words into 500 word chunks. I concentrated on writing 500 words. Once I wrote 500 words, I started writing toward the next 500 words. I kept repeating the process, with some breaks sprinkled throughout, until I reached 4,000 words. I wholeheartedly believe that I was able to win NaNo because I decided to break my larger goals down into smaller goals.

Lesson #4: Don't put yourself down. Own your writing.

Every writer suffers from self-doubt. There are days you feel like a genius, and there are days you feel like a fraud. When you're trying to write 50,000 words in a month, most days you feel like a fraud. Or, at least I did.

When I told my friends and family I was participating in NaNo, I told them I was doing it "just for fun." I was too scared to admit that writing is anything more than a hobby to me. I didn't want them to think I was writing seriously because that would imply that I thought I was talented enough to become a published author. I am a realistic daydreamer. While I like to think about what it would be like to one day be an author, I know that the odds are stacked against me. It is extremely difficult to get published. When I was trying to decide on a major in college, I never once considered a degree in creative writing because I knew it wasn't practical. I wasn't brave enough to pursue a degree which didn't promise a good job outlook.

Once I told people I was writing a 50,000+ word novel in a month, a lot of them asked "When can I read it?" or "What's it about?" I would rattle off my story synopsis, and they'd say, "That sounds so interesting! I want to read it when you're finished." I'd usually then make some self-deprecating remark. I would downplay my writing, tell them the story probably wasn't going to be very good, that I was only writing it for fun. At the time, I told myself I was being humble, but the truth is that I am terrible at taking compliments.

So, my advice to you, fellow writers, is to own your writing. Don't tell people you are an "aspiring writer." If you write, you are a writer. When people ask you about your writing, don't belittle your work. Have confidence in yourself and your writing.

Though the past month has been crazy, I am so glad I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I learned so much about writing and about myself.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? How did it go for you? Did you learn anything? Feel free to reflect on your experience in the comments below.

Reflection is the only way we grow. It's also a killer Disney song. Hit it, Mulan!

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  1. These are absolutely true! I mean, I know a few writers who binge-write for the first week -- did that once for Camp NaNo -- whereas I prefer to spread it out but don't beat myself over it if I miss a day or two. And first drafts suck so much -- embracing the suck really does help a lot. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading, Alyssa! Yes, embrace the suck, ha ha:)


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