Ten Things I Learned from Completing NaNoWriMo

Apologies for the radio silence. For the entire month of November, I was consumed with with the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) challenge. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Take a second to marvel at the ridiculousness of this challenge–50,000 words. That’s roughly 200 hundred double-spaced pages. That’s about seven pages per day if you space it out evenly. Essentially, it’s an entire novel.

And…drumroll, please… I am elated to say that I conquered it! And I learned a few things along the way, both about writing and myself.

Writing is hard.

Nothing about this challenge was easy. There were many times I read over my stuff and thought I was the worst writer in the whole world. There were a few sleepless nights and even more seemingly endless day, but the sheer joy I felt after completing a chunk of writing made it all worth it.

Brainstorming is crucial to the writing process.

Maybe I should re-phrase to indicate that brainstorming is crucial to my writing process. Completing this challenge helped me loosen my grip on what “brainstorming” means to me. My go-to method is to take a few sheets of paper and a pen and just do a fast and furious brain dump of all ideas, characters, images, etc. pertaining to whatever story or project I’m starting.

But over-planning is deadly.

At its best, brainstorming is a great way to collect your thoughts before beginning a piece. At its worst, brainstorming keeps you in endless “planning” cycle and prevents you from doing what you actually want to do in the first place–to write!

Tame that inner self-editor.

This was the most difficult part of the entire challenge for me–letting go of that urge to perfect as I go. I used to think through every paragraph or page so thoroughly before moving onto the next one, I was barely finishing anything at all. And it was not working for me anymore. I felt most free when I would just write with abandon.

Build a network of accountability.

I have always believed that writing is a solitary act, but not a solitary art form. The community element of the challenge, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people across the country were also writing with me gave me the courage to keep going. I also told countless friends and family about the challenge. And you know what? The more people I told, the more people would ask, and the more people would get behind me. Their encouragement kept me going, and their constant inquiries about my current word count provided me with the accountability to finish.

Don’t be afraid to write badly.

You won’t be happy with every sentence you write. You can always go back and refine, but only if you have raw material to start with.

You can make this challenge work for you.

Got an idea for a non-fiction book? Want to work on a series of short stories? Want to write 50,000 words in diary format? Who cares? There aren’t any real rules to this thing, and that’s what makes it so great.

NaNoWriMo, to me at least, is a challenge but not a competition. It’s more a test of stamina and determination than of talent.

It’s never too late to start.

Similar to my last point, you don’t have to start on November 1st to complete the challenge. And you don’t have to write every single day either. There were several days in a row that I just couldn’t fit writing into my schedule, but I was determined to make up for it that following weekend. Life happens. Write tomorrow and move on.

When all else fails, just start free writing–about anything.

There were many times where I found myself just staring at my computer screen, completely stuck on where to go next with a character or a plot point. I learned to use the act of writing to get me through difficult points. During the worst of it, I would just start free writing about whatever was around me. I would start describing people at the coffee  shop, the smell of my freshly refilled mug of coffee, random people walking on the sidewalk. Though it seemed pointless at first, these stream of consciousness riffs helped me discover new methods of description. And the fact that I just kept writing during difficult times kept me motivated to continue.

The end is only the beginning.

The writing doesn’t have to stop just because the challenge is over. That is biggest takeaway for me. I’m not even close to finished with my novel, but I’ve got a huge stack of raw material to dig through and I can move forward with renewed confidence in my ability, my stamina, and my pure love of writing.