Lessons from NaNoWriMo

For the past thirty days, I’ve been furiously writing along with hundreds of thousands of other writers as I attempted to reach my NaNoWriMo goals. For those not familiar with this crazy acronym, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It happens each November and the rules, though not easy, are simple: Write a novel (or at least 50,000 words of one) between November 1st and November 30th. If that sounds insane to you, you aren’t alone. I’ve written two novels so far and both of them took me considerably longer than a month to draft.

When I first heard about NaNoWriMo, I was sure it wasn’t for me. Fast, messy drafts aren’t my style and trying to write that way makes me miserable. Crafting the perfect sentence (or what seems perfect at the time—I’m not naïve enough to believe that revision won’t always be necessary) is part of the fun of writing for me and so having a crazy month where the goal is quantity over quality seemed like a recipe for disaster.

But during the previous few months, I’d been in a bit of a writing funk and I decided it couldn’t hurt to give NaNoWriMo a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So I jumped in with both feet and though I didn’t “win” by making it to the finish line of 50,000 words, I wrote more last month than I’ve ever written in thirty day period before and I learned a lot about my writing process along the way. So win or lose, I’m counting it as a huge success.  Here are some of the things I learned this month:


  • I am still a careful drafter

    Even with a huge word count goal and a ticking clock, I was still making judicious use of my backspace key and staring into space a lot searching for the perfect word or image. While some of my friends were posting status updates on Twitter with things like: “Yippee! 6500 words today” I was feeling really accomplished if I ever broke 2000. But I still increased my word count in amazing ways–I had a few days of 3000-4000 words and that is an enormous improvement for me.  I’m not sure my status as a slow drafter will ever change, but that’s okay because another thing I learned is…


  • Momentum is huge

    Because I knew I needed to make every moment at the keyboard count, I spent a lot more time daydreaming about the story even when I wasn’t writing. I was completely immersed, thinking about the world and the characters almost constantly. So even though (by some standards) I wasn’t writing enormous piles of words every day, I was figuring out plot points and character arcs during most waking hours and that really moved the story forward. I spent far less time during writing time asking myself “what comes next?” My subconcious had already done all of the heavy-lifting on that question.  For me, that was the biggest take-away from NaNo—allowing myself to be swept up by the story and not lose momentum.


  • Writing is more fun with a crowd

    The social support NaNoWriMo offers is invaluable. Writing can be such a solitary pursuit and feeling like I was part of something bigger, like I had all of these friends to cheer me on (even though I’ve never met them in real life) was really fun. On days when I was feeling tired, or stuck, or uninspired, it was helpful to know that thousands of other writers were feeling some of the same things and pushing forward anyway. If one of us can do it, all of us can do it.

So would I do NaNoWriMo again? Absolutely. Next year, I might even win.

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