NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned

It’s the last day of NaNoWriMo and it’s bitter-sweet. I’m sort of sad because I’ll miss all the craziness and excitement of the month, but I’m also sort of relieved too– because I discovered I’m not the best at getting down 1, 000 + words a day. That is quite a lot of pressure! Instead of focusing solely on the quantity (*cough* the word count) I’m going to talk about quality. Specifically, what NaNoWriMo teaches you and instills in you, whether you consider yourself a writer or not.

My second NaNoWriMo experience was challenging, exciting and crazy. It was a great way to spend my November and I’m glad I did it. Along the way though, I came up with some surprising and enlightening reflections. Here is what NaNoWriMo taught me:

Be Brave: Funny enough, I was writing a supernatural/horror story about college-age students encountering ghosts in a haunted mansion on Halloween. I was getting so creeped out that I would often stop writing. In the same way, you and I can apply this to our writing: we get scared of the ghoulish monsters that taunt us and tell us we can’t do it, when we know we can. We just have to brave it out and write, no matter how good or bad it is on paper.

Forget Inspiration: I didn’t realize how futile relying on inspiration was until I read my NaNoWriMo pep talk from author, Malinda Lo. I prefer to write whenever inspiration hits me, but find myself hating the times when I sit down to write and come up with lacklustre words, feeling as if my story sucks. But after taking in Malinda Lo’s words about inspiration, I learned that if you wait for inspiration to write, you’ll never write and inspiration is a rare occurrence.

Have Fun: NaNoWriMo’s staff, especially those tweeting on @NaNoWordSprints, taught me to not take myself so seriously. I love their silly prompts on @NaNoWordSprints and the way they could put together an engaging pep talk. When you’re feeling silly and wacky, it translates to your novel. I was even able to incorporate some humour (or what I hope was good humour) into my horror story. I have a way of taking my writing VERY seriously, but I realized it’s okay to have some fun with your writing too. At the end of the day, shouldn’t writing be fun and enjoyable too?

Trust Time: Like a fine cheese or wine, your writing only gets better with age. If you continue to write year after year, you learn more and more. I’m a better writer now than I was last year, and more in terms of discipline than anything. NaNoWriMo is the perfect way to hone your writing; not only is there the annual November writing month but Camp NaNoWriMo that takes place in April and July, as well as the “Now What?” months of January and February, which are full of tips for revising, editing and publishing. NaNoWriMo proves in a very short period of time that you can improve. If you can improve in a month, just imagine what one year could do!

These are just a few lessons I took away this year. What was your NaNoWriMo writing experience like? I’d love to hear your stories!

P.S. Check out ProlixMe’s great post about NaNoWriMo 🙂

NaNoWriMo: 30 Days and Nights of Literary Madness

It’s now day three of NaNoWriMo, and I’m a lot farther than I thought I’d be.

What is NanoWriMo, you ask?

NanoWriMo is a literary competition (against yourself) where you attempt to write 50, 000 words in the course of a month. It sounds crazy already, doesn’t it?

It began in 1999 with only 21 participants to over 200, 000 people signed up in 2010. From November 1-30, participants choose a genre, theme and language, and then write their stories. As they write, they input the number of words they have into their NaNoWriMo word count. The word tracker helps participants get an idea of their progress and how far they have to go.

What’s even crazier is the fact that I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo while in a post-graduate college program last year. I didn’t manage to reach my goal (but I’m okay with that).

NaNoWriMo is a great metaphor for the writing process. It’s exciting, challenging and sometimes frustrating. There are times when you run out of steam and lose inspiration, but that’s all part of the journey. You have to vanquish some monsters along the way, don’t you?

NaNoWriMo gives you permission to make mistakes and suck at writing. I like to think of it as a very long free-write, where you silence your “inner editor” as the organizers call it. During and after the competition you get awesome emails full of advice from authors, who encourage you along the way.

It really is a good process when you think about it. I mean, how many people actually set aside enough time to write down their awesome ideas and finish a book? NaNoWriMo gets you writing your first draft- it’s the first step in a literary journey.

If you’re new to NaNoWriMo or just looking for some general advice, here are five tips:

    • Set aside a scheduled time for writing (if possible): When I wrote last year, I would often write at night when I had free time from school or sometimes on the weekends (I think). It would usually happen at night though, being a night owl.
    • Focus on milestones, not failures: If you reach, say 10, 000 words by two weeks, celebrate! It takes a lot of dedication, concentration and work to write that much. Don’t focus on how far you have to go or how many words you’re missing because in the end, the word count won’t really matter.
    • Join forums with like-minded individuals: Join the forums for advice, writing buddies and resources. Also check out local meetings and write-ins in your area (and always be safe when meeting new people).
    • Check out @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter: This is NaNoWriMo’s twitter account for word sprints. These happen all the time (even late at night!), so you’re never short of inspiration or writing prompts. I find these very inspirational and encouraging.
    • Know what you’re going to write about: Whether you have an idea brewing in your head, a story plan all typed out or just like to fly by the seat of your pants it’s good to have at least a general idea of what you’re going to be writing about. Personally, I have to have a bit of a storyline written out or else I’ll sit there in November thinking up scenarios, characters and other things.  If you need some ideas on planning a story, I’ve written an older blog post here.

I hope these tips help and if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year I hope you enjoy it.

And most importantly- don’t worry if you don’t like your first draft. It is a first draft after all.

Do you have any tips for NaNoWriMo or really good advice you’ve come across?

I encourage you to check out TR August’s post called And So It Begins. Very light-hearted and fun take on all the reasons to do NaNoWriMo.