This year, as I usually do, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in a single month. It happens every year in November, and you can sign up to track your progress on the official website here.
The first two or three years I participated, I didn’t finish the 50,000 words. However, I’ve been successful the past two years, which means I must be getting better at this. There have been days where I woke up and wrote, rushed to work, and then wrote as soon as I got home while stuffing dinner into me and ignoring all the other things I could be doing, until it was time to fall into bed. Other days, the words came easily and I overshot my word count, which was great. I’ve found that the more I write, the more I want to write, and the more I’m able to get down on the page.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo so far, and why it’s so much fun to participate each year. =)
5. You Always Have Time to Write. Even 10 Minutes is Enough.
Every year during NaNoWriMo, I follow the NaNoWordSprints Twitter account. Various writers take over the account during the month to send out prompts for word sprints — like, “Prompt is something cheesy! Go for 10 minutes!” and you write like a mad person for 10 minutes about somebody being cheesy, or a character eating something cheesy, or whatever the prompt has inspired within you. Then you’ll probably reward yourself with some cheese.
What I love about these sprints is both the inspiration of a prompt and the amazingness of how much you can write in a short amount of time! You might think 10 minutes isn’t enough to get anything done, but watch yourself write half a page and marvel at it. Some of the sprints even challenge people to write 1000 words in 30 minutes, which is surprisingly doable!
The result? I never tell myself “I don’t have time to write” anymore. Even 10 minutes is enough to get substantial something down!
4. Take Inspiration from Published Authors.
If you sign up NaNoWriMo, you’ll receive awesome pep talks from professional writers. Whether you’re hearing how they plan their writing schedules, their hardships, their successes, or just general tips, it’s all really encouraging. That’s because these are published authors — they know their stuff, and that actually makes it especially cool when they admit that they don’t know their stuff. They just write. So can we. It makes me want to read up about my favorite authors, to see how they approach writing too.
3. Having a Network Helps.
Maybe the best part about NaNoWriMo is the social experience of it. You can add friends on the site, but my favorite thing is just browsing the forums. Having a network of people who are frantically writing just like me is really helpful at keeping me motivated. If I have a question or comment, I can go to the forums with it and hear back from other writers. The encouragement we give each other here is awesome, whether we have stellar word counts or feel like we’re falling behind.
2. Short-Term Goals are Better than Long-Term Ones.
So 50,000 words is a pretty big challenge. I’m not saying that big goals are bad — though you should try to make achievable goals instead of overdoing it and then getting in the habit of “failing” at them! But what makes NaNoWriMo so cool is that it all happens in a single month. It’s not some far-future thing where you can say, “Oh, I’ll just get started on this next week.” You need to start today. Now. The procrastination definitely ends as soon as NaNoWriMo begins.
I also reward myself at each goal post along the way. Maybe I’ll play my favorite video game or watch a TV show that relaxes me after I hit my word count goal for the day — and not a second before! When I hit 10,000 words or the halfway point, I might go out for a fancy dinner or crack open a bottle of wine I’ve been saving. Whatever it is you want to reward yourself with, it makes such a different to set up short-term goals and just knock them out, one at a time. It’s an amazing feeling of progress, of momentum, that I try to keep even after NaNoWriMo is over.
1. It’s Better to Write Garbage than Nothing at All!
This is my biggest takeaway from NaNoWriMo. And I know, writing “garbage” sounds like a bad thing. But it’s actually very liberating. Getting 50,000 words out in a single month is a pretty insane feat, and that’s why you have to just write. Sometimes that means penning lengthy inner monologues or ridiculous love scenes that are never going to make it into the final draft — but hey, they boost your word count!
If this sounds like cheating during NaNoWriMo, it’s not. It’s writing. It’s practice. Sometimes I end up writing a paragraph that I can use elsewhere, or I discover something about my characters that I hadn’t realized before, or I imagine a plot twist that will actually work. Even in the midst of all the “garbage” around those gems, it’s so much better to have them than not to have anything at all.
I have spent so many months — years, even — brainstorming a novel but never actually writing anything. Then NaNoWriMo happens, and suddenly I have over 100 pages of a novel. Even if it’s not the best writing in the world, I’ve stopped procrastinating. Now I have something tangible I can work with.