5 Things I Learned About Writing from NaNoWriMo

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!

bradley-nanowrimo-01.jpgThis 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.

— Ashley


15 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned About Writing from NaNoWriMo”

    1. Nice job! I agree about giving up the Netflix binges haha. And I hardly played a video game all month. As for the word counts, that’s what’s so cool about NaNoWriMo… Even when I didn’t finish the 50,000 I had way more than I would have otherwise!

  1. Yay, I’m glad you had such a great experience during NANOWRIMO. I didn’t get to participate this year, but I’m totally going to join next year. NANOWRIMO is really a great opportunity for writers and every year I can participate I alway learn so much. It’s like a really fun boot camp for writers.

  2. I think #5 is the biggest reason I could never do NaNoWriMo. I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t like editing, so I always try to get things right the first time. Makes me a slow writer, and I know that’s not how you’re supposed to do things, but it feels right for me. It’s maybe not a good attitude to have, but writing just to say I’ve written with little concern for quality doesn’t feel right to me — I feel guilty if I’m not constantly pushing myself to be the best. Kind of the same reason I don’t write much fan fiction anymore.

    I can definitely see the value of the community aspect, though. Back in the Bad Old Days at TrekUnited, there was a small group of us who liked to run casual writing contests, and it kind of became it’s own little writing club. I miss it a lot. I don’t really have anyone to “talk shop” with anymore. I could join an existing writing group, I guess, but it’s pretty daunting showing your work to total strangers…

    1. Yeah, it’s interesting you mention fan fiction because I’ve heard the community aspect can be really motivating to writers. Sounds interesting. And I know what you mean about being a perfectionist! For me, that’s what stops me from writing at all, or else rewriting to death without making progress. NaNoWriMo is sort of awful in being the opposite, but it works for me at getting out of my own head! Now I’m writing at a good, steady pace so I can write”better” without stalling… I guess the most interesting thing about talking to other writers (like with you now!) is that everybody has their own methods and preferences. It’s a very solitary process in most cases, which makes finding what works such an individual journey.

  3. This is all really great advice and ones I can agree with. I have to get back to writing my own novel soon. I fell out of it because of the long vacation, catching up with other stuff, or guiltily playing video games. :P I do think it’s important to set up a word and time goal for writing each day. I’m hoping I may finish or be nearly done with my book next year. We’ll see! Does this mean you have a full draft of your book finished? :)

    1. Yeah vacations make things hard but you have to live your life too haha. More inspiration probably too! I agree about setting up a writing schedule. I do better with word count goals rather than time goals, for some reason. Anyway I haven’t finished my draft quite yet but I made a ton of progress! Just trying to keep it up now haha. It would be exciting if you finished your book next year! I’d love to read it. :) Are you going to try to publish it? It’s cool how much self publishing we can do now with e-books, etc. That’s what I’m looking into.

      1. The great thing about self-publishing is also the terrible thing about self-publishing: It’s so easy literally anyone can do it.

        If you do decide to self-publish, I recommend Smashwords. They’re very easy to use (will be even easier for you since you won’t have to deal with international tax shenanigans), and their business model is very fair to the author. Really the only significant challenge to getting a book self-published is cover art; it can be difficult to find an artist who is talented, affordable, and reliable.

        That said, the downside is of course absolutely everyone is self-publishing online these days, so it’s really hard to get noticed.

        I’m a long way from an expert, but if you’re serious about looking into self-publishing, feel free to contact me if you’d like to hear more about my experience with it.

      2. Definitely keep the momentum going! I’d love to read your book too when it’s done. :D Haha, yeah, I really want to see how far I can go with my own book next year. It’d be awesome to have an entire draft done…and then ready to take apart for edits and rewrites. :P The goal is to get the book published someday when I’m ready. How cool would it be to have your work out there for others to read? I agree, with the internet and self-publishing tools at our disposal, you don’t have to really go through the stress of shopping your book around to publishers. I mean you could, but DIY is a lot quicker and you’ll get feedback instantly too from actual readers who find your work.

  4. I’ve always wanted to try this, but found myself a little afraid. These tips are pretty helpful. If writing garbage is okay, maybe I could actually get a sizable amount of words on the page for once!

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