5 Lessons From My First NaNoWriMo

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas! Now that the season is over, I think it’s time to do some reflecting on the year as it draws to a close. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time this year! In this post I’m going to be sharing five lessons I learned through the experience.

But first, what is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is what NaNoWriMo stands for. Started in 1999 in San Francisco a group of writers challenged themselves to write 50,000 words across the month of November. That’s a whole novel!

Since then it’s grown to be a world wide phenomenon with a network of writers encouraging one another onward to complete that elusive first draft. Beyond the writing it is a not-for-profit organisation, with programs and donations making improvements in literacy around the world.

Famous books such as Water for Elephants, The Night Circus and Fangirl all got their starts through NaNoWriMo.

So essentially, it’s a free online platform that you can use to connect with other writers, and track your word count and other statistics. Writers the world over participate every year, and it’s awesome!

Lesson One: Preparation is key

Some of you may know, but I started 2019 with the goal to finish the novel draft I have been chipping away at for almost two years. I have struggled to get traction with this story and make progress with writing it.

So, borne out of frustration and exhaustion I decided to step away from that work in progress and take a break. By starting a totally new project of course! (Does anyone else pick up new projects before their done with their current one?)

I had heard of NaNoWriMo a few years ago and it sounded pretty crazy. A whole novel in one month? That’s a lot of words! I didn’t know if it would even be possible for me with the track record of my other unfinished novel looming over my shoulder.

I decided to take the advice of seasoned Wrimos and do some preparation in October. #preptober anyone? I didn’t do this for my previous novel so I thought it would be good to try something different. I started October with no idea.

The NaNoWriMo website has a great workbook, which I did the first activity to get my ideas rolling. I then spent the rest of the month refining my idea, spending my writing time plotting key events in the story. Ideas for scenes. Character profiles.

This might not work for you, but it might be useful to try something different. Through prepping, I discovered that I was actually really well set up when the time came on November first to sit down and write. This was different to what I did with my other work in progress, and on reflection it could be the root of some of the issues I was having. Insufficient prep.

So figure out what preparation you need to do to sit down and write solidly for a month. Maybe it’s the kind of plot consideration that I did, but it could also mean things like stationary shopping, getting a notebook, or a word processing program. Figure out where you will write, what space works in your home?

At the barest, prep should mean at least signing yourself up for a NaNoWriMo profile!

Lesson Two: Get Excited

I really enjoyed NaNoWriMo because I was really excited about this story I was telling. Unlike my other work in progress *I glance wearily over my shoulder* where I had been trudging on for so long that the motivation and excitement I had initially had was lost.

I spent some time in my October building a vision board full of pins that inspired me about my stories. Artworks, quotes and images that spoke to me about this tale. I could then during November, scroll through the board and regain excitement once more for the world I was writing.

I like to talk about things when I’m excited, and that makes me more excited still! I found talking about my novel to make me want to spend more time. It also helped clarify things within the plot which leads me to my next point.

Lesson Three: Find your support crew

A month long writing saga takes hard work. It’s not easy. So you will need the support of people around you.

NaNoWriMo has local and digital events, and there are many other places online you can receive support from other Wrimos.

For me, my husband is my biggest supporter. I told him about thinking about doing NaNoWriMo and he never wavered in his belief that I could do it. Having that kind of confidence in your corner is great for when you’re a little low on it yourself.

Who are the people in your life who will support your writing? Maybe it’s your family, or a close friend. You’ll want someone to rant at when, mid-November, the glow of beginning starts to fade and you realise what a big undertaking you’ve signed up for.

Lesson four: Don’t look back

But! But! You protest, thinking of the 30,000 words and counting that you’ve written riddled with spelling errors and gaping plot holes. Don’t. Look. Back.

I know the temptation, having begun editing my other work in progress many a time despite it being unfinished. If you begin editing your work to early you may lose momentum.

You might become discouraged by the massive process you have to go through to make this into something that just maybe, one day, could be published.

To make it to 50,000 words in one month you will need to manage your time well. Going back over your words is something that in all likelihood you just won’t have time for in the months time frame.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t come back and edit. But there is a time for that, and that time is after November, and your book, are finished.

One of my favourite pieces of inspiration from NaNoWriMo 2019 came from Erin Morgenstern author of The Night Circus and The Starless Sea. She gave a pep talk that was emailed out to Wrimo participants mid November.

You do not have to make your story perfect right now. You don’t even have to get it right. You only need to get it on the page. That’s all.

Erin Morgenstern

I found this super motivating. You cannot edit words that are unwritten. Finish the book. Go on, find the words and write them down.

Lesson Five: celebrate

At the end of November you should celebrate. Whether you made it to the 50,000 words or not you will have made progress on a story only you can tell. Words that you strung together that didn’t exist until you spoke them…well the words existed but you get the picture.

If you didn’t make 50,000 words you might feel pretty bummed. Nano can be focused on word count which can be a good and bad thing. While the count gives you somewhere to aim for, it is an arbitary number. Some stories are longer or shorter than others. The main thing is that you gave it a go! I think it’s important to be pleased with yourself for trying your best. There’s no reason you can’t keep working on the story!

If you made it to 50,000 words, CONGRATULATIONS! This is a super exciting moment. You’ve done it, and now you know you can do it again. That is what I learned through this experience when I reached the 50,000 word mark on November 30th.

I know now I am capable of writing a novel draft. This really excites me! I’m excited for this story, and the future ones I will write.

So what now? November is over.

Yes, NaNoWriMo is officially over for the year. You can still use their platform year round, and carry on writing this and other projects if you like.

For me personally, I’m taking a break from my Wrimo novel. I am really happy with what I’ve achieved. I set the goal for 2019 to finish a novel draft. No, it’s not the novel I expected to finish when I set that goal, but I met it. I’m proud of this.

When I return to my novel, I hope to edit and polish it and set about the process of seeing just how far I can take this book of mine. It would be a dream come true for one day it to be in the hands of readers and on bookstore shelves.

I’m not naive, I know the chances of that happening, are slim. Extremely hard work is ahead of me, but I’m actually feeling excited. Determined. Only God knows where this path will lead, but I’m eager to begin the journey.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo this year, or previous years, I’d love to hear about your experience! Comment on this blog to share what you have learned. If you’re a writer, established or new, published or not, feel free to share some of what you’ve learned in the comments too.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post! I know NaNoWriMo is over for the year, but that doesn’t mean your writing has to be. Set yourself a challenge. Go and Write.

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  1. floatinggold says:

    I did NaNo last year for the first time.
    https://dailyflabbergast.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/nanowrimo-summary-lessons-and-tips/ These are my lessons.
    Isn’t it a great feeling to complete NaNo? It gives you wings.


  2. Well done on your NaNoWriMo win! As you say, it doesn’t matter if you get to 50,000 words or not – any achievement is worth celebrating. I won NaNoWriMo for the second time this year and I found that motivation worked really well for me. It also helped that there were a whole bunch of students at my work who were doing it, too – their excitement and enthusiasm was infectious. I also ordered a winner’s t-shirt around the 20th of November, so I HAD to get to 50,000 in order to be able to wear it! 😀

    Best of luck with your editing and your other project. It would be lovely to be able to read a book of yours one day.


    1. Congratulations for winning Nano! It’s a great feeling. You can wear your shirt with pride! 😃 it’s wonderful the students were getting involved in NaNoWriMo, I hope they were happy with their progress too.

      Thank you! I’ll keep chipping away at it, who knows what will happen eventually 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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