What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

I’m a winner! Cue the party balloons and champagne ✨🎈🍾 Considering the year we’ve been having, where it feels like it has been hard to win at anything, I’m celebrating and classifying this as a big win for me. 😁

For those who are unfamiliar with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the purpose of this massive worldwide effort is to get words on the page and hopefully draft an entire novel in the month of November. Though the generic goal is 50,000 words during the month (which is about 1,667 words per day), you can chose your own goal for a project. You may want to focus on time spent writing or editing, words written per day via short stories or flash fiction, or crank out a certain number of pages for that “space vampire romance young adult drama” you’ve been dreaming about forever. You do YOU!!! 😉

I set a goal of writing 50,000 words of flash fiction, which means writing in response to a lot of prompts, images, sensory experiences, or anything else that inspired the words to start flowing (or trickling, depending on the day). I ended up with 70,173 words, way over my goal (yes, I overachieve when the conditions are right). When I think about the sheer volume of material I wrote, it is astounding. This is the most I’ve written in a short period of time, and probably more words than I’ve written in my entire life (or at least the last 10 years).

So, in order to reflect on what worked for me during NaNoWriMo, I’ve compiled a list of lessons learned. Maybe you might find it useful in setting your own goals or working on a challenge like this, or maybe this will just be a way for me to remind myself how I can achieve my writing goals in the future.

Lessons Learned

  • Doing something on a daily basis helps make it a habit. Even though we are only a few days into December, I have kept my goal of writing every day. Now I strive for at least 500 words a day since I’m focusing on editing for an hour each day this month. I don’t want to break the streak of writing daily now that I have created this habit, and the momentum continues to build with each day I can say I did something towards my craft. The fact that I have been writing every day, for 33 days straight, makes me feel like I truly have a writing practice now. This doesn’t mean that is what everyone needs to do to feel the same way, but this is what I need right now.
  • Recording my daily progress multiple times helped reinforce the work I was doing. I entered my daily count into the NaNoWriMo website, a Pacemaker chart (where confetti would scatter across the screen when I hit my daily goal – this always made me smile!), a Notion table, and a piece of paper that hung on the wall next to my desk. Yes, I wrote the same thing down in four places, and I also gave myself a little fist pump each time to get those happy-feelies going strong. I wanted to create the connection between writing and physical pleasure, even on the days when it felt like bloodletting. When I wrote down each day’s word count I realized that I had accomplished something that day that was actively helping me become a better writer.
  • Quantity over quality. This gets said a lot during the month, and prolific writers say some version of it in interviews about their writing practice – put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, and get the words out. What I write might be horrible (or brilliant), might be word vomit (or pure poetry), might rot away to never see the light of day again (or become published), but in all of those words I will have written some beautiful ones will be found, some gold will emerge all shiny, some diamonds all sparkly. I will see that I had to write all of those other words to get to the ones that are precious.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of healthy competition. I’ll be honest, I wanted to “win” at NaNoWriMo. In previous years I had dreamt of doing the challenge but never started it because I didn’t realize I could do it as a “rebel” (i.e., when you do the challenge without the goal of writing on a novel but some other writing – screenwriting, plays, musicals, songs, short fiction, memoir, nonfiction, blog posts, etc.). This year, I was determined to do it as a rebel, and to write as much as I could. I wanted to earn all the badges, the certificate, the commemorative yellow duckie pin. I wanted to win the word wars in my write-ins and get stickers mailed to me to relive my glory days as a child where stickers were enough of a reward (because they still can be if you let them!). Though competition isn’t for everyone, holding myself accountable and knowing that I was pushing myself helped me strive to prove that I could do this for myself and for my writing.
  • Community and comradery is a beautiful thing. I had never done a write-in before this challenge. Write-ins are when people get together in person or on a Zoom call (because it is 2020 after all!) and write at the same time. I found that these designated times kept my butt in the seat more, and, if I left the video on, I felt guilty doing anything else on my computer since I was paranoid everyone could tell I wasn’t writing. I met some amazing, warm writers (local and across the states) who are uniquely talented and motivated, with different aspirations and struggles. We shared our projects, our accomplishments and obstacles, and we cheered each other on. We came together as we strove towards a common goal of furthering our craft, and it felt special to be a part of that. 💕

Overall, I am eternally grateful to have participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo. At a time when we are felling socially isolated and disconnected from the world around us, the writing community made me feel welcome and hopeful about my writing. Also, this challenge helped me pull myself out of a writing slump and get me focused again on my overall love for writing and making this a lifelong pursuit. 😍✍🏻

Have you achieved your writing goals this year? Why or why not? Reflect on what is working or not working in your writing life. A new year is just around the corner! I would love to hear about your experiences and offer my support on your writing journey.

Feeling grateful,