What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2008

buried under a pile of wordsIt’s about that time again, the one month a year when tens of thousands of crazy people attempt to write a complete novel during the month of November, or National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I did it last year and “won”—meaning I completed the first draft of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

While I usually write about fitting brief moments of creativity into the stressful busy-ness of life, it can be eye-opening to pursue a large, ambitious project like this and see where it takes you. So, without further ado, here’s what I learned from the experience:

  • Don’t expect to write a masterpiece in 30 days. You’ve succeeded if you can complete a coherent piece of writing in that amount of time, creating the solid skeleton of a novel.
  • You will learn a lot about plotting and pacing a story when you work that fast.
  • Forget about intensive character development and lovingly crafted poetic passages for the moment. You can add these elements later.
  • Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die is your best friend during NaNoWriMo. A fantastic tool to force you to meet your word count.
  • Don’t think, just write. You’ll wind up with plenty of  less-than-stellar passages, but I bet you’ll also be surprised at some gems that arise out of this pressure-cooker situation.
  • Don’t get stuck in a scene you’re having trouble writing—keep moving forward. Sketch the scene out briefly with a few sentences and move on. At 50,000 words, your novel will be short, so it’s good to have spots to finish later.
  • Include a couple of subplots so you won’t wind up finishing your story before you reach 50,000 words.
  • Don’t fret about the quality of your writing. First drafts are supposed to be rough and unpolished. Getting the plot down is key in this fast-paced exercise.
  • Don’t do it unless you’re reallystack of books committed to finishing. It’s not easy, and why set yourself up for a failure you don’t need?
  • Approach the month as a giant writing exercise rather than as the chance to write a fantastic novel, and you will learn a lot from the experience.
  • Back care is important when you’re spending so much extra time at the computer. An on-call massage therapist is ideal. Failing that, at least get up and stretch a lot.
  • My most important point: forget everything I’ve said and do it your way. There’s no right way to complete a novel in 3o days—if my pointers help you, wonderful. If not, that’s fine too.

If any NaNoWriMo veterans have other tips, please leave them in the comments section. And best of luck to everyone participating this year!

Copyright © Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World, http://www.stranglingmymuse.com

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10 Responses to “What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2008”


  1. 1 jeanne October 26, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    works for me. good luck this year.

    http://www.killmom.wordpress.com

  2. 3 Heather October 26, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    2010 for me I hope! Congrats on winning last year Sandy. Some great advice here. I hope you’ll remind us all next year!

  3. 5 mary October 27, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Hi. I’m not a novel writer, but I’m a writer at SheWrites where I found you. I like your blog and have added you to my blogroll. I love the quotes you posted. I’m a quotes fanatic and some of them were new to me. So thanks. And see you in cyberspace.

    BTW, I’m jumping in and doing the Chapbook Challenge in November at http://bit.ly/4mqMdZ if anyone is interested.

  4. 6 K a b l o o e y October 27, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Sounds like really good advice and it’s cool of you to put this up to help everyone taking part. (Hi, slacker-chick!) Good luck to all participants; just thinking about it is making me sweat. I’m thinking that after my mid-November creative deadline passes, I might sign up for that 31 days to a better blog-thingie, so I can slipstream off the NaNoWriMo team and their momentum. So build up a head of steam, you novelguys.

  5. 7 Heather Conroy October 27, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    A bit of cross chat here- that’s good isn’t it? My ears or eyes rather pricked up about the 31 days to a better blog. Kablooey, do you have any more details about that? Hi Sandy!

  6. 8 slacker-chick October 27, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks Sandy – I will post this good advice by my computer as I begin my first attempt at the NaNoWriMo shenanigans next week! And I want to know wtf Kablooey is talking about also re: “31 Days to a Better Blog” – I want to be mo’ better too!

  7. 9 stranglingmymuse October 28, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Mary — I’m glad you found some quotes here you like, and thanks for adding me to your blogroll. Good luck with the Chapbook Challenge!

    Kablooey — I’m also interested in hearing more about the “31 days to a better blog thingie” you mention. Details, please! Good luck with your mid-November creative deadline.

    Heather — Cross chat is good! I’d love for this place to be as much of a community as a blog can be.

    Rochelle — Good luck with NaNoWriMo this year!

    –Sandy

  8. 10 gjergj shoshi June 9, 2011 at 12:11 am

    I learned from my books recently to take it easy because I have no means to change the reality in a shit country where there are no artists and citizens since 1945 .
    It’s a good place where God put us >ignorance,jobless,muslims,greeks,communists,
    ass-holles,dirt,no social culture,revolutions,black-asses,gipsy,no mother,no father,no brother,no sister,helpless,thieves,no identity etc.


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