What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

With National Novel Writing Month fast approaching, I think it’s a good time to take another look at the post I wrote last year about lessons I learned from participating in 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.
  • stack of books

  • 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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8 Responses to “What I Learned from NaNoWriMo”


  1. 1 kirosl October 19, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Good advice!

    Make use of every little spare moment. I get up earlier before work and do a few hundred words and do a few more at lunchtime. Last year I found myself making writing in a notebook in the queue for the ATM. This year my iphone will be my best friend for on-the-go novelling!

  2. 3 Kim October 19, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I got this idea from Sue Grafton (in a Writer’s Digest compendium of articles on novel writing–can’t recall the exact name right now, though). Every day before I start writing, I make a quick list of what scenes/events I’m going to write about that day. Helps keep me from “what should I write next?” waffling. I know what I’m writing next, so it’s a lot easier to just keep moving.

  3. 5 writesprite October 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    “Forget everything I’ve said and do it your way.” LOL! Love it! I’m with Kim, outline your ideas to keep you moving! If you can’t stand the wait, write some outlines now! 🙂

  4. 7 writesprite October 31, 2010 at 8:29 am

    I always do but I never make it. My mind is too busy thinking about where to go. If I ever finish this thing and someone asks me how long it took me I’ll say, “Oh, about three years, thanks to Chris Baty!” I so smell an overdue book review! There are authors out there who really disapprove of NaNoWriMo. I so disagree!

    I also soooo appreciate the outline idea and I’ve already followed your link to Write or Die! Thank you for that! 🙂

    OMG I love November! I think it’s the best month of the year. I love turkey too! 😉

    P.S. I’m thankful for blogs like yours. 🙂

    • 8 stranglingmymuse October 31, 2010 at 10:49 am

      Best of luck this year, Evelyn! When I did it, I kept a rough running outline of my next few scenes, and that did help keep me going. Also, Write or Die REALLY helped me to stop trying to write perfect sentences and just get my plot down FAST!

      As for writers who disapprove of NaNoWriMo, I would say that different things work for different people. If it doesn’t work for you, fine. If it does, fine. One of my big pet peeves is writers (or people in general) who think they have all the answers. We’re all beautifully, gloriously different. Thinking one size fits all in writing or in life is not embracing the wonderful diversity of creativity and of human beings. Okay…that’s my rant for the day. 😉

      Good luck again, but also HAVE FUN with your NaNoWriMo experience this year, Evelyn!!

      ~Sandy


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