What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Since we’re right in the middle of National Novel Writing Month, I’m re-running my post about lessons I learned from participating in 2008:

buried under a pile of wordsIt’s 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 in 2008 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!

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4 Responses to “What I Learned from NaNoWriMo”


  1. 1 Pauline Conolly November 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Your comments sound very sensible Vikki, although I’m not sure I’m convinced about the value of the exercise. Maybe that’s just a convenient excuse for my non-participation though! lol


  1. 1 Thursday Thinking by YoTrip for 11/15/12 Write On, Alreday…National Novel Writing Month (Vol.11, Iss.3) « YoTrip-Words and Thoughts Trackback on November 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm
  2. 2 Rite of Passage is “complete” | Pioneers of the Shattered Waters Trackback on January 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm

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