Lessons I’ve Learned During NaNoWriMo

Well, everybody, I wish that I could say that I’m on track to hit 50,000 words and thus win National Novel Writing Month. The reality is that I’m nowhere near that quota, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve haven’t gained anything from NaNoWriMo.

(Last year I summarized my experience after November ended, but I figured that since Thanksgiving has a way of screwing up your good intentions, it would be best to share my thoughts now before life gets really hectic!)

As week four approaches, here are the top things I’ve learned during my second attempt at NaNoWriMo:

1. Accept your failures. At the time of this writing, I’ve written 18,000 words. That’s not even half the desired word count, and it’s still 12,000 words less than I wrote last year. There were at least five whole days where I did absolutely no writing. Zero, zilch, nada. And I didn’t even have a week-long business trip standing in my way this year! By my standards, that is straight-up pathetic.

Thanks NaNoWriMo, as if I need a visual reminder of this epic fail!

Thanks NaNoWriMo, as if I need a visual reminder of this epic fail!

But guess what? Most Wrimos are pathetic. According to the NaNoWriMo blog, in 2013 there were 310,095 participants and 42,221 winners. That’s a measly 14% success rate. In fact, the average word count per person was only 11,352 words. I have to admit, after finding those statistics, I don’t feel so bad! At least I’m in good company!

2. Celebrate your successes. On my best day, I completed over 2,400 words, and on good days I could pump out 1,000 words an hour. Even though most days were paltry in comparison, I know that if I concentrate 100% and give it my all, I can win NaNoWriMo in the future. Knowing that I have that capability makes me determined to keep pushing, one line of dialogue at a time.

Just don’t play the comparison game! Nobody wins!

3. Recognize your excuses. However, just because I can win NaNoWriMo, doesn’t mean I did. After working a full day, it’s easy to procrastinate because you’re tired, lazy, or uninspired. During this month, I suffered a minor infection, and the last thing I wanted to do was write when I wasn’t feeling well.

But I knew that the words weren’t going to type themselves, and I tried to overcome my obstacles. I could whine that my 45-minute BART ride to and from work was making it impossible to write, but when I could, I sat down, took out my laptop, and sucked it up. Even if I had to sit the floor of the train, because there were rarely available seats. Write where you can, when you can, dirt and germs be damned!

4. Repeat after me: Something is better than nothing. Unless you cheated and spent your time copying and pasting song lyrics or typing “blah blah blah” over and over, you probably made progress on your novel. And if you did any of those scams, screw you. Why are you even participating?

Outsiders may think we’re crazy, considering that there is no cash prize or other reward for winning NaNoWriMo. Heck, there’s only a simplistic word count validator, so it’s pretty much on the honor system anyway. Bragging rights aside, the words you write are still a lot more than zero. NaNoWriMo is supposed to motivate you to write, and has built an entire community to cheer you on. So rejoice for every single word–it’s better than nothing!

5. Don’t write for NaNoWriMo. Write for you. That may sound strange, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that NaNoWriMo is what you make it. This year my competitive nature overtook me, and I became consumed with my word count. This obsession transformed my passion for writing into a chore that I resented, which is exactly what NaNoWriMo should NOT be about.

It should also not be about this one month. Writing 50K in one month means very little if you write nothing during the other 11 months of the year. Instead of writing like a maniac for 30 days and feeling miserable that you didn’t achieve your goal (let’s face it, much like the Hunger Games, the odds are not in your favor), let NaNoWriMo inspire you to set writing goals throughout the year, however small.

6. Don’t forget about the grand prize. If the #1 priority is to get published, you’ll need a whole lot more than 30 days to accomplish it. 50,000 words written hastily while you’re suffering from exhaustion and over-caffeination isn’t going to be your best work, plain and simple. I believe that you should first get it written, then get it right. NaNoWriMo only assists with the first step, so make sure you follow through!

So all and all, I may have failed NaNoWriMo epically, but it wasn’t all for naught. I’m dedicated to reform my way of thinking and become a writer, not just a Wrimo. Writing a novel is and has always been my dream, but it’s time to make it a reality. Writing should be a consistent habit, so that NaNoWriMo is simply icing on the cake you’ve been creating all year…

Alright, now that I’ve succeeded in making a crappy metaphor and made myself hungry in the process, it’s time to end this blog post! There’s still one more week of NaNoWriMo and even though I’ll be preoccupied with friends and family, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Get off the couch, Wrimos, and go socialize! Remember all that you have to be thankful for, and be proud of all that you’ve accomplished this month!

I’ll see you in December!

7 thoughts on “Lessons I’ve Learned During NaNoWriMo

  1. Good to hear, and good advice. I only have 14,000 words! I am hoping to add a lot more over Thanksgiving weekend, but I won’t have enough to win. But I will definitely have a good start on a novel.

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