NaNoWriMo – The Lessons Learned

Let’s start off with this brief summary of my participation in this year’s NaNoWriMo:


Yes, that’s right, I won the NaNoWriMo contest this year, where anyone who hits the 50,000 word mark in a brand-new-never-having-written-a-word-of-your-NaNoWriMo-novel inside of thirty days wins. What do we win? The ability to say we won. That’s it. No cash, no prizes, though there are some nifty T-shirts you can buy. So, in short, you win bragging rights.

Which is saying a lot for a free contest where there are thousands of winners.

That out of the way, I want to reflect on the lessons I learned from cranking out 50k words in a month’s time.

1) You are not alone. There are lots of people out there willing to lend encouragement and good thoughts and happy vibes and whatever else they feel like throwing your way for support. There are communities out there supporting writers, there are meet ups where you can all sit down together and write and lend an actual hand for someone to hold if they need it. There are professional writers who have lent their voices in encouragement, and there is no end to the number of people tweeting about NaNoWriMo on a daily basis.

2) You are absolutely alone. No one can write this thing for you. It’s you by yourself, mano-e-mano, man versus machine versus calendar. It’s a gnarly threeway brawl that you and you alone must fight. Nobody else can jump in. This isn’t the WWE. You can’t tag somebody else in if you feel like you’re fading. You are the only one who can write your book. Otherwise you fail the contest.

3) You are not alone. Think your special? Just because you did it? Just because you hit your daily word count? Get in line. There are thousands and thousands of people who jumped into NaNoWriMo and have hit their daily word counts. Thousands have hit their word counts sooner, faster, higher than you have. Take that in, realize this, take a big deep breath…then let it go. You can’t get caught up in how far ahead or behind you are in reference to anybody else. To do that invites disaster. If you start doing some sort of comparison project with your fellow writers, you’ll get into a mine-is-bigger-than-yours mentality that is at best a complete waste of time, and at worst mojo-wrecking. If you’ve got your mojo working, who cares if your mojo is better than somebody else’s? Who you trying to impress with that shit?

4) Write as much as you can as early as you can. Cause you never know when your gonna get an injury that requires you to be carted off the field. My goal was to finish my word count by Thanksgiving (which I did, by the way). I wanted to get it done so that I could enjoy my holiday, maybe spend the day picking at some words but not feel forced to hit a daily number. Besides, the food coma was gonna be epic this year, man, epic.

You know what I enjoyed most on Thanksgiving? Pedialyte. Thursday morning I got a case of the stomach flu and that was all she (or in my case, he) wrote. For two days my colon sounds like the French countryside in 1944. By Saturday I was finally starting to feel better, but it was slow going. I didn’t have a lot of energy since I hadn’t had a decent calorie in two days. By Sunday I felt well enough to open up the laptop, type in one paragraph, and that was it.

5) When the month ends, the motivation does too. It’s good to feel the pressure of the deadline. It makes you work for it, forces you to make time for writing. Even if you’re just picking up the story, writing 200 words for the fifteen minutes you have leftover from your lunch break, and closing it again. The deadline manhandles you into writing during any snippets of free time you have.

When the deadline has passed, the pressure goes with it. Now you’re not up against a wall, trying to squeeze words in, desperate to hit a daily word count. Now you start to think “Well, I couldn’t quite get to it today, I’ll just pick it back up tomorrow.” WRONG! You will not! Stop kidding yourself. If your motivation for writing starts to flag, then so does the writing, then it’s six months after the end of NaNoWriMo and you’re sitting on 55k words instead of 50k. Stop that shit! Open up your laptop and lay down some magic!

6) The choice of word processors makes all the difference. If you’re using a word processor or a typewriter or a pen and paper, that’s your business. I’m not going to tell you you need to use this one over that one. What I am going to tell you is that, no matter what you use, you’ve got to have it handy at a moment’s notice. You never know when you’ll get five minutes to hammer out two really great sentences. With a pen and paper, that’s a lot easier than just about any other writing medium. You can carry them with you anywhere and be ready to write in five seconds flat. With a typewriter, that kind of thing is a lot harder. You can’t really lug a typewrite around with you everywhere you go. I mean, you CAN, but you’ll get a lot of looks that suggest it might be time for the men in the white coats.

My choice of word processor was Google drive. Again, this goes back to the available-at-a-moment’s-notice requirement. Google drive is all cloud based, so your fictional manifesto is available anywhere you have an internet connection.

Using Google Drive, I created the document and was able to access it from any machine I happened to be using at the time. All I needed to do was to log into my Google account and viola! there it was. I could access it from a laptop, or a desktop, or even my phone. How’s that for ubiquitous? It was like having a pen and paper with me at all times. The best part? I didn’t have to type in all the things I had hand-written earlier. Best of both worlds.

7) Finishing feels like the frickin bomb! Nuf said there.

That’s what I learned this go-round. Maybe I’ll learn more next year. Already got the idea forming. Just have to let it stew, do some homework, and, oh yeah, finish the current one I still haven’t finished.

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