what i learned from nanowrimo.

This year, I thought it would be fun to participate in something known as NaNoWriMo.

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What, you say? WTF is a NaNoWriMo?

Well, National Novel Writing Month quite aptly takes place in November. (Writers LOVE a good play on words.) It’s a personal challenge to complete a novel in a month – or at least your first draft. 50,000 words. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Ha. That’s what I thought. You see, when you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo, you go to their website and create an account. There, you can participate in a community, sign up for local writing events, track your progress throughout the month, earn badges, and of course, name your novel. When it’s all said and done, you put in your final word count and declare yourself a winner. You can even buy a t-shirt.

It’s a genius idea that’s great for creating a goal and setting up a system that encourages you, challenges you, and pushes you to be better. It’s not meant to be shaming, but honestly every time it shows up in my inbox I’m reminded of the fact that I haven’t written on my “novel” since Day 1. November 1. A month ago.

So what went wrong? Why am I such a complete and utter failure?

Well, folks, I neglected to discover what is so cleverly known as Preptober. And that, I do believe, is my greatest personal fault. Allow me to share:

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You see, without doing much prior research, I had hoped that signing up for NaNoWriMo several months ahead of time would ensure that I was prepped with daily goals. Like, Day 1: Focus on your main character. Write 500 words. Day 2: Introduce their best friend. Write an additional 750 words. I thought they’d help me ramp up. I thought they’d take the “challenge” out of challenge. What was I thinking? 

On October 28, after a slew of events such as the official opening of our Writers’ Colony, the Southern Festival of Books, birthdays, my birthday, anniversaries and a trip to Ohio, I discovered that Preptober is actually a widely talked about and known thing. A thing I should have been working on all month long.

With three days til kickoff, I wasn’t in the mood to do 31 days’ worth of work. Plus, I’d started my story already. I had four chapters ready to go! What other planning could I really need? I was FINE.

But when your goal is somewhere around 1700 words a day, it turns out you do need a lot more planning and plot overview than you’d think. Because that’s a lot of words to write, y’all. And if you’ve failed to properly prep, you’ve gotta craft your story at the same time. You can’t just count on inspiration to strike 30 days in a row. Eventually, you’re not going to know where to go next. And that was my problem – I was dependent on inspiration. Inspiration which only lasted for a day before other obligations took precedence.

On November 1st, I entered my word count with a false sense of confidence. Many of those words had been written well before NaNoWriMo actually began. And after not writing on the 2nd or the 3rd or the 4th, I’d completely given up. I didn’t see the point in trying when I was already 3,000 words behind. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Preparing is majorly important, but sticking with it, no matter where you end, is also a key factor to feeling successful. 

I learned a lot by “not” participating in NaNoWriMo this year. And I think it’s helped me mentally prepare for next year, now that I know what’s really involved. Just for kicks, these are the things I’ve learned about NaNoWriMo since I ceased to participate. Better luck next year, right?

  1. Preptober is a THING. Do your research! Like these people.
  2. Don’t give yourself a confidence boost by including what you wrote last week on your first days’ entry when in actuality you only wrote 600 of those words that day. That’s fake news, y’all. And it’s probably cheating.
  3. Don’t assume that just because the first 4 chapters flowed without plan that the rest will just work itself out. There’s a reason they taught us outlines in school.
  4. Do make goals and try to assign a specific time each day where you’re guaranteed to be able to sit and focus for an hour or two. Don’t just assume time will come available.
  5. Make your writing time a reward in itself – curl up with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Set rewards for after you’ve written too – that’s the time for movies, shopping, friends, etc.
  6. But don’t be a hermit, either. Friendship and socialization are key factors to a healthy mental state.

ALSO

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it. Especially if you didn’t plan. There’s a reason it’s a challenge – it is so not as easy as it sounds
  2. Be gracious. Plan in time for when you don’t make your goals. If you only hit 500 words one day, plan to make them up on Saturday. You can’t force inspiration. Don’t let the first day of not writing/not writing enough cause you to quit.
  3. Don’t think you can’t make your OWN NaNoWriMo at another time or that you shouldn’t still pursue your novel on your own time for however long it takes. Maybe October and November are crazy busy months for you and there’s no possible way you could write then. So seriously – Preptober in January and NaNoWriMo in February. Who’s to say you can’t?
  4. Never forget – your main goal is to write. Whether it’s 5,000, 50,000, or 150,000 words, find peace in the fact that you wrote. You wrote something. And that’s more than nothing.

The greatest point I learned about myself through this experience is that whether I like it or not, I need to set real goals if I’m going to be a writer. I’m sure a lot of us struggle with that – and that’s why I’m sharing these tips. NaNoWriMo is a great thing – but it’s not the ONLY thing. Find what works for you, when it works for you. And then do that.