What I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo: An Overview

Hello and happy Wednesday!

It’s December! How crazy to think that we’re on the last month of 2020. Christmas and New Year’s are approaching much faster than I anticipated. I know months don’t actually shorten, but sometimes it sure feels like it!

It’s also the end of NaNoWriMo! I’m incredibly thankful and thrilled to announce that I finished the rough draft of my novel! Before any editing, it sat at about 73,000 words – the longest of any of my rough drafts so far. I went through and read it, cleaned it up some, and have now set it aside until January, when I’ll start the heavy editing stages.

Fun tidbit: the novel I wrote for NaNo is actually the prequel to the novel I’m preparing to publish: Cabin Girl. I’m not always a fan of prequels, so writing one has been an interesting challenge, but I’m looking forward to seeing what others think! To stay in the loop regarding both novels, as well as receive some extra gifts and tidbits, you can sign up for my mailing list here.

If you participated in NaNo this year, how did it go? Were you able to reach 50,000 words? If not, how far did you get? Remember, any progress is progress and I’m so proud of you! Writing a novel is far from easy, but so worth it.

The past three weeks, I’ve been posting what I’ve learned to help my writing flow smoother and easier. You can find each of those posts below:

What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo: Part 1

What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo: Part 2

What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo: Part 3

Today, I thought I’d take a moment and share my thoughts on my experience with NaNo as a whole. It’s been a fun – albeit exhausting – ride, and I’ve learned a lot.

Firstly, I’ve learned that I really can write a novel in a month.

This is probably the biggest breakthrough for me. The fastest full-length rough draft I’ve ever written before took about four months. Another took about eight months, and one has been in the works for what’s approaching seven and a half years.

That last one is a pretty extreme example, but it’s also what happens when I try to edit at the same time as writing rough draft. I usually made it halfway through the book, realized I’d messed something up with the plot, backtracked to edit, and then became trapped in a cycle of editing and rewriting the same few chapters until I was absolutely sick of them.

Feeling bored and frustrated, I’d start again from the beginning – and the process repeated. I’ve lost track of how many versions of the same story I have saved to my computer, and spread across various notebooks.

Finally, I set the book aside until I could learn how to write it better, and actually make it past those troublesome middle chapters. Now, my writing has definitely improved from that of twelve-year-old me, but I know I still have much to learn.

Writing an entire rough draft so quickly is a huge accomplishment for me. Yes, I know it still needs work. A lot of work. I know there are mistakes, inconsistencies, and plot holes galore. But learning to set those things aside, and accept that I’ll fix them later, is a big step forward. And there are enough good things to be encouraging too.

Everyone is different in how they write best, but I needed the time pressure to force me to stop editing as I wrote. It was difficult, especially writing the middle chapters, but I’m very glad I stuck with it and continued on. I’m sure that if I had stopped – as I have before – I would have not finished on time, or even at all.

If you have the same troubles while writing a rough draft, I highly recommend setting yourself a time limit. Give yourself a deadline and figure out how much you need to write each day to hit it. Then just write.

If you come across something you know needs to be fixed, or realize you’ve left a gaping plot hole in an earlier chapter, don’t go back yet. Jot down a note for yourself (like I do in my ‘Fix Later’ document 1) and continue on as if you’ve already fixed the problem. You’ll come back later and clean it all up.

NaNo is not meant to produce a novel that’s ready to be published or shared with others right away. There’s plenty of time after November to make all the changes you need to make, so don’t worry about it!

NaNo is an excellent way to get that first rough draft done, and start writers on their way toward having that polished and finished novel. Setting a deadline any time can really help. So, whenever you write that rough draft – whether it’s in November or any other time – focus on the writing first. Don’t worry, editing will come later.

Now that I’ve stressed the importance of writing, I’m going to switch gears. Another thing I learned during NaNo is that it’s okay to take a break.

This feels very counter-intuitive to me, especially during something like NaNo, when I’m on a strict deadline and really need to write every day. I am a perfectionist, and when I set my mind to accomplish something, I will get it done. Even if it means I run myself ragged in the process.

Needless to say, this is not always a good thing. Actually, it often does more harm than good. While I can be productive, I can also be very bad at taking care of myself, physically and emotionally.

Halfway through November, my initial enthusiasm for my novel waned and I lost most my motivation to continue writing. I didn’t feel inspired, or proud of my story. I just felt very, very tired – and like doing just about anything other than writing.

I resisted that feeling for several days, forcing myself to write even though I did not enjoy it. Somehow I managed to keep up with my daily wordcount goal of 2,000, but the thought of sitting down to write was stressful and I dreaded knowing I’d have to do it before the end of each day.

Finally, one day, I gave in. I told myself that if I couldn’t write 2,000 words, I could at least keep up my streak of writing something every day. So I wrote 400 words, shut down my laptop, and spent several hours reading an adventure book before heading to bed. The next day, feeling refreshed and rested, I wrote 4,000.

I had to repeat this process a couple times, one day only managing to write 28 words. But I wrote every day, and after lightening my writing load for that week, the rest of the month was much easier. And I learned the importance of taking time to rest when my mind and body are practically begging me to.

Don’t feel guilty about having some lighter writing days. Chances are, you’ll have some days you write more than normal, and it will balance out anyway. But even if not, your health is far more important than a manuscript.

Definitely write whenever you can, and be wary of letting your ‘recovering’ turn into procrastinating (a good way to do this is to write something every day, even if it’s only a few words). But overall, don’t be afraid to rest sometimes and jump back into it when you feel recovered.

An added plus is that our brains have a neat way of continuing to brainstorm story even when we’re not writing. If you’re stuck on a scene, try stopping for a little while to take a walk, read a book, watch a movie, or do something else relaxing, and then come back. You might find that the perfect solution comes to mind!

And the last big thing I learned during NaNo is that it’s important to stay accountable.

This can be with another writer, a family member or friend, or even just a calendar. The goal is to give a regular update of your wordcount (every day works great). I’ve found that when I know I’m going to need to let someone know my wordcount for the day, or record it somewhere, I tend to write more.

Right now, I use two methods: a writing group where we update our wordcounts every week, and an Excel spreadsheet that I enter my daily wordcounts into. When I’m focusing on writing every day, I also like to use a calendar, and mark a big ‘X’ every day I either reach my goal, or just write anything.

It’s exciting and motivating to see those ‘X’s stretch across the calendar, or see the solid rows of numbers on the spreadsheet as I continue writing. It sounds simple, but most the time, even if I don’t feel like writing, I’d rather sit down and type out a few hundred words than leave a blank space.

And the same goes for a human accountability partner. Reporting my wordcount gives me another reason to actually write something, haha. Best not to choose someone that will yell at you if don’t write, but it should be someone who will celebrate with you when you do, and encourage you when you fall short.

Again, this sounds very simple, but the extra accountability really helps me stay productive and motivated to write. If you struggle to be consistent with your writing habit, maybe finding an accountability partner of your own, or setting up a calendar or spreadsheet to record wordcounts on, will help!

Overall, NaNo has been an adventure. It’s been tiring. It’s been tough. But most of all, it’s been very valuable to me, both by helping me crank out a whole new manuscript, and by providing some much-needed lessons about writing. I look forward to taking what I’ve learned, and continuing to write even more!

Hopefully, some of my thoughts have been helpful and/or encouraging to you. What’s something you’ve learned about writing that you wish you would have discovered earlier? Go ahead and let me know in the comments below! I’d love to learn from you!

1. Explained in my post here.

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13 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo: An Overview

  1. Congrats on finishing NaNo. I usually approach the month of November with a sense of excitement. This year the entire month I did NaNo was a struggle. I normally end up with at least 60,000 word, but this year I only managed 51,000. I blame the pandemic. I also didn’t know of anyone in the local area who participated. Accountability is so important. What I took away from the experience this year was I could still do it even if it became a struggle.

    1. Thank you! Congratulations on your own – huge – accomplishment! This year has definitely been different, but 51,000 words is fantastic. I’m glad you discovered something inspiring about yourself this year. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Thank you for sharing. I no longer take on the challenge of NaMo. This is because most of what I’ve written, no shame to you because we all have different styles, were horrible. It’s not the time that gets me. It’s that being forced to create it truly hurts the work. Sometimes, I have to think about what I want to say for a few days. I can write 10,000 words a day if I have to and more, and it’ll go into the garbage can, which is more a waste of time than doing nothing.

    Have a nice day!

    1. Thank you for commenting!
      I agree, everyone has different writing styles, and that’s a beautiful thing! NaNo is definitely not for everyone. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and God bless!

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