6 Things I’ve Learned from Participating in NaNoWriMo

Oh, NaNoWriMo! What a month you’ve been. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. You need an arsenal of tactics, not one

I muddled through a bit of writing slump during the second week, which I got through by setting minimum and maximum goals for the day. I needed a way to “succeed” and propel myself even further. As I gained traction, I realized I’d stop after I hit my goal, feeling tapped out.

I adjusted my tactic and gave myself high word counts for the day, with no minimum goal to fall back on. It worked. No one tactic is always going to work.

2. I’m scary driven… when I want to be

I wrote 10K in a weekend, and had a 5K day the following Wednesday to finish my story and hit 50K. I did it because I could taste the end, and I wanted it. So I reached out and took it.

(I have a similar reaction to the end of 5K races. I’ll always push myself right at the very end because I want that finish.)

But sometimes? I just don’t want it enough to push myself. Learning how and when to push myself is a game in itself.

3. I don’t know my writing process as well as I thought I did, but that’s okay

I spent all of October working on an outline for a story, then abandoned it on day 2. Turns out too much pre-planning and scheming engages my inner perfectionist. When I can’t get it the way it is in my head, I get frustrated and give up.

The story I moved on to, which is the story I finished with, started off with a dream I had. I knew nothing about the characters, world, or plot. I have plenty of holes and revisions that need to happen, but I didn’t struggle with ending it. I’m now working on the follow-up to the first book, which is more forward momentum than I’ve ever had before.

I’ve also learned to write the opposite of what I want to happen. My risk aversion in real life makes for a very boring story.

My “failures” have been learning experiences and shown me something about writing process.

4. Having an accountability partner/alpha reader is priceless

Writing is a solitary process. You’re immersed in your story and your characters, but you have no idea if any of it’s good. Sometimes you need someone to tell you, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing. Keep writing.”

Doubts are natural. Having someone to give you the thumbs up when your doubts are holding you back can push you forward when your knee-jerk reaction is to give up.

5. People are really fucking negative

When I reached 50K, the majority of people would say, “Congrats! [Comment about how terrible they’re doing.]”

Guess what? Whenever you follow something positive about someone else by something negative about you, you turn what should be something nice into something that’s selfishly negative. And then I don’t know how to respond. Am I supposed to say “Thanks” and ignore the negative comment? Or do I ignore the compliment and give a pep talk? For fuck’s sake, let me bask in my accomplishment without bringing me down or making me feel obligated to talk YOU up.

And if you’ve paid attention to social media, you’ve seen all the tweets about being “behind” or “failing.” If you’re writing, no matter how much you’re writing, you’re winning. If you didn’t reach 50K or you had to abandon your story, learn from the situation.

You don’t learn anything from telling yourself you failed except how to be negative. (And, apparently, how to piss me off.)

6. I’m motivated by food

It was a little hilarious (okay, a lot) to watch how my writing process went every single day.

Amanda sits down to write
Realizes she’s hungry
Tries to write anyway
Fails
Gives in to the hunger
Writes

It’s impossible for me to write when I’m hungry. It’s impossible for me to function as a human being when I’m hungry. I also have different types of hungry, ranging from hangry to “wander around listlessly” hungry to  “can’t make any decision about anything and what’s that thing over there” hungry.

Also, my muse is a food vampire.

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8 thoughts on “6 Things I’ve Learned from Participating in NaNoWriMo

  1. Yay! I admire anyone who participates whether they hit the 50,000 mark or not. Writing anything is an accomplishment. 😉 Great insights BTW – I would imagine that finding your own personal motivation is half the battle.

  2. I think it is awesome that people participate and give it their all. I don’t know why they would think any count is a fail—yes they may not make the 50000 but the point is to push yourself. I love your tips! Super awesome!

    PS I can’t think when hungry much less write LOL

    • Thanks, Felicia! I think it’s easy to think in terms of winning and losing when the goal is 50K, but it misses the point of writing a book. 50K isn’t a very long book (I’d say 70K is an average full-length novel), so even if you “win,” you’re not necessarily finished…

      Yeah. I can’t do much of anything when I’m hungry. It takes over.

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