What I Learned From Participating in NaNoWriMo

Note: This is an old article I wrote on Medium before I deleted my Medium account in my New Year’s online writing purge. This year, I am planning to tighten my focus on my writing and concentrate on this blog; hence, I’ve deleted other online accounts. I only had written one thing for Medium and I am posting it here.

This November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo) for the first time. It was a big step for me because, although I’ve been writing both fiction and non-fiction my entire life, I’ve never actually finished a full-length work before. The problem started with the first book I tried to write, a truly odd work involving vampire cats (my parents were my first readers and they dutifully told me every chapter was wonderful). I never finished it and all these years later, my laptop’s hard drive is littered with partially written novels. I haven’t counted, but off the top of my head I can think of at least six partially written works languishing on my computer.

I decided this needed to change, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo at the last minute. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It is a yearly event that takes place every November. I worked on my novel almost every day last month and just barely finished in the nick of time, at approximately 8:00 PM local time on November 30.

Since finishing, I’ve felt a bit lost without that nagging feeling of needing to write at least 1,667 words per day (the amount needed to finish a 50,000 word novel in thirty days). My manuscript may have turned out very rough and very bad, but I am so glad I participated. Here’s what I learned while writing a novel in a month.

  1. The importance of outlining/plotting in advance. I hit a bit of a roadblock partway through my novel because I simply hadn’t thought that far ahead in the book. If I had to do it all over again, I would make sure to do at least a little plotting in advance. A character cheat sheet would have been helpful, too. At times, I found myself forgetting what physical features my characters had.
  2. Don’t edit — just write. In the past while writing novels, I have the irrepressible urge to go back and edit every few chapters. During NaNoWriMo, there’s no time for this, so I was forced to write and write without editing. Sure, the draft may be very rough at this point, but at least I have a proper draft done.
  3. It can be surprisingly difficult to stick to a genre. I originally intended to have my novel firmly in the young adult genre. It’s about a girl who lives in a dystopian future North America and all the trials and tribulations she endures. However, about halfway through my novel, I think I broke with genre conventions. In its present form, the story doesn’t really fit the young adult genre. It’s more of a thriller (I think).
  4. It is possible for me to finish something. This applies more to me than writers as a whole, I think, but I’m going to include it anyway. As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I have had trouble finishing novels that I start writing. The very fact that I actually finished a rough draft is empowering. I feel more capable of finishing my other novels than I did prior to completing NaNoWriMo. In fact, I’m already planning my next project: finishing and editing a spy thriller I started a while ago.
  5. Don’t give up. This may be the most cliche point on this list, but it’s one of the most important. There were times during the month when I thought of giving up. Either my plot wasn’t working, my writing was bad, or I just plain didn’t feel like working on the novel that day. I knew I wanted to finish, though, so I just kept writing.

NaNoWriMo is a very fun experience and I would highly recommend that any aspiring writers participate. Perhaps the best thing about the whole experience is the community. On the official website and on Twitter, there are a ton of people writing their novels at the same time as you are. Somehow, knowing that there are bunch of people out there having the same experience and struggling with the same problems is very comforting.

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