NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned

Now that November is over, it’s time to see what I learned and decide what’s next. Even though it’s my fifth year writing a novel the NaNoWriMo way, I still learned some things about writing and the creative process that I didn’t know. In some cases, I was just reminded of some things I’d forgotten, but that’s a form of learning, too.

One of my goals for November was to remind myself that writing is fun. I learned that I have a choice — I can force myself to work on the things I “should” be writing or I can write about the stuff that I enjoy. Letting go of what I think I need to be writing and working on what I want to write makes a big difference. I don’t know if I can ever finish anything if I make it all about having fun. But I do know I look forward to writing when fun is one of my top priorities. The biggest benefit of all is that I actually write.

Even when I’m having fun with my writing, the creative process is hard. I moaned and groaned a lot last month about the uncomfortable journey into the unknown that a first draft requires. Looking back, I can see clearly that not knowing what is going to happen next really is a key part of my process. Accepting that and finding ways to live with it are essential to sticking with the creative life. Fortunately, I discovered an important tool for dealing with all those times when I didn’t know what comes next: writing.

It sounds bone-headed to say that the best thing I can do when I’m stuck with the story is write about it, but that happened repeatedly in November. When I was flummoxed, just thinking about things didn’t cut it. I always got my best ideas by making lists or writing about the characters and their needs. I did have one idea that seemed to blossom just from thinking about things, but I realize now that it was thinking about the ideas I had just listed that led me to the one I finally used. So writing to get writing really works.

Counting words works, too. Writing a novel is like rowing across an ocean. Once you’ve lost sight of the shore, it’s hard to tell if you are making any progress. Everything looks the same for weeks on end. My word count gives me a sense of forward motion that I can’t get from looking at the scenery. And having a daily word count goal kept me writing, even on the days when I didn’t feel like doing a thing.

Perseverance is a trait I need to cultivate if I want to get books written and finished. Long journeys are just a bunch of individual steps. Novels are just lots and lots and lots of words strung together. It’s easy to have some amazing ideas over the course of a few days. It’s hard to stick with the weeks, months, and years of work involved in turning those brief thoughts into a book. Not only does NaNoWriMo encourage me to sit down every day and shove my story a little farther down the road, but it reminds me that it is returning to my desk day by day that gets the job done.

Now that writing is fun again, I am eager to keep working on my novel. I know there will be tough times because that goes with the process. Fortunately, I have discovered some tools to help me keep paddling, because I am determined to reach the far shore. Thanks to my month of blogging about my novel, I am now more committed to blogging in general. One of my first goals for this month will be coming up with a plan for my blog. I’ll let you know what it is as soon as I decide.

3 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: Lessons Learned”

  1. I too have just completed my first nanowrimo, and there’s a lot you have said here that I can relate to. I learnt pretty much the same lessons as you did. Just writing (even when you haven’t got a clue what to write) really does kick-start the creative process! And seeing your word count build up is a good motivator; it certainly helped me to set targets for each day, and see those targets being hit.

    1. Good for you! I think NaNoWriMo is a great way to get into the daily writing habit. And there’s a great quote about inspiration coming from doing the work… Igor Stravinsky said, “Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.”

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