Lessons learned from NaNoWriMo

As mentioned in a previous post, I spent much of November chained to a keyboard, attempting to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I am ecstatic to be able to say that I actually did it! I, WoodsieGirl, have written a novel. It’s unbelievably terrible, but damn it, I’m still proud.

I’ve written more about this on my other blog, but I thought I’d jot down a few transferable lessons learned here. ‘Cos I am all about the reflective practice: it’s just how I roll.

Lessons learned:

1. You have more free time than you think.

Part of what stopped me doing this in previous years was that I was convinced I just didn’t have the time. I mean, writing 50,000 words in a month? When would I fit that in?

This is actually a pretty easy one to get around. I spent October being super-organised, getting as much as I could crossed off my to-do list so I wouldn’t have to worry about it in November. I made sure writing was my top priority as soon as November rolled around. Evenings were set aside for writing, and nothing else (as far as possible). Anything that kept me from writing, I either did in my lunch break at work, or I asked myself: do I really need to do this? It’s amazing how many things I manage to fill my time with that weren’t actually that important.

I’d recommend everyone to do something like this, actually, whether it’s writing or something entirely different. What is it that you’d love to do, if only you had the time? How could you make time? Could you watch less TV, spend less time messing around on the internet, redistribute some of the tasks that fall under your responsibility (whether that be at home or at work)? Once I made myself really think about what I was spending my time on, and how I could rearrange that, I had a lot more time available than I’d ever thought. I’m certain I’m not the only one that’s fallen into this trap.

2. Peer support is invaluable

Planning a big challenge, that you’re not sure you’ll finish? Tell absolutely everyone. Knowing that if I did give up, I would still face questions from my sisters, co-workers and Twitter friends about how my novel was going, and have to admit that it wasn’t, was a large part of what stopped me giving up the first time I hit a difficult patch.

3. Not sure if you can do something? Try it!

This, for me, is the biggie. I’ve wanted to write for years, but this is the first substantial piece of creative writing I’ve done since I left school over a decade ago. Part of the reason I didn’t try for so long was simply that I was scared of failing. The fact that I never tried meant that I actually had no idea if I could do something like this or not. I didn’t know if it would be loads easier or loads harder than I was expecting, because I just didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t until I threw myself in that I could even tell whether it was going to be possible to complete or not.

Soundbites along the lines of “the only way never to fail is never to try” and similar have been bandied about until they’ve become cliché. Nevertheless, I’ve found that I thoroughly agree with the sentiment. I haven’t written a good novel. I’ve written a terrible pile of derivative garbage, and I’m not sure if there’ll be anything left to salvage once I’ve been through it with a red pen. But, I have proven to myself that I can do this. I’ve made a ton of mistakes that I can learn from, and next time, I’ll do better.

So, those are my main non-writing-specific lessons from all of this. Pretty good lessons for life in general, I think 🙂


12 comments on “Lessons learned from NaNoWriMo

  1. Brilliant! Well done, I’m both jealous and dying to read your novel! Keep up the good work however and whether you rewrite/edit or start again, it will improve I’m sure

  2. In complete awe, congratulations! You seem to have approached this brilliantly, with organisation and forward thinking playing a big part. Will you keep at it now November is over?

    • Aw, thanks! Yes, definitely plan to keep it up! Not planning to look at my nanowrimo novel until January now, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes ready to edit, but I certainly plan to keep doing more creative writing in the meantime.

  3. For your next challenge, complete your Chartership portfolio and be ready to submit by the end of January 2012…!

  4. Well done! When it comes to editing the following is supposed to be very useful


  5. Congratulations on a terrific accomplishment! And I second the recommendation on Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s a very valuable book.

  6. Well done! It’s such a lovely feeling, isn’t it?

    I love NaNoWriMo and try to enter it as often as I can. I had to accept I was too busy this year, but I did manage a win last year and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who wants to get that egg laid…

    Also, I’m impressed by your reflection and evaluation in this post ;D

  7. You are right on! This was my first NaNo and believe me, I am much prouder of having completed 50,000 words than I am of the words themselves…with good reason I am afraid.

  8. […] it. I’d like to rediscover some neglected hobbies: I really got a lot out of dedicating last November solely to writing, and plan to do much more of that. I’ve set up another blog for writing […]

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