Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 2012

Photo By: Mike Licht via Flickr

As we near the end of NaNoWriMo 2012 (National Novel Writing Month where writers commit to the goal of writing a 50k novel – or writing 50k fresh words into a current WIP), I decided to reflect back on the month of November and draw out the lessons I’ve learned thus far. (Especially since this year, NaNoWriMo didn’t go as smoothly as it did for me last year.)

Lesson #1: Clear Your Calendar (If Possible)

November’s a busy month for everyone no matter which way you look at it. The start of the holiday season, a time to start gearing up to shed all the bad from the year and setting goals for the new year, etc.. For writers, when you add in the task of writing 50k words in 30 days, you’ve just added a whole lotta busy to that calendar of events. For me personally, November’s already incredibly busy because it’s smack in the middle of the selling season at my dayjob. So when attempting NaNoWriMo, clear the calendar as much as possible. I’m not saying don’t spend time with the family or your friends. But what I am saying is that you should value and guard your time like it’s the hottest ticket item on Black Friday. While we’d like to believe we’re super heroes and can do everything, all that truly comes out of the attempt is a new patch of gray hairs, sleepless nights, and a sparkling cranky attitude.

Lesson #2: Minimize the Writing To Do List

I’d like to think this is a nobrainer, but as I learned this month, it’s incredibly difficult to edit one WIP while writing the first draft of another. So while it should be easy to remember, unfortunately it’s not. And the main reason why is because, for some of us, when we edit our muse is working in the background on the other WIP, and more than likely it’s pulling and expanding on ideas that you’re thinking of while in editing mode. Sounds easy, right? Exactly! And it’s even more fun when you’re editing someone else’s work, because their beautifully polished prose, in turn, pushes you to make your WIP better. However…there’s a fine line between the editing brain and the creative brain, and if we’re not careful, the fence will come crashing down and we’ll find ourselves in the middle of West Side Story. So when you face a large writing task, such as writing 50k words in 30 days, the best bet is to only write those words. Nothing else. Any other time of the year you can tackle the edits on one and write the other, but during NaNoWriMo when you’ve got to burn up the keyboard? Nah, not suggested.

Lesson #3: Don’t Lose Focus

I know what you’re thinking. “Well, duh! You’re trying to write 50k in 30 days. Of course you’ve gotta keep your focus!” Yea, yea, I know. And even though this is a cliche, keeping focus is so much easier said than done. As I stated earlier, November is a busy, busy month. Between family functions, and however busy you are at the dayjob, trying to get some personal reading time and keeping the creative well full and flowing, the focus ball is a hard one to keep in the air without dropping the others. And there will always be something you can’t simply not do. This is where Lessons #1 & 2 come in handy so that you can keep your focus trained on writing those words. Once you’ve cleared your calendar and minimized your To Do List, now’s the time to close the door to the writing cave, insert those ear buds, hang your ‘Back in 30 Days’ sign, and block the rest of the world out.

Lesson #4: Daily Weekly Word Count

Everyone’s who attacked NaNoWriMo knows that in order to write 50k in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words a day, right? One of the main points behind NaNo is to teach us to write each and every day no matter what. Which is good, but what about those days where words just aren’t going to hit the page? Creativity well’s running dry, you’ve got too much going on in your personal life, you’ve gotta work overtime at the dayjob, etc.. All of these drastically affect how much writing we’re going to get done on a daily basis. So instead of a daily word count, I prefer to go by a weekly word count (as suggested by James Scott Bell). 11,700 words a week is an easy target. There are no stressors because you didn’t write anything on a particular day because you can pick up the slack later in the week. And this was waaaay too true for me this year. Last year, I was able to hit 1,667 words a day (give or take one day here or there), but this year it just wasn’t gonna happen for me. So I made it a point get my words in during long spurts of writing. As in 5 hours on Friday night, some time on Saturday, and a little bit on Sunday. Needless to say, my bar graph on the NaNo site didn’t have that beautiful steady arc like others. 🙂

Lesson #5: Have Fun and Don’t Stress 

I previously posted about this particular earlier this month. (Along with some fun Southern Sayin’s and Chuck Norris jokes.) NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun and real experience. It’s supposed to teach us about ourselves, about our writing, and we’re supposed to learn how well we can work under pressure – aka: readying us for when we have a multi-book contract. 😉  Anything we do in life can be made so much better if we just add a little fun into the mix, and this is something I think we all need to remind ourselves when we’re so far behind on the word count that we can’t bring ourselves to think about anything else. So for my final lesson for this year’s NaNoWriMo is to keep a ‘favorites’ file in your internet browser specifically for sites with jokes, witty one-liners, and hilarious comic strips.

Your Turn: What lessons did you learn during NaNoWriMo this year? Have you busted through the 50k finish line yet? If you could change one thing about how you attacked NaNoWriMo this year, what would it be and why?

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 2012

  1. Hi Melinda,
    Great tips! I wish I'd read it prior to getting started. Unfortunately, it looks I missed the boat this time around in successfully accomplishing my word count for the month. But there's always next year…or heck, next month as a personal goal. 🙂 Hope you're doing well!

    Anna Soliveres

  2. Hi Anna,

    Thank you so much! Oh, no! I'm so sorry you missed the NaNo boat this time around, but I *know* you can get them done next month! That's a great personal goal to set in order to still hold yourself accountable for the word count. I'll be cheering you on!! 🙂

    Hope you're doing well and that you had a wonderful holiday! 😀

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