What NaNoWriMo Taught Me


November is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to write a new novel. Yes, folks, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. This annual event is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. If you have never tried this, I highly recommend it. Here are some things I learned from my first NaNoWriMo that I have integrated into my writing life.

Your first draft is supposed to suck

Nobody writes a perfect first draft. Writing a first draft quickly allows you get past your inner censor and get the story out. I love my inner editor. He keeps me in line and saves me from putting out sloppy work. But I had to send him on vacation in November. He deserves it, believe me; he works overtime the other eleven months of the year. This way I was able to free myself to write uncritically, creatively, messily, knowing that he would be back to clean things up later. I can trust that I am not going to lose all my training and skills if I just let go and let myself create.

My inner editor spends November in Barbados

My inner editor spends November in Barbados

Just keep writing

Once I learned to ignore my inner critic, the words started to flow. It wasn’t always easy. I squinted, I squirmed, I winced at my mundane prose and horrible dialogue. But I kept on writing, and magic happened. Characters took shape, backstories developed, scenes rolled out before me. I cringed at unexpected violent scenes; I giggled at the naughty bits as I tapped out love scenes. And I kept on writing.

You don’t have to write from A to Z

I gave myself permission to write disjointedly–a scene here, a character sketch there. Beautiful imperfection. Until week four, I didn’t know how–or if–it would all fit together. All the parts seemed to be scattered about like a car waiting to be assembled. When November’s over and the editor’s back, you can rearrange scenes and connect the dots. Using writing software such as Scrivener makes this easier, but it’s not necessary.

It's okay to write disjointedly

It’s okay to write disjointedly

The power of focused intent

I learned that when I allow myself the freedom to focus intently on one purpose, the world around me and within me will cooperate with my efforts. Dreams, experiences, conversations, ideas out of thin air all fed into my story. So where did they come from? The mystery and the magic of focused intent.

Creativity loves company 

I think we all have that vision in our minds of the lonely writer hunkered over a typewriter. In my mind this image is as outdated as the typewriter. Until I participated in NaNoWriMo, I was always thought I needed quiet, distraction-free work time and space. But I discovered I could write in coffee shops, in bookstores, in my basement, even in the car (not while driving, of course). I worked alone or with others at the weekly write-ins. I learned that distractions can be harnessed into creative avenues. Being surrounded by books in a library or bookstore generates creative energy. That energy becomes electric when the room is full of others writing with abandon toward the same goal.

Just Writing

Just Writing at Towne Book Center

Taking care of yourself is not selfish

Perhaps the most surprising lesson NaNoWriMo taught me is that creativity is never a selfish act. Taking time for yourself and your dreams feeds your spirit, giving you more to give in return. But before embarking on an endeavor like this, it is important to enlist the support of family and friends. Let them know that you will not be as accessible during November as you are the rest of the year, but that you will emerge a better you for having accomplished such a monumental goal. Better yet, recruit them to take the challenge with you.

The all powerful deadline

To quote NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty, “A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form…The bigger the artistic project, the more it needs a deadline to keep marshaling those shy ideas out onto the world’s stage.” (No Plot? No Problem! p. 26) I don’t know about you, but I find that self-imposed deadlines tend to keep slipping by, leaving guilt and discouragement in their wake. Adopting the thirty-day deadline imposes an outside force on the creative process that squeezes out those “shy ideas”–the best ideas we tend to edit out if given too much time.

“One day” is here

National Novel Writing Month is for everyone who aspires to write a novel one day. What better time to start that journey than when hundreds of thousands are walking (or running) that path with you.

Will you take up the challenge this November?