After NaNoWriMo ended, I took the month of December off. I didn’t write at all. I thought about my story but superficially. The experience of writing so feverously in November faded away before holiday lights and family revelry. It became a dream.
Cliché, I know. But here I am, it’s January and it seems only fitting that the first thing I write of the year be about my experiences with NaNoWriMo. So, how do I feel about it now, 30+ days later?
NaNoWriMo was a wild exhilarating ride, and I absolutely recommend it… with caveats.
- NaNoWriMo makes you feel like a writer BECAUSE A WRITER WRITES. For the first time in my life, I put writing as my top priority and unapologetically ran with it.
- Measuring success by word count is terrible. It’s easy to calculate, but it doesn’t tell you anything important. The only thing announcing one’s word count was good for: deflecting when someone asked how my writing was going.
- Having a consistent writing routine helps. I wrote whenever I could. In coffeeshops, at home, I wrote in restaurants and on the BART trains. I was a writing fiend. I never figured out whether I wrote better in the mornings or late at night. What I learned is that neither the time of day and the place mattered.
- Pantser or plotter – do you love your story? Wanting to see where my story went next kept me writing more than any other motivator. When the focus is simply to get your first draft done, rock whatever you’re comfortable with to help you get started, but fall in love with your story. Let it become your obsession. Laugh and cry while you write. Yell at the characters. Feel everything they do.
- Love/Hate Word Sprints. Speed typists have a clear edge here. The most I ever did in a 15 minute word sprint was 900 words and it was pure crap. Yes, you can find out exactly how many words you could potentially write if you didn’t censor or even think about what was coming out of your keyboard, but how much editing are you setting yourself up for? I much prefer setting a timer where the goal isn’t word count, but sustained writing for the entire time.
- Community matters. Every NaNo writer needs the support of family and friends, but when the writing got hard, it was my community of fellow writers that got me through it. We met for lunch once a week to write (of course) but also to talk through our writing woes. With three Shut Up & Write events a week, I was able to stay on track with (and often surpass) my goals.
- Writing can be really f*cking hard… but so what? A challenge like NaNoWriMo is as much about you as it is about your writing. It’s supposed to be exhausting and exhilarating; if it didn’t push your boundaries and comfort level, what would you learn from it?
- Develop your confidence in yourself as a writer. This only comes from writing (and more writing). NaNoWriMo is a massive amount of writing with a pressurized deadline; whether it’s 30 days or 100 days, the details aren’t what matter – your commitment to it and following through is what helps you trust yourself. Can you knock out those words when you need to?
NaNoWriMo is about more than “winning” a writing challenge.
By the end of November, my final word count was 57,326. Come January, I still write on Thursdays at lunch with my NaNo buddies. I still attend Shut Up & Write at least two days a week. I’m still in love with my story and still writing it.