Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

The first time I ever finished NaNoWriMo was about ten years ago and, as far as I know, I’ve lost the story. It’s somewhere, I’m sure, but it’s gone, and I don’t think that editing it into a proper novel–into something that’s more than a frenzied first draft–will happen any time soon.

In the ten years that has passed since that huge accomplishment, I have always intended to do it again, and to do it better. Then there was a time where I didn’t write at all, and worse, I harbored no desire to write at all. November would come around, and I would barely think of NaNoWriMo and, when I did remember it that it was around the corner or happening, I felt no desire to participate.

Those were rough times.

But this year was different. I had been writing more, and I had learned to be easier on myself.

Reading writing blogs was hard for me because there were all these things–you have to write every day, you have to read every day and I just didn’t have that kind of time. I work forty hours a week–usually more than forty hours a week. I need time to sleep. I need me time where I can rest and recharge my batteries. I need to take care of adult responsibility. I need to take the time to exercise.

And I didn’t know how to juggle all those needs with writing.

So I stopped trying to write every day until it turned into bitter resentment. Instead, I focused on being prolific instead of perfect. I tried to always have a project in mind instead of writing without aim or pursuit. And that worked well for the beginning months of the year, and it also prepped me for NaNoWriMo, even though that hadn’t initially been the plan.

Before, when I still wanted to do NaNoWriMo but never did after that first time, I never knew what to do. I have a hard time with plots–I still do. I’m much better at figuring out what already written stories should have done instead of coming up with my own stuff, but allowing myself to work on one project at a time allowed me the space to let my brain think during down time–when I was on hold with someone at my job, when I’m grabbing a quick lunch, when I’m running on the treadmill.

And I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write something that wouldn’t challenge me too much because writing 50k words in and of itself is a challenge enough. I wanted something in my comfort zone. So I decided to follow my strengths and take an old tired genre (the zombie apocalypse) and write the story I always wanted from such a genre that nobody ever gave me.

It’s ironic, really, that last night’s mid season finale of The Walking Dead proved my point for me. I don’t want those zombie stories anymore, so I wrote one where there wasn’t misery for misery’s sake and I think it turned out pretty good, and I’m looking forward to editing it into a proper novel–but that’s a different post for a different time.

I researched different strategies. I wanted to try the Write One Word on Day 30 approach–and I made good time in the beginning, but when the work week hit, it killed me. I couldn’t write that kind of volume every day when I was working ten hour shifts.

Turns out, I couldn’t write even 1667 words during the work week working ten hour shifts.

That was a tough pill to swallow. I wanted to be better. I wanted to do more, and I was very discouraged that I was not making the word count limits.

Here is my graph of the month.


As you can see, many times there are days where the graph doesn’t move. Those days were when I was working. This novel? This project? Was written on the weekends, in six to eight thousand word spurts.

That was tough.

What was even tougher to swallow was, as you can clearly see from the graph, that I didn’t make my word count. When I was at 42k words I realized that this novel was almost done. That there wouldn’t be much more left to say around the 45k mark. I dragged out some exposition and description so that I reached 46k and then I knew that I had to make a choice.

I could drag the whole thing on by another 3k words and really go James Fenimore Cooper on everything–or I could just say that it was done, because it is done. It will be done until I edit it into a novel and self publish it–I’m hoping that will be done by next year, in time for October and Halloween and another morale crushing season of the Walking Dead.

That was also tough to just let it go and even though I didn’t make the word count, I still believe I finished in the spirit of the project, and that to me means more than anything–especially since I remember my searing indignation when I saw published, established authors tweeting that they were half way through their NaNo when they were already published, already making a living at being a writer.

And I realized that for me, NaNoWriMo is not really about the word count, but about giving people the opportunity and support network to write a Novel when they had always been told they couldn’t do it, or they didn’t have time to do it–that it gave permission for them to try, and if they didn’t succeed, there was always next month or next year.

And I do hope to be there next year–and even next month!

Though you can read That Grave Dirt Grunge here until December 7th, I will be working on a holiday themed novel that I hope to release in the days following Christmas leading up to New Year.

I don’t have a specific word count in mind but I hope it will be in the 40 to 50k ranges. So essentially a NaNo in everything but name. 🙂


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