NaNoWriMo is tough. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s tough.

Writing, anything, at any time, on any timeline, is tough. But a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, in November which always seems to be a month with a ton of social and work commitments. That’s even tougher.

Last year, when I did NaNoWriMo (see my updates here), I had a two-day symposium at work that I was running. Day one was a 16-hour workday, I think. On top of that, I think I had a few evening and weekend social commitments. But…somehow, I made it through. I won NaNo on my first try. Somehow.

While barrelling through that month, I learned a few things. If you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo right now, maybe these lessons will help you. Or at least encourage you.

1. I like having an outline to give me an idea of where I’m going.

I’ve often struggled with being a pantser. It’s scary not knowing where I’m going or what direction to take. Having an outline gave me some comfort knowing I had a bit of an idea of where I was going. It took me a while to put together, but it definitely boosted my confidence.

2. I’m terrible at sticking to outlines.

That being said, I think I followed the outline for about three scenes. And then everything went off the rails. It’s the thought that counts right?

3. Prep work like knowing WHO my characters are and WHERE they came from is not to be undervalued. And I should have done this.

I made an outline. But I neglected to do the other, probably more important prep work before NaNoWriMo started. I had one or two line descriptions of my key characters. In my head. But that was all. So, when I went to write them, I just didn’t know them well enough to give them clear voices and the ability to make decisions that felt authentic.

4. But you CAN WIN NaNoWriMo without doing the prep.

Despite all that wild lack of prep. I managed to meet my 50,000 word goal a few days early! So no fear Wrimos, you can win NaNo even when you feel completely unprepared and are flailing wildly in the middle of a sea of random tangents.

5. Without the prep though, your novel will need a TON of revision.

I won…but I still haven’t gathered the guts to go back and edit that beast. It still has no ending. Or clear setting. I realized half-way through NaNo that I wanted it to be a western and that I hadn’t included anything of that ilk in the words I was actually writing. One day…one day it will become something readable.

6. Writing fast without self-editing is doable. And not all the words are junk.

However, even though most of it is pretty all over the place, there are a few scenes that I love. Most of my NaNo novel needs serious work (as in wandering plot, variable tone, no clear setting) but some of the scenes are fabulous and I am super proud of them. They are funny. They are weird. They include people wanting to smell other people’s hair and people (who may or may not be the hair smellers) being killed with shovels….

7. When I write fast, I do not remember what I’ve written.

And so going back and reading it feels like I’m reading something for the first time. I have no recollection of writing have of what I wrote in my NaNo novel last year.

8. Writing sprints saved my life by giving me little bursts to focus focus focus.

This made achieving my word count goals doable. And continually surprised me at how many words I could write when I was challenged to pump as many of them out in five, ten, or fifteen minutes.

9. I can actually get up early or stay up late to write when I’m sufficiently motivated.

I like my bed. A lot. And it’s always a struggle for me to get out of my bed in the morning or to not jump back into it as soon as I can in the evening. But during NaNoWriMo, I had both internal and external motivation to write and a clear goal to reach. This really helped me to get up early on weekends and pump out four thousand words or stay up an extra half hour or hour on a weeknight to meet my daily word count goal.

10. Writing buddies seriously help with winning NaNoWriMo.

My lovely friend Kim is my writing buddy. We try to get together at least once a month to sit next to each other and stop the other one from spending all evening on Twitter. We agreed to do NaNo together last year and met up in person multiple times. We also checked in continuously with each other through Twitter and text. That one-on-one encouragement from someone I knew in real life was so valuable for me. If you don’t have any writing buddies in real life, check out the NaNo website to see if there is a group in your area.

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What lessons have you learned in NaNoWriMo? What has helped you?

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