What National Novel Writing Month Taught Me

Photo thanks to Vintage Tartlette

It was completely surreal to hit 50,062 words last Wednesday. I finished my book while sitting in a comfy Starbucks armchair, just as the store was closing, serenaded by festive holiday music. I just typed my 1320 words, finished up my story, and that was it. It was so…BIZARRE.

I learned a ton from this experience, both about myself and about writing. Below, my insights:

1. Do What Works For You

I was disciplined enough to do my 1600+ words a day (even though some days I hated every second), so that I was always right on schedule. Staying on schedule was remarkably (and disconcertingly) easy. It was odd. If I forced myself to do it, no matter what, I was always hitting the little progress bar, and slowly but surely it crept up to tens of thousands of words. By the time the last two days rolled around, I wasn’t scrambling or stressing. I just wrote my daily quota, again, for the 30th time.

Now I’m not suggesting that my way of completing this crazy month was superior, but it was really the only way I personally could have done it. I guess to a certain extent I need to be meticulous. I knew that if I fell behind, I would never catch up, because with everything else going on I wouldn’t be able to devote hours in a day to binge writing.

I guess you could describe my writing style as organized. I know Gabrielle, when she gets into her story, can write thousands of words in just a few days – she’s overcome with the passion of writing. And while I admire that, love that, wish I was like that…for now I know what works for me is putting one foot in front of the other. I hope that one day I can become consumed by my stories and write like the wind, but for now I’m proud that I even carve out the time to let myself write creatively. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Always Be Proud of Your Accomplishments

It’s pretty easy to tear down your own work – surprisingly easy. But if I had gone back over my book with a fine-toothed comb while I was writing it, I’d probably have been plunged into the depths of despair and quit.

What works really well is to re-frame your writing (or painting, or composing, or whatever it is that you love to do). Re-frame it to make it just for you, for your eyes only. Pretend like nobody is ever going to read it. Tell yourself over and over that this writing is just a tool to make you better, it’s practice, that you have to be bad before you can be good. Remind yourself that it’s just about putting fingers to keyboard and giving yourself permission.

And it’s important to always be proud of yourself. Every night when I hit 1666 words, I felt elated. I was so proud: proud that the words were stacking up, that I was making progress, that I was one step closer to my goal. And when I finished that last word, I was so proud of myself – giddy, actually – and it didn’t really matter whether it was 50K words of crap. It was 50K words of my crap. That I wrote. I had a manuscript! That’s something to be proud of, no matter what.

3. There’s No “Right” Way

When I started NaNoWriMo, I stopped reading fiction. Actually, I stopped about 2 weeks prior, because I was getting depressed by the incredible writing that these authors could do. (Granted, I was reading David Mitchell, and lord knows he’s a superhuman, so that’s not even a fair comparison..) I knew that if I read all this great fiction, it would not only fill my mind with other ideas, it would also make me feel all bad about myself and my writing. By ignoring it, I was able to let myself write, and sometimes even pretend it was good writing!

See, I had this thing where I believed that all those amazing writers just were born like that. Like words flowed from their pens in perfectly formed sentences, and they could craft gorgeous descriptions and dialogue over their morning coffee. I obviously knew this was a fallacy, but I still kind of thought it, in the back of my mind. I thought there was only one way to be a writer, and all those published authors had it figured out.

If there’s one thing NaNo’s taught me, it’s that everyone has their own way, and that’s a really good thing. Some people write in the morning, but I fit my words in right before bed. Some people take the time to map out scenes and create a book plan, but I (at least for this book) just sketched out the 4 main parts, and planned nothing else. Some people write without any distractions, but most of the time I was checking Twitter every 100 words. Some people write with music, but I just can’t do it (though I tried). Some people write as much or as little moves them, but I needed to have a stable target every single day.

Who cares? It’s all the same in the end. It was refreshing and a huge relief to accept that I can do it however I want.

4. I’m a Writer

Whew. This is a big one. It’s somehow sort of difficult to accept, although it seems obvious to me now. So here goes:

I don’t know what it means, I don’t know what I’m going to do about it, I don’t know if it’s crazy…

But I’m a writer.

Writing is what I do, no matter what. Writing’s what I’ve always done. I’ve had a blog as long as I can remember, I’ve written songs/stories/poems as long as I can remember (but very VERY privately..), I’ve kept journals and notebooks as long as I can remember. I write no matter what else is going on. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo for goodness sake – only a writer would want to do that!!

Like I said, I’m not sure what this means, but I had a mini-epiphany about it last night. I think I’d be happy writing for the rest of my life. It seems too good to be true, so maybe that’s the answer I’ve been looking for!

Other, Mini-Lessons

  • I can write a novel in a month
  • It’s possible to write a novel in a month without sacrificing school, friends or anything else
  • Doing something every day is very rewarding
  • I like to write in my bed
  • People are really supportive and AWESOME (Hi Mom! Hi Friends!)
Did you participate in NaNoWriMo!? What did you learn? Have you done any other crazy projects lately? What did you  learn from them? Would you ever try NaNoWriMo?