November is over and so is the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I’m so excited to be a winner with 50,180 words validated around noon on November 30. Not quite the last minute, but I sure cut it close!
I feel extremely positive about my NaNoWriMo experience, partly because I accomplished a very difficult thing that I wasn’t sure I could do, but also because I learned valuable lessons throughout the thirty-day “seat-of-your-pants literary adventure” as Executive Director Chris Baty calls it. Below are five of the most important lessons I learned this year.
A Change of Space Changes Everything
I noticed that when I tried to write at my desk, where I also work every day, I had trouble getting started and the thoughts came more slowly. However, when I wrote on my laptop downstairs in the living room, the words came out much more quickly and I did better. Better still was going out to local write-ins, where I churned out paragraph after paragraph. My best results? I went on a weekend silent writing retreat with some friends and wrote nearly 15,000 words in a day and a half!
Time Limits May Work Better than Word Goals
At first, I followed the suggested 1,667 words per day breakdown, and in the beginning, it was easy to fly past the goal and write even more each day. But by the time I hit week two, that word count felt like a lot. I didn’t feel right adding fluff like “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” just to pad my word count, either. But at the write-ins we did “word sprints” where for 15 minutes at a time there was no talking, eating, or getting up from your seat—just writing as fast as you can. I wrote as many as 1,000 words during just one sprint! When I applied similar time limits at home (15-20 minutes at a time worked best) I repeated my positive results.
Friendly Competition Will Egg You On
One of the benefits of registering with the NaNoWriMo website is creating connections with Writing Buddies. These are Wrimos with whom you link up and then monitor on your dashboard. Seeing how your progress bar compares to theirs, especially if these are real-life friends, can give you a much-needed boost when you’re falling behind. My friend and colleague Angela Render is a very prolific writer, while I tend to write slowly, so competing to stay on par with her word count or even ahead (I was winning the race for a little while!) helped me stay focused.
Carrots Work…If You Can Actually Grab Them
I used to think that focusing on “important” benefits like improved self-esteem were enough to motivate me to accomplish goals, and promising myself things like a piece of chocolate or a night out with friends were silly rewards that I could certainly give myself any time, and thus lacked power as carrots dangling on a stick ahead of me. Now I know better. The more I set mini goals and rewards that were tangible and instant—like treating myself to a plate of cookies and a favorite movie if I first wrote 4,000 words one Saturday afternoon—the more I saw tangible results. I definitely felt great validating my novel when I hit 50,000 words, but it wasn’t until I printed out my instantly available certificate that I felt an extreme rush of pride and spilled more than a few tears.
Keep Going to Push Past the Suckiness
More than a few times, especially in weeks two and three, I felt horrified by the crap I kept committing to paper. I lost my direction, got confused, and just generally thought my manuscript sucked. But because I had to hit that 50,000 word count, I pushed on. And every time, I sort of wrote through the crap and ended up back on track, writing something really interesting and fresh. If I’d given up just because I didn’t like my draft or felt like I’d lost my hold on the story, I would never have broken through and written the material I know will help shape my later drafts (unlike the crap, which will come out in my first revision, probably).
If you’re also a winning Wrimo, congratulations! If you didn’t make it this year, you still deserve some cake and a good movie for trying. However many words you wrote, that’s more than you had back in October! I hope you’ll keep working on your manuscript and try again next November. I also hope you’ll consider donating to help keep NaNoWriMo going—it’s run by a non-profit called the Office of Letters and Light. Please check out their Donation Station, or buy something in their store to help fund their many excellent programs (including a youth writing program) today.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.
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