4 Practical Learnings from National Novel Writing Month 2017


Originally Published as notes - December 2017

Overcoming NaNoWriMo

For those new to NaNoWriMo, let me provide a brief summary:

National Novel Writing Month is an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. Participants attempt to write a 50,000 word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. NaNoWriMo focuses on the length of a work rather than the quality, encouraging writers to finish their first draft so that it can later be edited at the author's discretion.

In this post, I am not only talking about my NaNoWriMo progress during 2017, but mainly will touch on the goals and the learnings resulting from this exercise.

During the beginning of this challenge, I was enthusiastic. 50,000 words sounds daunting, but 1667 words per day sounds more digestible. While life does get in the way, motivating yourself to sit down and write 100 words per day is much easier than writing 1667 words a day, but as anyone else can tell you - it’s the sitting down that’s the tough part. Once you have begun, reaching the word count is not the tough part. Keeping this in mind, and also the fact that fatigue will kick in, I often wrote more than the needed word count per day for the first couple weeks.


Nov 28 Update: Final Stretch & Keeping With It

There’s multiple points throughout the month that many people drop off. Missing one day can stack against you. This discouragement, once stacked, can quickly spiral to a great many participants calling it quits. Usually somewhere around 15-25K, close to two weeks in. I found myself slowing down as well, but kept with the 1667 per day as a bottom threshold.

What i've found: A lot of the stuff you force yourself to write is going to be word-vomit. I've found the more I forced myself to spit out words, the more I felt the quality slipping away, worsening. And that was fine, because I was invested in the story, in the setting and plot. It would take another re-write (at least one), multiple rounds of editing. NaNoWriMo is not a challenge to get writers to create quality. Not at first. The goal is two-fold: 1. To instil a sense of repetition, and from that repetition, 2. to prove that it is possible to write a novel in a month. An achievement in itself for many.

Another important factor to note is that if you are starting off NaNoWriMo, you are pressed to get writing. While this process might be optimal for plotters, those who do not create outlines usually suffer as they have to write while at the same time create the plot for the novel. Often, these two factors conflict with one-another, leading many to get overwhelmed around the end of the first week of the challenge and quit.


Post NaNoWriMo & More (Dec. 3rd. 2017)

So, you've reached 50,000 words. Now what? Well, the idea is to take this newfound motivation and to keep up with the pace you’ve now set for yourself. Finish the novel, put it away, and continue on another project. Then, after some months pass, pull the novel out and begin to edit. Begin to re-write with a fresh perspective. My books get built in phases in which the story morphs, grows; the first draft always comprising of around 60-70% of the second, and the second 60-70% of the third and so on. A seemingly endless cycle of adding and cutting. Changing and changing to the point where it is difficult to distinguish between improvements and adjustments.

Take NaNoWriMo for what it is: a challenge dedicated to motivated you to keep on track. To keep output high, to keep enthusiasm high, to finish strong. Everything else comes later.