What I learned as a NaNoWriMo participant

It was with both pride and relief that I poured my 50,000+ words into the NaNoWriMo validation box. Every day, for a full month, I took one step toward being able to say “I have a draft for a novel.” Many things took a backseat to NaNo — including Darla Writes — but December is here, and it’s time to get back to normal.

Discovering NaNoWriMo was a gift to this writer’s life. Taking the challenge opened up a world that before NaNo I had never considered. NaNo is all about “Just give it a try.” So I did, with thousands of other writers, and the journey from zero to 50k was a blast.

What did I learn during this 30-day adventure?

What I Learned About Writing

  • It’s not hard to write 50,000 words in one month. My daily goal of writing at least 1,667 words took me a little over an hour to meet. On some days I wrote over 2,000 words. So, don’t be put off by the 50k number. If you think about how fast you can type (say, 60 wpm), then you can type at least 3600 words in an hour. Cut that in half to take the story into consideration, and that’s 1600 words per hour.
  • Free writing is an exercise every writer should do regularly. When I started in November, I had no outline or defined storyline. I knew what I wanted to write about, but I had no start and finish ideas. Sitting down each evening to write 1,667 words with “literary abandon” was a treat. I created new characters and situations that I didn’t know were inside me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the novel each evening. Booking one day a month to write with abandon could inspire a new storyline, character, or scene. Circle a day on your calendar and try it this month.
  • Writing a novel is within the reach of all writers. I believe this now. Not all writers will have well-written novels, but we can all write one. The structure is there for the taking, and the experience will lead to lessons you can carry into your other writings.

What I Learned About Myself

  • Writing is what I was born to do. With a blog name like Darla Writes, it’s a given that I love to write. But the NaNo challenge reconfirmed my heart’s desire to write full-time. At the end of my evening writing time, I feel that writing tug and look forward to the next evening when I can begin again. You know the feeling.
  • Writing could easily become my god. There were times during November when I declined a friend’s invitation to dinner, skipped a meal, ignored my family members, and acted in other anti-social ways — not because it was my NaNo writing time, but because I felt the writing tug and gave in to it. And sometimes when I spoke those wonderful words, “I’m writing a novel,” a puff of pride floated over my head. I do not want this to happen, and NaNo showed me that it could. It’s important to keep in mind that we are people first who just happen to be writers.

What I Learned About the Writing Life

  • Writers are willing to help one another meet their goals. I’ve been encouraged by writers from across the globe during this challenge. Reading blogs and writer forums, receiving tweets, finding “Like” notifications on my Facebook page — writers make it their business to cheer each other on.
  • The competition is fierce. NaNo had over 200,000 participants, a fraction of the writers in this world who want to be published. There is much work to be done for those of us who want to break into the publishing world. A well-written book isn’t all there is to it. I’ll be sharing what I learn as I start tackling the business aspect of the writing life.
  • Writing every day is essential.  It’s the key to becoming a better writer and published author — my two goals. My habit had been to write in marathon sessions any chance I had. But thanks to NaNo, I now write daily, a habit that can only strengthen my writing skills.

What’s next with my novel? I plan to put it aside for the rest of the year and work on a second draft through 2012. Scrivener is on my Christmas list, and I’ll use that program to organize and see just how many of those 50k words will survive the chopping block.

NaNoWriMo was a great experience and my writing life improved by being a participant. The challenge takes place every year, so be sure to visit the NaNo website for the details.

Question: Would you consider trying NaNoWriMo in 2012? Why or why not?


4 thoughts on “What I learned as a NaNoWriMo participant

  1. You’ll be amazed at how many treasures you’ll find among the dross of your first draft. I waited until after Christmas to read my 50K words, and I think I had to throw away the first 4 chapters right off the bat. 🙂


  2. Darla – congratulations, Nano Winner! Isn’t it an amazing feeling? I took on the challenge last year and won. What a trip!

    It’s so great you took the time to process what you learned from the experience. I could completely relate and wish I’d written down my thoughts last year at this time. Thanks for sharing! : )


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