And it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
To be clear, writing 50,000 words in just a month is a tremendous accomplishment, but 50,000 words in a month does not a novel make. In full disclosure, it’s almost a month since November 30th and I am at about 34k. That’s okay. Because I am here to tell you about the true value of NaNoWriMo.
The true value of NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write. It forces you to think about what you want to write, plan out your writing process, and then execute it. If you can finish then great! If you can’t that’s okay! I would have loved to finish within a month, but I learned a lot about myself in the process and what I need to write effectively.
Here are a few of the lessons I learned.
- Planning is key. I’ve always been a pantser. For years I have told myself that if I make an outline I will get bored. I was so, so wrong. I never realized that writing off of an outline requires a huge amount of pantsing. We all outline in different ways, but for me outlining means knowing all the different plot points and naming the main characters. The pantsing comes when I am figuring out how to get there.
- I am a night person. The greatest thing about NaNoWriMo is that their website provides tools to track you writing. After every writing session you can tell it how many words you wrote and eventually it will tell you things like when you do the most writing. I get the most writing done between 11 pm and 12 am. Which makes sense, I’m a night owl after all, I just wish inspiration didn’t flow so easily at bed time!
- Writing every day is important. In order to reach 50,000 words in a month you need to write on average approximately 1660 words every day. I didn’t come close to that on a daily basis but on some days I surpassed it by several thousand words. No matter how quickly you write there is incalculable value in sitting down and writing every day. Soon enough you learn how to grind through the slower parts of the narrative that we all struggle to get through.
- Just write. If you are like me you’re always thinking about what to write next. Here’s the thing though, it doesn’t matter how much you think, you have to write. No matter how polished you think the idea is, no matter how unwork together the words do you just need to write. Write what you are thinking in the moment. Write the ideas you have now. As you write you will notice things that you could phrase better and you will probably realize that the plot needs some big changes. All of that can be fixed latter. The most important part of any first draft is that you get words on the page.
- It doesn’t need to be perfect. What you are writing now will probably not be the final draft. It will be the first draft, or maybe the pre-first draft (is that a thing?). Write waht you can now and know that you can polish it up later. Writing is about getting words on the page and then refining them. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
If you didn’t want to read that here are the spark notes. Outline in advance, be ready to improvise, write every day, write when you don’t want to, and be ready to write garbage. I’m no saint, I’m still working on all of these five points. Still, I’ve learned so much from participating in NaNoWriMo and I recommend it to any other aspiring writer.
I know I will be doing it again next year.