What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

Drafting a plan (Soure: Image by Pexels from Pixabay)

November is known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. I’d heard about the event for several years, but there was always something keeping me too busy to participate. This year, as I found myself self-employed, time was abundant. I finally took the plunge and aimed for the 50,000 words to get a book started.

Since I’d never done it before, I had no idea how to prepare. I’ve never been much of a planner or outliner as a writer, but I thought for NaNoWriMo it might be best to go in with a blueprint. For the first time ever, before endeavoring to write, I made notes for a general idea of the novel and created character charts for the most important new players (I decided to write the sequel to my current work in progress).

I planned out chapters, which is the extent of preparation I usually do when writing. I can’t see so far ahead in my story that I know exactly what happens in the middle and how it’s going to end. But if I take it one chapter at a time I don’t feel so overwhelmed.

However, since the goal was to reach approximately 1,667 words per day, outlining chapters didn’t give me enough momentum to work with. Instead, I took some advice from a writing workshop I’d attended led by Janice Hardy. She spoke about scenes, what they were, how they were structured, and how to create one.

Once I broke down the chapters by scene, getting to my daily word count became easier. Then about a week and a half passed and reaching my word count got harder. Not because I didn’t have the outline to guide me, but because I kept lacking the focus and energy.

That’s when I switched to breaking my daily word count goal into smaller hourly goals throughout the day. I still had my freelance writing gig to consider, so trying to hammer out nearly 2,000 words for NaNoWriMo and another 1,000 for each article I wrote for work took its toll.

I started dividing my day by three-hour intervals. In the morning I’d write 600 words and take a break between meals. Then I’d start my writing for work and break for lunch. After that, I wrote another 600 words for my novel and took another break to hydrate or just veg out. I finished my work article and then broke for exercise. When I was done with exercise, I’d write the last 600 words for my NaNoWriMo day and finish with dinner.

This worked for another week and a half, but I found myself losing steam halfway through week three of the writing challenge. I stuttered out at the end, managing about 1,00o words on a good day and 300 on my worst. What happened?

Writing every day. That’s what happened. I wasn’t used to it. When I wrote my last two books, I grew accustomed to mashing out a full 5,000-word chapter over a weekend. But I’d never challenged myself to write every day. I thought, “Oh, I write for a living. How hard can doing it for fun be?” Turns out, incredibly hard.

It starts off easy, the excitement and adrenaline propelling you forward. But much like exercising, the endorphins only motivate you for so long. Working out every day or at least three to four times a week in the beginning is harsh. You start off determined and ready to get fit. It lasts for about a week, maybe two, but soon life makes its presence known and before you know it, you’ve fallen off the wagon and gone back to a sedentary lifestyle.

Writing is similar. During NaNoWriMo I was expected to write every day, so naturally life started getting in the way again. It became harder to make time for it. I still managed to get just over 35,000 words in the end, which for a beginner I think is decent. But now that I’ve done the challenge, I understand what it takes to train for it.

Like a marathon runner, I have to spend at least a few months in advance getting my mind and body used to the idea of every day. Beyond that, I need to learn what works to keep me in the habit, not just make the habit. I’m not sure if I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again (ask me next year). But I do feel better equipped to handle writing on a daily basis now.

Have any of you participated in NaNoWriMo before? Was this year your first year also? What are your techniques to get through the challenge? Let me know in the comments!