What I have learned from NaNoWriMo

Hello Everyone! It’s the 24th of November – my brother’s birthday, and also the day after the day I won my first ever NaNoWriMo. I want to write about what I have learned in the last few weeks. To share a few of my experiences with you. And basically to get back into writing my blog – I’ve missed you all!

What does it mean to ‘win’ NaNo? It actually means a variety of things. I have learned that NaNo is not so much about writing a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days in November, but more about setting yourself a writing-related challenge, and then doing it.

My challenge was to write 50,000 words in thirty days and I completed that yesterday, seven days ahead of schedule. Others set a more modest challenge, the youth challenge is 10,000 words, I think. Some have challenged themselves to write 100,000 words – one person in one of my support groups desperately wanted to hit 50,000 by day 14. Some of the writers have worked on two concurrent projects, others have written poetry, one I know was writing songs. There are over three hundred thousand participants in this world wide and the projects are incredibly varied. The point is, you make a goal, you work for that goal, you are encouraged by others doing exactly the same goal setting and working towards, and when you reach your goal, you win!

I love the fact that winning NaNo does not mean that anyone else loses. There is no ‘first winner’ – no major call out that so-and-so from Sometown, Somewhere, won first and the rest of us are also-rans. No, everyone who reaches their goal, wins. Everyone.

You might say that it shouldn’t be called winning if everyone wins, but believe me, when I hit that 50,000 it felt like winning! It was a big goal, I was tired but pushing through, I had put aside other things to reach it, and when I did finally make it to the 50K, I WON! I celebrated! DS ran a victory lap for me. It felt great!

So that’s one thing I learned. That reaching the goal and gaining the prize works even if everyone else reaches the goal and gains the prize. In one way it works better because we all join each other in congratulations and there is no losing team or losing runner that I need to feel sorry for.

Another thing I learned was that I will work very hard for a gold star. The NaNoWriMo group hands out stickers for starting, for reaching your first day’s target, for writing every day for a week, for two weeks, for the entire month. They give out stickers for writing 5k, 10k, 25k, and 40k. You get a great sticker for winning, and they also have a video and extra winner stickers that you can download. I have even kept writing after winning just so I don’t miss out on the sticker for updating the word count each day for a month. I love receiving stickers.

I have known this about myself for a while. When I was going through university, some lecturers would hand out chocolate to the person who would answer questions during the lectures. I would jump at the chance to receive the reward – I’d answer the question, and often give the chocolate away – I didn’t need to eat it. Still, I’ve found it fairly amusing this month that I will go to such lengths for a sticker that wasn’t even real – the NaNo stickers are virtual stickers. Just online. However, receiving virtual rewards has its good points too, I don’t have to store anything or decide whether to stick it to something or do anything with it. I don’t actually want the sticker – just the acknowledgement! But I must not be alone in this desire – it must work for many people or the NaNo people wouldn’t do it. It feels quite nice to know I’m part of a group.

Speaking of groups, one of the wonderful things about this month has been the joy of belonging to different writing groups. I have been part of the Australian Christian Writers “NaNoNauts” group, the Elsewhere in Australia regional group (our motto was “write harderer!”) and the NaNo Tasmania Facebook group. The support of these groups was incredible. I could ask for encouragement, emotional advice, and help with plot holes and grammar, I could share highs and lows with them and know they would understand. We have not only shared life virtually, some of the Tasmanian group got together in Hobart last Sunday and actually chatted face-to-face (while writing, of course). I have made new friends and it has been a joy. So thanks, writing buddies, you made this experience much richer, much more fun, and your encouragement will stay with me for a long, long time.

One thing I have learned even more this month is that I really love writing. I loved putting aside the time, sitting at my desk or in a cafe, and letting my imagination loose. Part of the deal with NaNoWriMo is that you put your inner editor in a box and close the lid. December is for editing, November is just for writing. So I could write whatever I wanted. In fact, because I chose to write a ‘back story book’ – a book that was purely written for the purpose of fleshing out the characters in my other works in progress, I never expect to publish this novel at all. That meant that I could write whatever I wanted  and no one would ever have to see it. It was incredibly freeing – the words poured out. And I loved writing them, it was like reading a book that I totally enjoyed. A book that had all the bits in it that I like to read. I fell in love with the story and I may indeed end up finishing it and publishing it, you never know, but it was more fun to write without the imaginary reader looking over my shoulder.

I also found the writing an incredibly emotional experience. When the mother of my main character died from cancer I didn’t just cry, I sobbed! I was a wreck! Which in itself was amusing – I knew from the book’s conception that she would die. I was the one killing her! But the death itself, the farewell, it was a very sad moment and I felt it just like I do when I’m reading someone else’s work. Some days it was a little difficult to get to the desk because I knew it would be a sad time. It was a relief when the novel turned the corner and we started to feel happier again.

The writing didn’t feel like work, it felt more like reading a novel than working, but it was work. I was writing at least 2000 words each day before attending to all my other jobs, and I was tired, really tired by the end of the three weeks. I feel like writing is a work that is very well suited to me. But it is still work. That is something else that I learned.

I’ve had a fabulous month of intensive writing, I’m going to cut back a bit now – write a little less each day and maybe (maybe) even take some days off. But doing NaNoWriMo has been a really wonderful experience and I hope to continue to prioritise my novel writing in the future.

The big book says: Run in such a way as to get the prize. It says: Run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

We are all in our own race. We all have our own ‘life-book’ to write and we need to write it well. And when we all get to the end, reach the goal, and win the prize, the celebration will be AWESOME! I hope to see you there!

2 thoughts on “What I have learned from NaNoWriMo

  1. Congratulations! Sounds like NaNo was a very positive experience for you (as it was also for me)… and sounds like that back-story book has some potential – now to keep the momentum going hey?!

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    • Yeah it really was a positive time. I know I will keep writing but I’m really enjoying a few days of taking it just a little slower! I hope I’ll find a balance or rhythm that makes my whole life work together soon!

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