Ten Things I’ve Learnt from NaNoWriMo So Far

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember that I attempted NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, and it didn’t go entirely to plan. I went into it without any real idea of what I was going to do, and subsequently kept changing my mind and restarting on new projects. All in all, this was not conducive to successfully writing a novel in a month. I think I was actually aiming to write around 30,000 words in short stories, but that also didn’t happen. Looking back at my NaNoWriMo posts from yesteryear, I finished the month with around 10,000 words spread across an array of different projects, none of which I progressed with any further if I remember rightly. I was still pleased though, because at the time that was the most I’d ever written in a month (I think).

Well, this year I’m already smashing it, compared to previous attempts. I currently have 10,068 words to be precise, which is already way more than I’ve ever written for a single project before. I’m pleased with my idea and I’ve been developing the plot more as I go, so I have a fairly full idea of what needs to happen throughout the whole novel. I am slightly behind at the moment, but it’s only the 8th of November and there’s plenty of time to catch up. I don’t think I’m doing too badly considering I’ve only written on five out of the seven days so far. I am also the world’s worst procrastinator though, which I’m demonstrating by writing this blog post instead of sitting down and actually getting on with it.

So, this is what I’ve learnt so far from the first week of NaNoWriMo:

  1. No matter what you might think, this is not a good time to attempt to teach yourself how to touch type. Similarly, it is not a good time to discover new kinds of online puzzles and games. If you’re anything like me you’ll be so easily distracted anyway, so don’t give yourself an extra excuse.
  2. You don’t have to write in order. I’m picking whichever scene I most fancy writing at the time, depending on my mood. It’s much more productive for me than forcing myself to plod through a scene I’m not feeling. However if you’re going to do this, I would recommend having a plan which you update as you go so that you can keep track of what you’ve written and where it should occur in your story.
  3. There is no right or wrong time to write. You might think you work best mid-afternoon, but the thing about NaNoWriMo is that all other aspects of life continues as normal, and we don’t always have the luxury to pick and choose a ‘convenient’ time to write. Sit down at whatever time you have available, and you can still make it work.
  4. Manage your time effectively. Now I’m a really bad procrastinator, and I’ve always known this to be the case. If I sit down with the whole day ahead of me, I’ll piss about on the internet and constantly find distractions to amuse myself with. I’ve just about got to the point where I know how to milk my effectiveness though. I’m the sort of person who’s best at writing in spurts. I can focus well for a concentrated period of time, and I can work really intensely for this time, but then my attention will wander and I’ll need a break. I pick a CD (I work best with film soundtracks, especially swordfighty ones that have lots of drama – I’m looking at you Hans Zimmer!). I tell myself I have to write for the duration of the CD, then I can have a break. Soundtracks generally tend to last for between 45 minutes to 1 hour, and I find this is just about the right amount of time that I can concentrate. If I find I’ve reached a natural break in my story 5 or 10 minutes from the end, I allow myself to stop early. If I find I’m still mid-scene, I allow myself a quick break to go to the loo and grab a cup of tea, and then I’ll stick on another soundtrack and write for its duration again. I also like to divide my soundtracks into groups (this is perhaps taking it a bit far), so I’ll decide that I’ll work through all 4 Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks in one day, taking sufficient breaks of at least half an hour or so in between. This is actually how I managed to double my word count after not writing for a day. I also have an important rule which is that I DO NOT check my word counts while the soundtrack’s still playing, which leads nicely on to my next point.
  5. Remove the word count from the bottom of your page. I find it’s just an added pressure if it’s staring at me the whole time. I’m constantly thinking about the number of words I need to write, rather than what happens in the scene I need to write. Removing the word count is such a simple thing, but it stops me feeling like I’m writing purely for the sake of padding out the words. Instead I’m writing the scene for the length I feel it needs to be, rather than the length which will help me reach my NaNoWriMo goal. Wait for a natural break in your writing, like the end of the scene, and then check the word count. I bet you’ll be amazed. So far, every time I’ve done this I’ve written way more than I thought I would, but without the pressure of trying to make those numbers creep up in front of me.
  6. Writing is a skill. And like any skill, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, and especially the more you get used to turning off your inner editor, the easier it’ll be to sit down and get started each day. I’ve heard that this is especially true if you tend to write at the same time of day, because your brain learns to expect to be creative at that time. I don’t think this is absolutely necessary though, as just the constant act of practising will work wonders on its own, and as we’ve already established this isn’t always possible (see point 3).
  7. Don’t panic if you fall behind. In fact, you should probably expect to fall behind at some point. Writing every single day can be a big ask, and some days will naturally feel more productive than others. I’ve only been able to write for 5 out of 7 days so far due to other commitments and emotional wobbles, so unsurprisingly I’ve fallen behind. It doesn’t matter though, you can always catch up! It’s easier to just write a little bit extra each day rather than trying to catch up in one foul sweep. If possible, I know some people like to try and write extra each day anyway, just to provide a buffer for the inevitable unproductive days. You could look at it as a form of damage limitation, but it probably won’t work for everyone. Some days I can happily write twice my usual word count, or more. Other days, I don’t feel like I can write up to my word count. It basically comes down to how you’re feeling on the day. You can only do what you can do, so don’t beat yourself up about it. This leads me nicely on to the next point.
  8. The only person you’re competing against is yourself. This is an important one, because it can get a bit demoralising seeing everyone else’s word counts shoot up, especially if you feel like you’re struggling. Everyone has their own goals and limitations, and you should be aware of your own. At the local write-in which I attended yesterday, I met someone who can literally write 100 words a minute. She can demonstrably produce 1500 words in 15 minutes, which is insane. Her fingers are just a blur on the keyboard! I can’t do this, so I’m not going to compete with it because that would just be setting myself up to fail, and thus setting myself up to feel bad. It’s counterintuitive. However, I can work on improving my personal best. Earlier in the week, I achieved 930 words in 40 minutes, which I was absolutely thrilled with. Later on that same day, I knocked out 1200 words in 40 minutes! Okay, so 1200 words in 40 minutes doesn’t exactly compare with 1500 words in 15 minutes, but I know that’s actually a really big deal for me, and I’m over the moon with it.
  9. It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach 50,000 words! Seriously, I know the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and yes it would be amazing to achieve that, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter! I’ve been told on good authority by our local ML that usually less than a third of participants manage to reach 50,000 words. If you don’t make it, you’ll still have more words to work with than if you hadn’t attempted NaNoWriMo at all. We all know that 50 pages of badly written words is still easier to work with than 50 pages of nothing at all. The goal is to get you writing, and to get you focused on a specific project. As long as you’re writing, you’re winning!
  10. And finally, the most important lesson of all – This is supposed to be fun! If you really find yourself getting stressed over it, take a break. Refer to my previous point, and try to lessen the pressure on yourself. Don’t force yourself to write if you’re really not enjoying it. I threw a strop on the 4th and didn’t write anything at all. I took the day off and thought about what I wanted to achieve from my story instead. When I went back to it the next day, I removed the word count from the bottom of my page and ended up writing more in that one day than I had for the previous days combined. I even moved myself to tears when writing a scene, and not just because of how terrible the writing was! If you’re not having fun, you need to re-evaluate and think about why you’re doing this. It can be stressful, but if you’re doing it purely to say that you wrote a novel in a month, that might not be enough motivation to get you through. If you’re doing it so that you can say you wrote a novel in a month, but you’re also really excited about your novel and can’t wait to get your story down on paper, I’d say you have a greater chance of success. I’m no expert on this, but I’ve never felt particularly excited about any of my NaNoWriMo projects before, not compared with this year at least, and I’ve never managed to achieve my NaNoWriMo goals before either. Coincidence? I suspect not. But here’s some food for thought that I’ll leave you with – if you’re not enjoying writing your novel, how can you expect people to enjoy reading it?

There you have it, those are the ten things NaNoWriMo’s taught me in the first week. This has definitely been a form of procrastination writing this post, but I’ve written over 2000 words here in around an hour, so it just shows what you can do if you focus and put your mind to it. Plus I really do think it’s helpful, for me at least, to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked for me so far, so that I can really power forwards by finding the ways I work best.

To everyone participating in NaNoWriMo, GOOD LUCK! I hope this month really gets your creative juices flowing, and that it teaches you a lot about your own writing techniques. Don’t lose faith in your own abilities, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself either – you can only do what you can do! Just committing to a month of writing is something we should all be proud of, regardless of our word counts.

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5 thoughts on “Ten Things I’ve Learnt from NaNoWriMo So Far

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