Three Things I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo

What an amazing experience Nano has turned out to be. Though my decision to join the challenge this November was impulsive, I do not regret it one bit. There are a few important things I’ve learned this month that I’d like to pass on in hopes of inspiring someone along the way to just go for it and chase that dream.

1. You have more spare time than you think.

Or perhaps I should say: You have plenty of spare time to write a novel.

Think about it this way: You’ve been gearing up to tell this story for a whole month (possibly longer, for some). You’ve already fallen in love with your characters, and have had ideas for your plot rattling around in your brain for weeks. By the time November hits,  you’re chomping at the bit to get writing. You want to write this. You need to write this. This novel becomes your life. When you sit down to write, it’s not a chore – it’s hard work sometimes, yes, but it’s also a blessing and an honor to be able to work with your characters and finally get this thing out on paper. Before you know it, you’ve written your first 2000 words, and you’ve only been at it for an hour.

If you have a true passion for writing, all you have to do is sit down in front of a computer (or pad of paper, whichever is your preferred method) and write. Honestly, that’s all it takes. If you have ten minutes before you have to clock in to work – use them. Ten minutes can be a few lines or a few paragraphs, depending on how productive your mind wants to be that day (it will decide for you, trust me – so just go along with it). If your kid is watching a TV show that’s a half an hour long – write for a half an hour.

We all have jobs, kids, family, housework, relaxation time, workouts, dinner to cook, etc., etc. Find time or make time. Get up fifteen minutes early every day, or go to bed fifteen minutes late.  My point is, you do have spare time, and you have enough to write this novel. You just have to make it your priority. It has to become your passion and your focus, and you have to want this with all of your being.

2. Preparation is a wonderful tool – but don’t adhere to your prepared plot so religiously that you miss an opportunity to create a better story.

I prepared. I prepared like crazy. I wanted to have the whole thing planned out from start to finish, with every moment of every scene ready to go. In my outline, everything looked great. I knew how this was going to go, and I was so ready.

About the middle of the month, Davin did something I hadn’t planned. Naughty, naughty thing. I went back over the scene to try to conform it to my outline.

The only problem was, there was no other way for this scene to go. Davin did what needed to be done, end of story (ha!). No matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I could get things “back on track,” the truth was, Davin had completely derailed my story (his story)… and he was 100% right.

What effect did this change of plan have on the rest of my outline? It was no longer applicable. In essence, it became useless. I can’t tell you how many hours I wasted lamenting over the fact that I was doomed, that I couldn’t get my novel right, that I was a terrible writer for not planning correctly (yeah, that one sucked). I repeatedly stabbed holes into my bulletin board, deep in thought, trying to decide what to do.

How did I end up getting out of this mess? Advice from another writer, actually. (Though we’re a solitary bunch, it’s good to communicate with other writers now and then. For one, it makes you feel a little less crazy. Second, they often have tips and advice that have worked for them over the course of their writing career that just might help you out of a bind.) Being part of Nano, they sent us periodic “pep talks” in our email that I have to say really did their job. It seemed each email was directed at a current problem I was struggling with in my own novel – and that allowed me to move forward re-motivated.

In one of these emails, author Chris Cleave ( shared a Q&A session he had with his followers on Twitter, and his answer to one of the questions unraveled that knot in my chest and gave me exactly what I needed to continue with my novel… this time with a more open mind.

The question: “How much do you think planning / structuring your #NaNoWriMo project counts towards completing it?”

Chris Cleave’s answer: “Not much, I think. A novel is a living thing and it resists containment within the structures we erect for it. Even worse, the novel has intelligence and it will inevitably turn against its creator. Think of it like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The problem is that a good character in a novel will reach a point of maturity where he or she is not necessarily biddable.”

He went on to say that we learn more about our protagonists as we write, and if we just listen to what it is they are trying to tell us, we can end up with a story that is more alive and real than our original plan would have allowed.

Well, how about that?

It was like some higher force heard my cry for help and sent me the information I needed to move forward. As soon as I read this, I closed the word processor page that held my outline and decided to just write the story, as Davin wished. I would go with my gut and let the story unfold before me, and I would become the medium through which Davin would tell his tale.

Let me tell you, it’s been a lot more fun this way. It may involve considerably more rewriting later on when the editing and revising process comes around – but the story I have come up with in this way has been more satisfying. I feel like I’m on the right track. Now, on December 1st, I have 52k words and am about halfway through the novel.

3. I’m a writer.

This is perhaps the most important thing that I’ve learned this past month. I’ve always had a passion for writing, but during these last few weeks I’ve developed a need for it, a realization that this is simply something I have to do. Creating characters and stories gives me a sense of being whole and complete. This month has only further strengthened my resolve to become a full time writer.

I have a fairy tale in my heart that I need to share. :)


~ For those of you who have participated in Nano, either this year or in previous years, what have you learned about yourself and your writing? ~


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