1 December 2011

Ten things I've learned from completing NaNoWriMo

Yes at 10.30 pm on the 30th of November I did a word count and hit 50,014. Has NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) changed me? Well it has moved my WIP on in some interesting ways I certainly didn't expect.

I enjoyed the challenge and met some really interesting writers and 'writing buddies' I will definitely stay in touch with. I also learned a few things about how to write more productively so here, in no particular order, are my top ten:

1. There is a lot more to NaNoWriMo than just the writing

I was surprised at the range and variety of forums of every kind – and the amount of posts. I didn't have time to make the most of it but there is a wealth of ideas, tips, and writing information that is definitely worth a look.

2.  Google+ is an ideal support community for writers

I joined a small NaNoWriMo circle on Google+ in the first week which grew to 794 by the end of the month. For the first time I have seen how helpful it is to have so many people sharing ideas and worries on a single topic. There are a lot of very interesting writers in the circle, so now I have a new challenge of sorting them into something that will work for me in the future.

3. Writing in 'short bursts' works

One of the many tips I picked up from the forums was to write in short half hour 'bursts' with strictly no interruptions then stop and do something completely different. It sounds obvious but I'd never really tried writing like this and it seems to work for me.

4.  2000 words a day is a good target

Another thing I'd never done was worry about how many (or how few) words I'd actually written on any day. NaNoWriMo changes all that, of course. The actual daily target was 1667 so I found that 2000 words or slightly more meant that I could slowly gain some ground for the days when things weren't going so well.

5. Quantity can inspire creativity

Another NaNoWriMo tip was to just write and not worry at all about the quality, on the basis that you will always review and rewrite. I suppose I had fallen into the trap of trying to make the first draft as polished as I can. The NaNoWriMo way seems to be to just bash it out without reviewing your work until you reach the word count target. I expected that this would result in some dull dialogue but the reverse was the case, as speeding things up makes my speech feel more realistic than pondering over every line,

6. Backups can go horribly wrong

The NaNoWriMo calendar includes special days for backing up your work and I shifted from weekly backups to 48 hourly. The problem was that I made the classic mistake of backing up the wrong version of a chapter and of course didn't spot this until it was way too late, resulting in 3,500 words of retyping. It's never quite the same second time round and I would have rather spent the time on new writing or reviewing. My mistake has also reminded me of the value of backing up to different places and maintaining version control.

7. Telling people you are writing something gets it written

The advice on the NaNoWriMo site was to tell people you were doing it, as an additional incentive to persevere when running out of time (or ideas). I made a point of trying this and found it does work, so the same applies to any writing.

8. There are lots of ways to find extra writing time

One 'casualty' of NaNoWriMo has been the luxury of reading whenever I want to, so I'm glad to have that back again. I allowed myself just one book to read in November but tried to do it at times when I wouldn’t have been able to write. I have also developed a new routine of waking early and aiming to write at least 500 words before breakfast, then being more selective about what I watch on TV and writing instead. I've also not been able to spend much time on my blogs but took the opportunity to have a couple of guest blogs, which went down well and were no work for me.

9. Revision can wait

I was in the habit of revising as soon as I could after writing something, in case I forgot the details or repeated things. Thanks to NaNoWriMo I now realise that it's good to leave writing to 'mature' for a while, as the revision feels more objective.

10. You have to validate on the 30th

This was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo and although I knew the wordcount had to be validated before I could be pronounced a 'winner' I had missed the point that you have to paste the whole 50k ON the 30th as the web site is read only on the 1st of December. Never mind, I feel like a winner!


  1. I have now received an email from the guys at NaNoWriMo offering to validate my word count

  2. That is wonderful. Congratulations!

  3. #7 and #9 100% agree - two things I usually avoid. Whenever I mention writing projects to non-writers I swear I see their eyes glaze over, so I rarely mention, which is a mistake. I also love editing and tinkering but it really slows down the process - best saved for the actual editing phase WHEN PROJECT IS DONE. Have taken a break from NaNo for several years but will be giving it another go this year. See you there!

    1. Hi Lissa I've done NaNo for the last three years now and find it's a great way to add a chunk to my work-in-progress :)


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