It’s been a month.
As I sit here in a post-turkey and pumpkin pie afterglow surrounded by holiday decorations and screaming fan background noise courtesy of the World Cup, I find myself in an interesting mood. Not only is another year ending, but so is my first November as a NaNoWriMo writer. While I hope to give you a full run-down of the good, the bad and the ugly of 2022 in a later post, in the spirit of self-reflection, I wanted to offer a review of this experience the only way I know how. By writing about it.
Those of you who have been following me for a while are probably aware that I announced my participation in National Novel Writing Month in late October. If you’re not familiar with NaNo it’s a yearly challenge for writers that involves a commitment to write 50,000 words on a current work in progress in 30 days. Every November, thousands of writers embark on this journey that often eventually results in a published piece (after some heavy editing, of course). This month I joined them. Here are a few of the valuable lessons I learned along the way.
50,000 words is a lot of words
If you break that down over 30 days, the daily count to reach is 1,667 words. For a slow-and-steady writer like myself, trying to reach that number was basically like trying to climb Mt. Everest with nothing but a single bottle of water and a power bar. Some days, 500 words felt like a lot. Other days, 300. I learned that it didn’t matter. The work was what mattered, and I was doing the work.
Have a support system
I may not have communicated with other NaNo writers every day, but I did join a couple online groups before I started so I would have the support if I needed it. It helped to know I wasn’t alone, especially on the days I struggled.
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard some authors advise that the best way to cultivate self-discipline is to “sit in the chair.” I offer an alternative. Instead of sitting down, stand up. This may be more about developing a daily writing habit than a NaNo thing, but it definitely deserves a mention. I lost track of the number of times I got stuck while writing and stood up from my chair to do something else, only to become unstuck as soon as my fingers left the keyboard. Sometimes you do your best work standing up.
You won’t always love it
Write anyway. It’s a NaNo truth that the result after 30 days will not at all resemble what you want your finished product to be. The goal is to write fast, not well. While I don’t 100% subscribe to that belief as a writer, it was an interesting case study for me and did teach me the value of letting go of self-censorship in pursuit of a higher goal.
If you know me well, then you probably expected this one. While I fall somewhere between plotting and pantsing most days, I’ll admit that having a semi-outline ahead of time really helped. Not having to think about which scene I was going to write next gave me confidence I was moving in the right direction and allowed me to stay focused on the words.
Since reaching 1,667 words felt like a monumental task most days, I gave myself a tiny reward every day I hit 1,000. I’m a firm believer in celebrating the small triumphs that will eventually lead to big wins. Especially if a small triumph results in a digital badge of honor for reaching one of NaNo’s milestones which are, strangely, more motivating than you’d think.
I’m my own worst enemy
It’s true. Two days after I started NaNo, I wanted to quit. My perfectionism kicked in and almost succeeded in convincing me that if I wasn’t hitting the daily goal, I wasn’t good enough. It took giving myself some grace and engaging in a little extra meditation to change that narrative and avoid sinking into a shame spiral, but I did both. And I even ended up producing more than I thought I would.
I didn’t end up hitting the goal, but I did get more than halfway there. As I write this post, I’m currently at 26,034 words and, you know what? That’s 26,034 more words than I had when I started. And I’m closer to finishing my novel now than I was in October.
The verdict? I’ll definitely try NaNo again. If only because I’m stubborn and want to one-up my personal best. Regardless of the outcome though, at least I’ll know I tried. And yes, in case you’re wondering, this does mean I’m a person who believes in participation trophies.
In fact, I’m giving you all an A for effort today. Whatever you’re working on, keep going. You’re doing great.