I really did.
I started November fully intending to “win” NaNoWriMo, which I was attempting in earnest for the first time. I started a story I’d been mulling for a while on 11/1 and had a legal pad with a checklist of days in the month to track my total word count to show where I was on each day.
Somewhere around the 12th I started to peter out. My schedule filled up with other things, including freelance writing projects. And I was unwilling to let either this or my other personal blogs go unattended to while I focused on NaNoWriMo. Some people may have made a different choice, but that’s where my head was at, for right or wrong.
Still, I’m excited about the start I got, which right now stands at a little over 10,000 words. That’s pretty good for a month of on-and-off writing, I think. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. I didn’t finish, but it’s more than a lot of people are able to do. And I’m committed to finishing the story before the end of December, still aiming for ~35,000 words.
I could have written more, sure. There were evenings I had the time, but by the end of the day my brain was so muddied I just wanted to disappear into a YouTube hole of “The West Wing” clips or whatever book I was reading and be a bit more passive than active. That wasn’t the time motivation was at its highest.
Even though the story is still incomplete there were a few things I learned from my first real NaNoWriMo attempt.
Get The Bat Off Your Shoulder
I’m by no means the first to suggest this, but it reinforced in my mind that writing challenges, be they NaNoWriMo, weekly sprints, daily prompts or anything else are good for forcing you to start something. Anything. I picked the story to begin from an archive of ideas I’ve jotted down in Evernote over time because it’s the one that seemed most interesting at the time. If it weren’t for this the idea would likely still be sitting there along with the others. Now there’s some momentum behind it and the story, as always happens, is going in new and interesting directions I hadn’t previously pondered.
Word Counts Stop Self-Editing
One of the reasons I decided to write the second draft of an earlier story by hand is that the first draft, written on the computer, was extraordinarily incomplete. I was rushing through it. Or I was editing as I wrote, going back and deleting or wasting time pondering passages I’d already written. Momentum was hard to get because it was too easy to review and change. Writing by hand was more flowing and I didn’t reread or edit often.
With NaNoWriMo I was focused solely on the daily word count. I was going to get that day’s 1,000+ words in if at all possible. That kept me from going back to what had already been written because it would impact the overall total.
Setting Goals Matters
As I said, I’m still committed to finishing this story, I’ve just moved the goalposts to the end of December. But I’m not changing other success metrics. I’m still intent on a final story that comes in around 35,000 words and am actually aiming for 40,000. Having that goal in mind will stop me from doing the kind of self-editing I usually do when writing electronically. I’m just going to let the flow wash over me when I’m writing and let it pour out. I can edit later.
So was my first NaNoWriMo a success? I don’t have a finished draft of a novel to show for it, no. But I got a start, which is something. And I learned some valuable lessons about my own writing process that will help for the next project and the one after that and so on down the line. So yeah, it was totally worth it.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.