Seven Things I Learned from National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo)

This year, for the first time, I was a winner…a winner of National Novel Writing Month. I wrote a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. I wouldn’t call it a novel. It’s kind of messy. It’s the kind of things some writers refer to as a discovery draft. But I’m still pretty satisfied with my accomplishment. Sure, my manuscript is a lot like that bent over stick of a Christmas tree that Charlie Brown had in his eponymous TV special, but I did it. And on the way, just like Charlie, I learned some things.


1. Writing is Work

Let’s say it again, together…writing is WORK. It’s not art. You don’t sit around staring into space, waiting for inspiration until suddenly the muse comes along and writes the pages for you. You sit down and pound out horrible words. If you’re not typing or scribbling, you’re not writing. It’s also not writing down ideas about what you would write in a notebook, which I used to do a lot. It’s writing those ideas as scenes in their horrible Frankenstein-ed-ness. Which brings me to point 2.

2. Word Count is King

It’s not about how good the words are, it’s about that you finished them. It’s not going to come out better later. You’re not going to have that sudden, brilliant inspiration. The hole gets dug by getting out the shovel and sweating. And you know what…

3. The More You Write, The Easier It Gets

When I started, I would piddle around, check my email and various social networks, wander the Internet looking for inspiration, do just about anything to avoid actually starting. By the mid-point, when I sat down, I found it really easy to start cranking out words, because it started to cease to matter that they be perfect. Exercise is the same way for me – as long as I keep doing it, I find it easy to keep doing it. But when I stop for a day or two, it starts to feel less good, and I have to remind myself how good I feel when I finish for me to really want to get started again.

4. We’ll Fix It In Post

But what’s the point of pounding the keyboard like an infinite number of monkeys, hoping to churn out Shakespeare accidentally, if all I have to show for it, in the end, is a lousy discovery draft? Have you ever watched the bonus content that comes with a movie? A movie isn’t created when the scriptwriter writes the screenplay. A movie isn’t created by actors speaking lines in front of the cameras. A movie is mostly created in the editing room, where all of the pieces come together. Same thing with a book. The discovery draft is your screenplay, your outline. As you move forward, each draft is another step where you shape and improve. Writing isn’t really about writing…it’s about editing.

5. Writing Takes Time

I kept thinking 2,000 or so words a day wouldn’t take long. Ultimately, it ended up taking me about 45 minutes on the best days. You do the math…I’m a writer. A real novel is going to take several drafts and usually be longer than 50,000 words. A novel takes a while to finish, and I’m finding, personally, I get bored with it after a while, worn out from running the course. Like a marathon runner, I think I need to train with shorter things. I think I’m going to work on some short stories, so I can have something I finished, and I shipped.

6. Planning / Outlining Is A Good Place To Start

This one’s controversial, but I found for me, I had easier writing days when I had thought about the shape the story needed to take. Some writers say they don’t do this, but I suspect they do – they just do it in their drafting process. For me, I found that if I took a couple of minutes during the day, I could write down exactly the things that needed to happen next. It’s a story – it has a certain, predictable shape, which is why we all enjoy guessing where a story is going next. When I took the time to just write down a couple of sentences during the day about where the next 2,000 words were going, I found it a lot easier to write them later.

7. Deadlines Are The Greatest Thing Ever

I never would have finished my Nanowrimo manuscript if I didn’t take the deadlines seriously. Like Douglas Adams’ famous quote – “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” But I took Nanowrimo seriously, and it paid off. I found time to write when normally I would have insisted I didn’t have time or I was too tired or that TV show required all of my attention. And in the end, I finished. FINISHED! Something I think we all need more of in our lives – the satisfaction of completion.


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