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[Reality Check] What NaNoWriMo Taught Me
Written by
Zetta Brown
December 2013
Written by
Zetta Brown
December 2013

Yes! I did it! I “won” NaNoWriMo like thousands of other writers and several of my writing buddies, and I ain’t ashamed to toot my horn.


  1. If you don’t toot your own horn, you shouldn’t expect anyone to do it for you.
  2. I won’t have to do my forfeit and contribute to jerkwad politician’s re-election campaign. See my previous NaNoWriMo blog post. But the most important reason is...
  3. “Winning” NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words in 30 days (26 days in my case) left me with a decent rough draft for a novel and has spurred me on.

I have to keep writing now. After years of editing and publishing other people’s work, I neglected my own writing and told myself I didn’t have time to do it all. It was making me bitter and frustrated.

Well, I do have time to do it all, but I must admit that I will be treating my own writing goals with the same priority as the authors I work with...if not a smidge more. I have a few things to tie up now, but next week, I shall be resuming my NaNo schedule to thrash out my story ideas. If all goes well, I might have a new title ready to publish by the spring. Considering the last story I published under my own name was four years ago (time flies!), it’s an achievement. Which brings me to my next point.

If nothing else, NaNo taught me that I don’t have to spend years “writing” my next novel, which, let’s face it, by taking all that time just allows us to fool ourselves with the illusion of “working” on our next novel. “I’m still doing research,” “I’m still developing my characters,” “I’m still outlining my plot.”

Yeah, well, you’re still a day older than you were yesterday and still have nothing to show for it. Hate to be harsh, but it is what it is. Just sit your butt down and get a rough draft done. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s not supposed to be perfect! That’s what editing and revision is for—not drafting.

I had a friend when I was at college, and we were both in the same creative writing program. I remember how we would meet and write and critique each other’s work. More often than not, I would share new material whereas she kept presenting the same material and talked about the same story. One of her favourite authors was Don DeLillo, and she was a perfectionist. Basically, she wanted to write the perfect epic and kept writing, editing, and revising the same handful of pages again and again.

By the time we had graduated, I had entered a short story into a regional competition at the urging of my professor—and won—and interned with a literary agent. She was still working on her first chapter. That was more than a decade ago, and we lost touch shortly after graduation. I hope she finally finished writing that chapter, let alone a first draft.

NaNoWriMo is a test of time management as well as creativity. I must admit that being able to work from home helped a lot, but even so, I found myself falling behind more than once and having to write ahead because I knew there would be times when I simply would not have time to write that day.

Having a daily writing goal wasn’t what kept me going, not really, it was the way that participating forced me to think about my story and characters and kept it going in my head. The helpful tips in NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days was perhaps the best motivation I got in addition to the pep talks that official NaNo’s get during the course of the month. I really, truly recommend that anyone who participates in a future NaNo, or if you just need motivation to help you out of a slump, read this book.

I may get a 2013 NaNoWriMo Winner T-shirt, but I’m thinking of getting the Camp NaNoWriMo shirts instead simply because they’re cute, and damn it, I've earned it. 

If only I could show the same amount of dedication to a work-out regimen... I could be a lot healthier, but I wouldn’t be happier if it meant not being able to write. But I’m willing to compromise and get in some kind of exercise...but don’t expect me to run any marathons. I’ll stick to the writing marathons, thank you.


©2013. Zetta Brown is the author of several published short stories and the novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk or Zetta’s House of Random Thoughts.

Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

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  • Zetta Brown

    @Joanne - Thanks! And congratulations to you for doing 44k in less than two weeks! NaNo or no NaNo, it's still impressive. Sometimes you just have to set a goal for yourself to get you doing something active. Like I said in my post, if only I could manage that kind of enthusiasm when it comes to exercise. :-/

    @Kate - Hey, when it comes to rough drafts, it doesn't matter if it's "decent." It's meant to be rough! LOL and yes, turning off your inner editor lets you get a lot done. :)

  • Kate Raphael

    Congratulations!  I won NANOWRIMO too, and am proud of the accomplishment.  And not sure if I have a decent rough draft or not, but it was tremendous fun to start a brand new project, no planning, and write every day not sure where the story was going to take me.  And in the end, it made a certain amount of sense, so that's cool.

    I totally second your recommendation of NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM.  I recommend it even for people who aren't doing NANO...  I just think it's a great tool for opening up your voice and hushing your censor.  And written in a delightfully funny and engaging style.

    We NANOs rock!

  • Joanne C. Hillhouse

    Congrats on hitting 50,000 by the way...and also taking time for your own writing goals...which I think was the most important thing.

  • Joanne C. Hillhouse

    I've never done NaNo ...maybe the part of me that hates mixing numbers with my writing...but while I favour letting the writing happen naturally, there's something to be said for setting yourself an impossible goal that forces you to push yourself...after considering and passing on NaNo, I ended up pushing myself toward another goal that resulted in me producing 44,000 words in like a week and a half...and it had the same rush of writing organically...didn't feel like math at all.

  • Zetta Brown

    Thanks, Veronica! You're no newbie to the Winner's Circle LOL :)  If I could run, I probably would, but I'm finding I need to do something else creative to stimulate my brain so I'm re-developing my artistic muscles and getting back into drawing and watercolors.

    Liz - my first (and only, so far) novel I pantsed--is that a word? Hmm. Anyway, I'm trying to get a more solid outline of plot points and then fill in the rest as I go along. 

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    This was my first NaNo, and honestly I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been gripped (by the throat!) with a story idea in early October, and had nine hours in a car over three days to get a good rough outline together before I started writing. By nature, I'm 70% pantser, this time I was 80% plotser. Had I not done that, I don't think I could given every spare moment of my life outside of work to write an 80K novel in 45 days (I started in mid-October). Credit goes to God and my creative muses.

  • Oh... and Congratulations on winning NaNoWriMo!  *throws confetti*

  • I almost didn't win my first NaNoWriMo, back in 2011.  I couldn't seem to keep my little edit monkey away... she is a stubborn one!  But I did make it and that encouraged me to come back last year and again this year.

    Can you say 'three time winner?"  :)

    It's funny that you mention exercise and how you have more dedication to writing than running.  When I get 'stuck' on something in my writing, one of the ways of 'unsticking' myself is to go for a run.  It really clears the brain and I come back ready to tackle the 'beastie' novel!

  • Zetta Brown

    Thanks, Diane, and congratulations to you too! It is an accomplishment to be proud of.

    Hey, Rossandra, I know exactly how you feel. When I did my first NaNo, I fizzled out after the first week under the pressure, but then again, I was working under the impression that I needed to get a "perfect" first draft done. I don't know anyone who has written 50k words of a single story and DIDN'T have to do any revision or editing. Chris Baty's book helped me wipe that notion out of my head.

    But whether people "won" NaNo or not, if it helped you get in the habit of writing, I'd consider it a success. :)

  • Rossandra White

    I tried NaNo last year, frickin' disaster. Made me so anxious, I took to drink. Not really, but I could've. For one thing, I didn't have an idea, they're not exactly crowding out my brain, but then I did twig onto something, loved writing the scene, could even see it happening, started feeling my characters, but I couldn't see ahead, I couldn't get a handle on what came next and got bogged down. I'm going to check out Chris Baty's book. Thanks for this.

  • Diane McElwain

    Hi Zetta!  I am a Nanowrimo winner also!  I feel great--like I've really accomplished something.  This was my second year, and I was a winner last year too.  Even though November is over, I'm still working on this book.

    When I wrote last year I was working 5 1/2 hrs. a day.  This year I was not working when I wrote 52,000.

    Good luck with your book!

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Zetta - Yes, I've managed to bent the time continuum and squeeze 30 hours into a day :-)

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Patricia, I edited my first book to DEATH. Took me over 2 years, and I've been working with an editor non-stop for almost a year. That helped SO much. Normally, I advise people (including myself!)to put whatever they have in a drawer, but this one came out good enough for me to want to submit it in a contest. Deadline is next week. I probably wouldn't go straight to pub without taking my own advise and making another pass after I let it sit.

  • Shannon Vest

    Congrats! I broke 50,000 as well and danced like a little kid to the winner video.  I learned a lot about my writing habits or rather my procrastination habits.  There is great freedom in writing with wild abandon. :)

  • Zetta Brown

    Hey, Liz! Having fun in the Winner's Circle? :)

    You had time to self edit during the month AND crank out the words? I always suspected that you had more than 24hrs in the day. I'm sure the final edit will be a walk in the park. ;-)

  • Patricia Robertson

    Liz, amazed that you are so close to final edit. Part of me feels like I'm close to being done, but I don't trust that feeling. In the past when I finished something I would let it sit for several months then pick it up with fresh eyes and see if it was any good. Don't want to wait that long this time so I'm thinking about asking some friends to read what I have so far, after some further editing.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Congrat, Zetta on winning! Like you guys, I made it :-) 52,800 in 29 days. @Patricia, I walked around in a 'character hangover' for the rest of the weekend. The book was done and I was lost. I broke the cardinal rule and self-editted my keester off while writing it during NaNo as well as had my CP read it, so it really was done. Lucky for me, someone else is doing the final editing for me... and she knows who she is :-)

  • Patricia Robertson

    Thanks for the permission to take a wee break. That's what I've been doing but I've been feeling guilty about it instead of enjoying it!  :)

  • Zetta Brown

    Congratulations, Patricia! Yeah, it's a great feeling to know that you've accomplished a lofty goal that you set for yourself. I know what you mean about having a sense of "what now" now that it's all over and perhaps dreading to get editing. I edit for a living, so it's no big deal for me, but there are many times when I just want to skip it and get to it later and do something more fun.

    Perhaps that's what you should do. Take a wee break (and I mean wee--as in a few days rather than years, LOL) and then get back into editing.

    I know the NaNoWriMo site is still open and they have forums, etc. where people can talk about Post NaNo Depression. :)

  • Patricia Robertson

    I did it too, 51,480 words! Most fun I've had in a long time, and since I wrote long hand and then typed in order to get word count I'm beyond rough draft and into editing. Feeling let down this week though as I move from writing to editing. Anyone else feeling let down now that the fun is over?