NaNoWriMo Takeaway Edition: 8 Great Lessons from the Race against the Word

Andrea Collier, our unfailing and unflailing NaNoWriMo Correspondent, hits the mark with time to spare and shares her last few tips for getting it--meaning, writing, not merely NaNo--done. JOIN US IN CONGRATULATING HER!

DAY 29: It isn’t November 30 yet, but I am officially done. 51,000 NaNoWriMo words placed in a file that will become a novel. Thirty days is a long time when you are pushing at some artificial goal. I say artificial goal because the real goal is the one we set for ourselves as writers every day. And for me that was why I did this. I wanted to get the discipline that 30 days gives you, whether it is hitting the gym, meditating or writing. I have been documenting my journey over these 29 days, and sharing some of the lessons and cautionary tales. This is the first time I have actually finished NaNoWriMo, so I have a sense of pride at getting to the end. But I also have a huge sense of relief at being done. Let me say it again, HUGE. It could be because the end of NaNo coincides with the beginning of the horserace of the holidays. Or it could be that I like many writers who tackled this, want to get back to their regular writing life.

Here are the Big Lessons I've gleaned:

1. You don’t need NaNoWriMo to create this race against the word.

If you feel that you need that kind of discipline once or twice a year, set one up with some of your writing colleagues. What this does is push you to some output accountability.

2. If you are looking for a way to jumpstart your creative muse, skip NaNo.

It feels a bit like someone sticking a gun to your head and telling you to be creative right now. Creativity doesn’t work that way. Creative joy definitely doesn’t. But then again, we all know that if you wait for the muse to show up and coo fabulousness, we’d never finish books or short stories or essays. We have to plow through. Hopefully, creativity shows up somewhere in there.

3. It can be a great way to be a writing risk taker.

I can be a traditionalist. I have my own little rhythm and I string story together in my own way. I never throw anybody from the bus without great consideration. I am not one to make sudden moves with my character’s lives. But NaNo or any output based exercise give the writer a chance to make big leaps, even if they don’t stay in the final product. Hopefully the adrenalin of this kind of fast writing can become a part of our bags of tricks. I threw plot twists at my characters this month because I had to fill my word count, but it was fun coming out of my carefully crafted shell.

4. It’s not a good time to share your work.

Many folks here belong to writing groups that critique. Don’t get a false sense of genius because you put 50,000 words on a page. You could easily undo all the work you did by sharing the messiness. Your critique group is used to reacting honestly to what’s there. I can tell you that my 50,000 isn’t ready to be shared. It is going to be painful for me to look at it. I have shared pieces of it here with you—not because I was proud of it, or that it was ready to be shared. So tread lightly into the sharing pool until you can carve out something that makes sense.

5. Try a new tool.

I told you earlier that I was switching it up. I wrote on my laptop, then switched up to my fountain pen. And I used pencils some days. It broke up the monotony. And it gave me what I needed on that particular day. There are times when one needs the scratching of pen against paper. Sometimes we need the click click of keys. There is no one size that fits all writers, or any writer on all days. Trying Scrivener was an excellent foray into NaNo, and I will keep using it. Correction, I will keep trying to master all that it offers to churn out new work. I probably tapped into 10 percent. I am looking forward to using it to beat my raw clay of a manuscript into shape.

6. If you really hate the story, put it away for a while before you decide.

I am not sure what I think of my 50,000 words. I don’t know if I know what to do with it. I am going to print mine out, read it through quickly and make some notes. Then I am going to let it marinate. If I love its bones, then I will put meat on them. If I think it’s just okay, I will figure out how to make it really good. And if I truly hate it and can’t fix it, I will come back to it. But I won’t make any permanent decisions about it until after the first of the year.

7. Get a sense of humor about your writing.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it seriously. But if you can’t giggle at how bad some of the stuff you wrote this month was, then you are going to have a hard time. I tried not to do a hard read of it while I was writing this month. Yet when I was picking out sections to post here I caught little pieces that were laughable. And I allowed myself to do just that. Everything can be fixed, or deleted.

8. And finally, be more private about the big declarations, like writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

When you post it everywhere, little old ladies in the grocery store will ask you about it. Your boss will wonder if your output at work suffers because you are concentrating on the impossible task of writing a novel in 30 days. Children at the school where my husband teaches want to know about it. My bookstore friends held me accountable, even when I didn’t want to be. And of course, fellow She Writers, you kept me honest. Next time I do this, you won’t know until there is a big shiny bestseller. Yeah Right. What did you learn from NaNoWriMo at the end of the day? And would you do it again?

Andrea King Collier is a Michigan-based freelance writer and author. Her latest work appears in the Fits, Starts and Matters of the Heart anthology from Freelance Success.

Eds' note: Join the Novelists--Struggling or Not group, and keep on keepin on with 911 of your She Writes peers!

Photo: marcus_jb1973/flickr


Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

473 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
388 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • A Cure for Writer’s Block: Write without “Writing”
  • An Excerpt: Woven In Moonlight
  • How to Make Sure This is the Year You Hit Your Writing...
  • What Does Your Character Want?
  • Isabel Allende on Motivation & Writing with a...
  • Easing into the New Year—and Decade!

  • Dedria A. Humphries

    A standing ovation for you. Keeping the butt in the chair for 50K output in such a short duration bodes well for your next sprint at a degree. Lol. Congratulations.

  • Marcia Fine

    Loved it! Gave me inspiration to be more consistent with what I'm writing now--even if I have no idea where the plot is going. Two camps of writers: those who follow some sort of outline or structure and those who throw spaghetti at the wall. Makes it interesting!

  • Helen Gallagher

    Bravo, Andrea.
    I'm sharing your wisdom with hordes of writers, before you get more private!

    Helen Gallagher