Lessons from NaNoWriMo

The dust has settled on November and I had a lot of fun participating in NaNoWriMo this year. November was a success for me. I didn’t meet the 50k NaNo goal, but the 31k words I did write were the most I’ve ever managed in a month. Which is definitely a win for me. I also managed to write something each day:

The bottom two days were 1 word and 10 words. Not a lot, and only written to be able to count the day, but a word is a word 😉

Things I learned:

I’m more a planner than a pantser

This one surprised me. I started the month with a beginning, middle and end of my novel in mind and some ideas about what happened in the middle bits. But after getting the first three or so chapters down I hit an “and now what?” moment. It one of the reasons for the variable word counts at the beginning of the month.

When I came to this point, I took some time to create a (very rough) outline, basically just two or three sentences per month. And I found this worked well for me. I enjoyed having the brief description to work with and it helped focus my writing.

I like having a goal

Very early on in November I knew I wouldn’t make 50k. So I made my goal 30k (for 1.000 words a day), and I managed that reasonably easily. I hit a flow halfway through the month and managed more then a thousand words each day until I got to 30k.

As a lesson here, I decided to give myself a monthly word count goal to work towards. It’s a lot less ambitious, since I like talking to my wife, having a semblance of a social life and the like. But I feel I can make 4200 words a week without sacrificing all that. This is an average of 600 words a day, but 4 days of 1.000 is more likely. I’ve started tracking it (I’m an IT nerd, so there’s a spreadsheet….). And it does help keep things moving.

This also helps in developing a habit, which is a powerful thing. I can’t write a novel in a day (or a week for that matter), so I need a habit to get to the end. And since it’s a marathon, I picked an achievable goal to form my habit around, which is where I got the 600 words a day.

50k words is a lot

A lot of story goes into 50k words. And where I initially guessed my story would easily top that, I found I have to stretch to reach it. Of course, 50k is not really the goal of a story as such, a story is as long as it needs to be. But it’s a good lesson that you need a lot of story to fill the 50k words. And also that you have some room to dive into smaller sub-plots and go off on related tangents.

To win at NaNo I need to empty my calendar

I decided to try NaNo at the last minute. Which meant that I had already planned a lot of other items during the month. Which didn’t help at all with meeting the NaNo goal. The 3 big dips in my word-count were because I had other obligations which kept me from writing.

All my writing happens in the evening, and if I have friends over, play sports or visit my family then I can’t write. If I wouldn’t have had those big events then I could have ‘easily’ managed 7.000. This would have kept the NaNo goal in reach for a lot longer. I was already 8.000 words behind by the 10th.

As such, I also stopped trying, since getting the 1.667 words a day was already tough, but managing over 2k a day was out of the question. If I would have been closer then I think I perhaps could have pushed myself to keep trying.

All in all, I’m glad I participated in NaNoWriMo this year. It got me 31k words and a good start for a writing habit.