5 things I learned doing NaNoWriMo 2014.

After many, many failed attempts over the past few years, and after many many hours spent in the library after work over the past month, I can finally say it…

I completed NaNoWriMo!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

And I am very proud of myself, which I think I am allowed to be. I now have the first 50,000 words of my novel out on paper – 50,000 words that have been bouncing around my head for the last few years, finally written down. It is not the full novel, but it is a great start, and I am feeling seriously motivated to get it finished in the next year.

Now NaNo is over I am able to breathe a little and think about the whether or not this challenge has been beneficial. (‘It ended like two weeks ago,’ I hear you say. Well, I was celebrating. A lot. Too much). And so, here are fiveĀ things I learned about myself during NaNoWriMo 2014:

1 – I can write 50,000 in a month!

This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but it is a revelation. Since I have a full-time 9-5 finding the time and energy to write every day is difficult. My NaNo-ing schedule was thus: 2,000 words every weekday, 2,500 over the weekend (this was with the expectation that I would take one weekend day off). I mostly stuck to the schedule and achieved the daily quota by sitting in the library from 5pm-8pm and forcing myself through the words. I would usually get just over half way before the spirit of laziness and procrastination launched an attack on my brain and made it suddenly very importantĀ that I play a few rounds of Temple Run, but was able to struggle through to 2,000 most days.

It showed me that I always have time to write, and that I can get a huge amount done when I am able to concentrate.

2 – I could not write 50,000 every month.

Because it’s hard. And really tiring. And I had to skip a few social events to do it. Maybe every other month?

3 – When I don’t write, I get moody.

I am not sure if this was always the case or something that developed as a result of writing to a challenge, but if I came home from the library without my 2,000 words done, I could pretty much guarantee that I was going to be feeling miserable for the whole evening. At least, I would always realise this in hindsight, and it is easy to see the pattern now. This was particularly a problem for me in the final week when I fell majorly behind target. I was feeling ill that week, and the further behind I fell, the iller I felt, mostly because I would lay around feeling angry and sorry for myself. I fell so behind that I had to do the final 10,000 words on the last day.

I don’t know how to respond to this observation, other than to try and recognise when I am in a bad mood and not be so hard on myself. Or maybe I should write more. Or maybe both? I think both.

4 – Self-editing is a difficult habit to put aside.

And I didn’t realise I did it so much. When your aim is to get a certain number of words done that day, there is no time to just go back and change that one thing. That one thing will have to wait, because you have to write about 689 more things before you can stop for the day. There are whole sections of the 50,000 draft that I know will have to be changed – for example, one of the main characters completely changes name, age, and gender in the space of a few sentences. I’m going to have to go back and have another look at that bit. But there was no time for it in November.

It is, in a way though, quite liberating. You feel like you’re getting so much more done by ploughing on with it than you would have done if you kept stopping and going back. Save the red pen for later. You can’t edit a blank page, and all that.

5 – Deviation is fun.

Feeling bored? Writer’s block? There is no time for that shit in this business. What your brain needs is to be thrown into a lake of half-formed thoughts and ordered to swim. Waken up, brain.

At least that is how I overcame writer’s block. I created a new character and would divert to her storyline, which is still very much undecided, when my carefully crafted outline was holding me back. Injecting something new into the known was not only fun, but it helped give my mind a break from thinking over the characters and plot details it had been wrangling with for years. As a wise woman once said, ‘Let it go, let it go.’ This is useful, when there is no time for real breaks.

Bonus thing – NaNoWriMo is a good kickstarter, but I couldn’t do it every month.

And luckily no one is asking me to! But deadlines seem to be a good thing, so for 2015 I will be setting a few of my own to follow, and may well throw in a few mini NaNo-type weeks to keep up the momentum.

If you did NaNo this year, whether you succeeded or not, well done to you! Even just trying to commit to this sort of challenge is a good statement of trust in oneself. There are certainly drawbacks to NaNo (see references to mistake-riddled draft, above) but it adds a sense of pressure and consequence to your daily writing routine that is difficult to feel when you are unpublished and without anyone actually waiting to read the draft.

(Like me!)

JJ.

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