First off, for those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is November. In the author/writing community, NaNoWriMo is a month dedicated to novel writing; specifically, reaching the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days.
If you do some quick math, that means writing 1,666 words per day.
Which is around 5-7 pages worth of writing, depending on your formatting and style.
Which may not seem like a lot, but when you’re a writer running on creative fumes, trust me… that’s a lot.
This was my first year ever attempting NaNoWriMo. My final wordcount for the month was 36,211; which I don’t think is too terrible, especially considering that I was sick for the last week of November and was gone at a church retreat one weekend. I embarked on NaNoWriMo with a close friend of mine, which made the experience that much more enjoyable (she made her goal!). The opportunity to get the ball rolling on writing original fiction after just editing previous drafts for so long was so helpful for me.
Through my whole experience of this challenge, I learned multiple valuable lessons, which I have compiled to share with y’all in this post. Here we go!
1 – I work well with deadlines… and accountability.
A pillar of NaNoWriMo is its hard and fast deadline of 30 days. This is a pretty steep deadline, and unrealistic in some ways, but at the same time, I kept up with it. I was able to write more than I had in months simply because I had a timeline. Writers easily underestimate the motivating factor of deadlines. I learned that I, personally, function well when given a deadline and not allowed the space to go, “Oh, I’ll work on that tomorrow… or in a week… or after the holidays… or never.“
Another thing I discovered alongside the positive impact of deadlines on my habits is the importance of accountability. As I mentioned before, I did this challenge with another close writer friend of mine, and we would text each other every night to ask if we’d made our wordcounts. This incredibly motivated me, and got me to write some nights when I would’ve otherwise given up.
The moral of the story is: Set yourself deadlines, and get accountability to help motivate you to reach those deadlines. When you know someone is counting on hearing from you, and hearing that you met your deadline, it can be just the kick in the pants you need to actually sit down and get things done.
2 – One should be realistic in their expectations.
NaNoWriMo is, inherently, a challenge. 1,666 words per day is no small feat. With such a large wordcount goal each day, I tended to psych myself out before even beginning sometimes. You’ll never be able to make your wordcount today, so why even try? It’s all or nothing, right?
Now, for 1 month this sort of goal isn’t too outlandish. But for everyday as a writer? Be realistic.
Some people have more motivation and time than others, and as such, can manage larger daily wordcounts than some; such as maybe 800+ words. On the other hand, others can only manage 200 words. That’s fine! Whatever works for your daily schedule and current season of life. What matters is consistency.
Don’t set the goalposts so high that you never take a shot. I say again, be realistic.
3 – One must schedule balance into their writing routine!
NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge, plain and simple. But, full disclosure, I was in a slump before November and didn’t really have a writing routine set in stone. Now, I plan to create a more solid writing routine that, here’s the key word, is balanced and prepared to help every aspect of my mind and heart as a writer.
It’s important for Christian writers to prioritize time in the Word whether they’re writing Christian non-fiction or sci-fi that never mentions the name of Jesus. To share light with the world, you have to understand what creates light. In addition to time in the Word, be sure to give yourself time to read other writings, dream and think, as well as brainstorm, edit, and spend time with people who will encourage, motivate, critique, and inspire you. As important as brash and wild first drafts are (which I’ll touch on later), there are other incredibly important aspects of a writer’s life that must be incorporated into an effective writing routine.
This point is very tied to my previous one. Set your wordcount goals high enough to get something down, but also low enough to afford balance in your life; being a writer is so much more than just writing. It is a frame of mind and way of seeing the world that must be cultivated through disciplines beyond just writing.
4 – One should be diligent, not destructive.
To keep up with the rigorous pace required to write 50,000 words, one must employ great amount of diligence. Being a diligent writer is incredibly important. But at the same time, you need to know your limits.
I got sick during the last week of November. I could’ve pushed through and tried to make the deadline regardless. But I could feel the Holy Spirit pressing on my heart to rest. To let my mind really take everything in and breathe right where I was.
So I did. And I don’t regret it.
You see, often writers are very driven and ambitious. We sort of have to be in a harsh world that often implies it doesn’t want to hear what we have to say. But at the same time, as I mentioned earlier, being a writer isn’t only a profession. It’s a frame of mind. A way of life. A way of using words to mold readers, of touching the hearts of others while restoring our own at the same time.
As such, writers must allow space to breathe; to restore creative energy. Don’t let your goals and ambitions unbalance you, as that will destroy your consistency. Give yourself space to really sit with things and ruminate over your thoughts and emotions, as often that leads to the greatest insights. Burn-out destroys creativity. Be diligent realistically… not destructively.
5 – The exhilaration of a first draft.
For the last two years, I’ve been working on my project, “The Valley of Shattered Glass”. I like to think of it as a passion project, of sorts. I hope to publish it one day. But even so, I finished my first draft not very long into those two years. And guess what I’ve been doing since then?
I made the mistake of not writing anything original or new, in the fiction realm, that is. And as such, my brain wired itself into editing mode. NaNoWriMo gave me the perfect opportunity to break out of that.
The very first day, I remember sitting down at my keyboard, taking a deep breath, and diving into this story that I had been dying to explore yet unsure of how to. I didn’t stop to fix spelling errors. I changed from first person to third person part-way through and didn’t let myself care. I just let the character’s story and the world I was creating flow out onto the page.
And when I finally stopped, at 2,300 words, I remember a great feeling of exhilaration rushing through my veins. I hadn’t written that much at once that fast in months.
The first draft is a beautiful thing. It gives you a chance to really fall in love with the story you’re writing, the characters you’re meeting, and the places you’re depicting. The rush of letting your creative energy flow, allowing imperfection, letting the wild beauty of your story breathe and take shape is unparalleled by any other part of the writing process. All parts of the writing process are important, but the first draft – where your ideas take flight and form simultaneously – is by far one of the most exhilarating.
Enjoy it, my friends. Enjoy it.
6 – Your words matter… ALL of them.
Finally, my writer friends, don’t get so caught up in your head and your stories, and what you’re writing, that you forget about the world around you. It’s easy to, especially when caught in the thick of a challenge like NaNoWriMo, but regardless, be sure to take your head out of the clouds sometimes. Transition between your writing times and your family and friends and rest-of-your-life times.
You are not your writing, just as your writing is not you. Your writing may not always be present for someone who needs it, but maybe you can be… and vice-versa. So be a whole person as you formulate your literary ghosts, as your presence in your little corner of the world is one thing words on a page will never be able to fully replicate.
Whether you’re a budding writer, published author, or you’ve never written a word after school hours, your words matter.
So go and speak life and light to the world 🙂