Writing Lessons NaNoWriMo Taught Me

So… the holidays are coming up, it’s 17 full days into December, and yet NaNoWriMo is still on my mind. Is that the case for anyone else? Don’t get me wrong–I’m taking a well-deserved break from writing and have only penned a 3,500 word short story since crossing 50k on November 30th–but I can’t help but think about last month and all it’s taught me about this crazy, frazzling, beautiful craft we’ve all chosen.

This November was the first I’ve won in five years. I’ve only ever won NaNoWriMo once before, in 2008, when I was still figuring out what it was I wanted to write and if I even still wanted to write at all (spoiler alert: a very enthusiastic “YES!”). So that means this was my first NaNo win as a dedicated writer who has officially set publication as a serious goal.

That 2008 endeavor was a true struggle. This one was tough, too, but not nearly as much. And, thanks to the awesome community on Twitter, I enjoyed it much more. So, as I was tapping away to my 50k, I had a lot of time to think about what this month-long challenge is all about. And for those of you who crossed the finish line with me, or are still working on your projects, or who haven’t even tried NaNoWriMo once–I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. Because I think many WriMos have had a similar experience.

1) The more you write, the easier it is. I feel like this is no big secret anymore, but it’s one of those things that I didn’t fully get until it dawned on me. One of those things I disregard as a common cliché that everyone knows and isn’t worth much more thinking about, until it slaps me in the face and demands my attention. Well, my attention and curiosity are both piqued.

Like I said in my post on writing spaces, your brain forms habits when you repeat an action over and over. So while I was writing in November, my brain got used to writing. And guess what? Even though there are plenty of little red boxes on my NaNoWriMo word count calendar, that habit I started to form often became harder to ignore than to put to action.

2) Inspiration isn’t a dormant thing waiting to be awoken. Rather, it’s something that comes with practice and strict perseverance. Countless times during NaNoWriMo, I had to stop whatever it was I was doing and jot down a totally new idea for a story or a blog or some other project that popped up that just had to wait until after November. Those ideas, including my new short story, are all products of my creative bursts during the month I was writing so consistently BECAUSE I was writing so consistently.

And that’s why word sprinting is so helpful. It keeps you writing, sometimes blindly, until you accidentally stumble upon something brilliant.

3) You have to mine though a lot of rock to get to the diamonds. If I had to pick only one lesson to take away from NaNoWriMo, this would be it. And that’s the point of NaNoWriMo anyway, isn’t it? To write quickly and get down all the crap so you can find the gold within it later. A non-writer friend of mine who was curious about NaNo broached the quantity vs. quality debate with me just before November and I told him that, yes, it’s all about quantity. Because in a lot of cases, you have to write 5k to get just one spectacular line down–but once you finish writing that line, it’s all worth it. And it motivates you all over again.

This is all what I take away from NaNo, anyway. What about you guys? Have you had any epiphanies this November?

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13 thoughts on “Writing Lessons NaNoWriMo Taught Me

  1. I agree with all three points. Especially number three. I was able to write so much more than I usually do and as you sort through and edit the words, ideas evolve and morph to become a far better product. Sometimes that is hard to achieve when worrying about quality over quantity. Also, NaNoWriMo provided me something I don’t seldom get and that’s encouragement from so many online friends. Whether is through the work you guys do on the Sprint Shack or through NaNoWagers, the greatest gift of the experience of NaNo is the support system and the friendships that carry on beyond it.

  2. “You have to mine through a lot of rock to get to the diamonds.”
    My favourite quote of the day!

    I miss NaNo! The big community cheering on the announcement of word counts. I am doing my own personal writing challenge. But the motivation isn’t as present. I keep getting distracted by all this internet, and blogging, vlogging, tweeting, tumbling… ARGH!

    • Ha, thanks! I actually Googled diamond mining to double check that it is, in fact, rocks that you find them in…

      And aw, I miss it too, but you can always sprint with us to keep your project moving forward! We always encourage each other and our fellow word sprinters with the same enthusiasm we bring to NaNo!

  3. Hi Cristina.
    A very grounded post. Your three lessons all resonate but number 2 has triggered the recollection of my Senior School English teacher saying that writing is 10% inspiration, 90% hard work… The principle has guided me, although I had forgotten her saying it until now. Just showing up to write is an important step towards “winning the battle”. Best wishes for your post NaNoWriMo writing.
    Jacquie

    • Thanks so much for your insight Jacquie! I totally agree… that reminds me a lot of the quote “There is no good writing, there is only good rewriting.” I forgot who said it, but it’s so true! I used to sit around for YEARS as a teenager/college student thinking “I wish I would just get inspired to write something already!” It wasn’t until I said “screw this, I’m going to make it happen” and sat down to write that the ideas started flowing.

  4. Pingback: What Makes You a NaNoWriMo Winner? | The Sprint Shack

  5. I agree with No. 3. There were a lot of times this year when I wrote something down and it made me cringe. But then, just a few short sentences later, beauty happened, and it motivated me to keep on going.

    • I know exactly what you mean! Often I’ll go into a writing session with the intention of scrapping the very first line I write–that frees me up to write, rather than paralysing me. And if the first line happens to be good… well, all the better!

      • That’s a good idea! Sometimes I’ll actually type something like, “First line goes here.” and then continue… it just reassures me that, yes, I can move on and get back to that first line later rather than remaining paralyzed by it.

    • Thanks for your comment and your tweet, Dan! This is exactly the experience I had, too. And in my experience, sometimes I’ll think I’m writing tons of crap only to find I love what I’ve written upon a read-through months later.

      To quote Stephen King’s ON WRITING, which is my personal writing bible:

      “Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

  6. Pingback: Being a lazy writer | Crissi Langwell ~ Author

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