Lessons Learned: Takeaways From NaNoWriMo

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Whether you are successfully closing in on 50,000 words this National Novel Writing Month or decided to call it a month a little early, there's always something you can take away from this experience and apply to your normal writing habits.

For some writers, it may be that you need to spend that day or two where you pound out far more than your daily writing goal, which gives you a little leeway to handle days when you don't feel like writing quite as much. For others it could be that you want to front load the month in order to avoid those long writing days that can come later.

What lessons have you learned this month? Share them with us in the comments after you check out the lessons from our experts!

Have you missed any of the other posts in our NaNoWriMo blogging series? Be sure to check the others out:

Question: What is the most important lesson you've learned during this NaNoWriMo?

Natania Barron: Winning isn't about the word count this year. It's about doing something collaborative and special that normally I wouldn't manage to do. That's the really cool thing about our approach. I'm not sure that I needed to get 50,000 words. What I needed was a virtual kick in the pants, to get my brain moving in the right direction. The creative, weird, mad direction that this book has gone to.

Rachael Herron: The most important lesson I've learned this year is that front-loading the month is the way to go. I'm going to do my own little NaNoWriMo in December, too, to finish this first draft at about 100,000 words. If I start the month again with days of 3,500-4,000 words, then by the end of the month (like now!), when I'm down to 1k/day or fewer, it's totally doable and no longer frightening.

Nikki Hyson: Time management in the early days is crucial. I learned this last year by pushing through a brutal 10k word November 30th, but I didn't pay heed this year. I'm playing make-up every weekend, only adding to the stress of something that is as tiring as it is thrilling. I promise myself to plan better, schedule more writing time in the early days, and make more casseroles for easy eating next year. Really.

Regina Kammer: To set up what I’m going to write the next day. Whenever I do this, the writing goes smoothly and I make my goals. It’s really just a matter of adding a few notes to the end of a day’s words to set up what comes next. It’s a little different from outlining in that I might have different information to work with—perhaps the story has changed as I’ve been writing it. Anyway, I probably learn this lesson every NaNoWriMo, but then I forget it until around November 10th and I go “oh, yeah, I gotta do that.”

The other lesson I’ve learned this year is to think in terms of scenes instead of word count. Some scenes will be shorter than others, and some will exceed the daily goal of 1,667 words, but I find it easier to think in terms of moving the plot forward rather than just spewing words. Sometimes what happens is I discover I need to insert another scene or plot element—so, yay!, more words! However, this also means I end up with a manuscript of just a little more than 50,000 words. It’s a pretty lean and mean manuscript I end up with on December 1st which gets to be revised and edited.

November/December 2014 Writer's Digest

 The November/December 2014 issue of Writer's Digest
is loaded with advice, tips, and strategies
to help you survive—and thrive—during NaNoWriMo.

Kathy Kitts: This past week has been extraordinarily difficult. My mother-in-law was hospitalized, my husband laid off, and the copper pipe leading to the hot water heater split. And I’m still right on track with my word count. The obvious question is: How did I manage to write despite all these horrible events?

What I learned was this question is the wrong one to ask. Instead, I should reverse it. How did I survive this ridiculously hard week? I got through it because I was writing. These events required hours upon hours of anxious waiting for doctors, HR minions and plumbers. The wait only made worse by my own fear and anger. But I wrote through these emotions. Writing is the gift that allowed me to face this difficult time with grace. Thank you, NaNoWriMo.

Kristen Rudd: I need to get to certain scenes that I just can’t get to yet—not until I figure out some other things and get them wrapped up first. I sit down to write and just stare at my story, wondering, “What did I ever do to you?” It keeps taking me places I didn’t expect. I can point to at least three different individual sentences I’ve written that have either taken the story in a direction I didn’t know it was going, revealed a character’s motivation, or has been a turning point for a character—all that I did not see coming until after I had written them down. Seriously. I totally didn’t see that coming.

Every NaNoWriMo, I learn something different that builds on what I learned the year before. This year, I’ve learned to trust the story and to trust the process and trust my characters, to follow the story where it leads me because it actually knows what it’s doing, and that writing is a form of magic.

EJ Runyon: Lessons-wise what struck me this month is how much I enjoy the feedback I get from friends who see my progress on Facebook and in the NaNo Forums. That makes me feel proud, even with 13 years of doing this; every time someone boosts your latest word count achievement, it’s such a high! As a "lesson," I love NaNoWriMo, for the camaraderie.

Jessica Schley: The most important lesson I've learned during this NaNoWriMo is a lesson I think I learn every NaNo—a little bit, every day. I always get most stuck when I leave more than one days' writing to do later. It's hard to get back to. You always hear that in writing advice—"Write Every Day," but in NaNoWriMo you basically have to, and when you don't, the way it increases your own internal resistance is immediately obvious. I don't like that, but I love that, if that makes any sense at all.

The lesson my book has taught me this NaNo is that stories do tell themselves. Twists and turns and changes have happened in my novel that weren't in the outline, and I would write a scene and realize, "Oh whoa, I just foreshadowed them to stealing a bus later—that'd be a great way to handle that scene in Act III!" So another lesson I learned is to just let the story breathe.

Cris Freese is the associate editor of Writer's Digest Books.

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