What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Yes, I did work on a novel all throughout National Novel Writing Month. No, I didn’t get it finished. . . but I did make significant progress (and I’m not quitting).

Yes, I failed to post a new section every Friday in November (hey, I hit 50 percent!), but that was due more to lack of forethought than shortage of material. A trip sucked up all available planning brain cells; if it’s any consolation, I meant to pre-schedule those posts. And I did pull out the laptop and create while in Strasbourg and Paris.

So, though I didn’t share my work as planned, I did uphold the spirit of NaNoWriMo. And I learned a few things, which–just in case I need a reminder–I’ll share here.

sunrise with novel writing month (with strike through) forever

Avoid the Research Rabbit Hole

When I got caught up in the details, I fell behind on writing. My novel’s plot involves a crime; my main character is shot, and I wanted that to be realistic. How many hours did I spent reading people’s accounts of what being shot feels like, the kind of recovery involved, just where a non-fatal gunshot wound could be situated? Makes you wonder just which watch lists I’m now on. And I have other research needs. The proverbial rabbit hole is deep.

Lesson Learned: Set aside dedicated research days. In the meantime, put a “details needed” sticky note as place holder and keep on writing.

Go Where the Novel Goes

When I decided to push progress by publishing every Friday, I envisioned a serialized novel unfolding. You know: like a tweet thread, but longer (really longer). Progression didn’t go that way; creation was anything but linear. Some days, I wrote vignettes or lines of dialogue; others, character biographies, backstories. Every now and then, a particular scene grabbed my imagination and wouldn’t let go. In other words, I jumped all around that carefully mapped-out plot.

Lesson Learned: Write for a while to generate advance material before committing to any publication schedule.

Turn Off Your Internal Editor

Writing has a flow. Create, revise, polish. . . and, for short-form material (posts, magazine articles, reviews), that sequence is tight. But a novel is long. At first, even though I was on a mission to “get ‘er done” and make significant headway in one month, I couldn’t help rereading, which led to revising and then editing. Hard to move in a forward direction when continuously retracing your steps. And how can something that is fluid and still in development be edited?

Lesson Learned: First drafts are about discovery; forget polish. Abandon “best,” do the brain dump, and go for the finish.

Lose Yourself in Writing

Some mornings, I woke up thinking about my characters. Had I been dreaming about them? On those days, seizing that early morning (or late night) moment was incredibly productive. A few times, I wrote in the wee early morning hours and then went back to bed. Now, I regret times all those instances where I stuck to a preconceived schedule, thinking, “Now’s not a good time; I’ll remember that for later.” Yeah, it didn’t work that way.

Lesson Learned: When a creative stream catches you, swim with the current as long as you can.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Avoid cliches like the plague, I know. But really, novel writing is a marathon (or ultra) and I’m very familiar with building up to the big moment. The journey itself has to be enjoyable. And, when training is methodically followed, that learning experience is more profound than any actual finish. The other exercise analogy is that, the more the muscle is used, the better it feels and performs. That activity gets easier: you need less warm up; you’re faster, stronger, and more confident in your abilities. The same is true with writing long-form fiction.

Lesson Learned: Keep putting one word after another, relentlessly pursuing that forward momentum, and joy will come.

sunrise with novel writing month (with strike through) forever


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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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