Lessons I Learned from NaNo 2018

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Decorated pine trees are springing up like daisies, the radio is playing Christmas music, and holiday cheer is in the air. November is over, and with it, National Novel Writing Month. I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned this autumn. But first, let’s celebrate!

Elf Congratulations
For all you winners out there!
NaNo 2018 Winner Certificate
I did it!

Despite falling way behind early on, I managed to stealth-write my way into a win! 50,608 words. Woohoo! #NaNoWinner2018. And with those 50k words, I learned (and re-learned) some valuable lessons.

Lesson #1: Writing Is Hard

This is one of those lessons that I have to relearn every NaNo. Writing is hard. That’s one of those things that you know, but kind of forget. Now, I think part of my problem is that I just genuinely enjoy editing more than I like writing. But even those who love writing more than anything in the world get hit with writers block and imposter syndrome and the absolute certainty that what you’re writing is utter trash.

Tired, sad baby
This is about how I felt as the second week started

The second week’s pep talk by Justina Ireland opened with these striking words: “Writing sucks.” And that was exactly how I was feeling as that second week rolled around. And the words of encouragement from Justina and other authors throughout the month helped to combat those feelings a great deal. I love the pep talks for the insight they give into the writer’s life. Each writer is different, of course, but we all seem to share some characteristics. And we can all help each other get through the rough patches.

But nothing is going to make writing easy. It takes work. So congratulate yourself for everything you’ve written! You’ve done hard work.

Lesson #2: Trying Something New Pays Off

Where the magic happens

This November, I confirmed that I am in fact a planner, not a pantser. A lot of you are probably discovery writers, and the concept of writing from an outline is entirely foreign to you. But for me, I discovered that having an outline made writing way easier (but still not easy). While I didn’t get as much of an outline done before the month started as I had wanted to, I did end up having a mini breakthrough halfway through the month. I had a series of plot ideas that got me much closer to a conclusion than I’d been before. I wrote up all of those ideas, and then used the first paragraph as fuel for a writing session. And the next paragraph as fuel for the next writing session. And I was able to shoot ahead in my word count in the days that followed.

So my advice to you is to try something new. If you’ve always written by discovery, try creating an outline for your next project. If you’ve always religiously followed an outline, try to write something completely unplanned. Try a new genre, a new kind of character, a new word processor. You never know when you’ll find something new that fits you even better than what you were doing before.

Lesson #3: Winning Isn’t All About Winning

So don’t be afraid of sucking!

You don’t have to win NaNo to win NaNo. Bear with me for this one. A few days before the month ended, I went to a meeting of the Northern Colorado Writers and happened to mention that I was working on NaNo. And I was only at 32,000 words with four days to go. I hadn’t entirely lost hope, but I was feeling pretty bad about my low word count. But as the discussion continued, two other writers revealed that they, too, were participating in NaNo, and were at even lower word counts than I was. My very first gut instinct reaction was to tell them “Way to go.” They had written thousands of words each. And that was worth something. And my words were worth something.

While of course it’s important to try to achieve your goals, sometimes the striving is just as important as actually achieving them. Any word you wrote because of NaNo is one more word than you would have written without it. And that’s a win.

So even if you only wrote 1,000 or 100 or 10 words because of NaNoWriMo, you won in spirit. Congratulations!

Goals for Next Year

fresh start

The first time I really participated in Nano was 2014. I won that year, and the year after, working on the same book. This year, I was determined to finish that book. And I kind of did! I wrote an ending, including a climax, a denouement, and the words ‘The End.’ It was incredibly satisfying. I do still have some of the middle I need to figure out. But for the first time, I know what the ending is. Hopefully that will make a huge difference as I go back through in the next few months and edit what I wrote. And that is one of my goals; to keep up writing (if not quite so many words per day) in the coming months.

Because I’d really like to wrap up that book. For next year’s NaNo, I am starting fresh. The novel I worked on this year has been languishing in my brain for over four years. It’s gotten lost and found, reformatted and re-imagined. That novel picked up a lot of baggage along the way. I’m going to come to next year’s NaNo with an entirely new idea, with a complete outline, and I’m going to see if I can write the full novel in a month. The purist way.

Voila my NaNo 2018 lessons. What were yours?

2 Responses

  1. Diane Nighswonger
    | Reply

    CONGRATULATIONS! What an achievement! I hope to be reading this novel soon, that you’ve been working on for 4 years.

    • Bonnie McKnight
      | Reply

      Thank you! It’s still a ways out from being readable, but I’ll keep making progress 🙂

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