What NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me


October isn’t going exactly as planned, but I must say I can’t complain about how it is going. Tomorrow the newest season of “The Walking Dead” begins. Like many TWD fans, I have been counting down since last season 😉 Who else is ready to see how the hell Rick and the gang are going to get out of their current situation?

Another countdown I have on the go is NaNoWriMo, which starts in just 21 days! Today might be a beautiful and sunny day, but I will be spending a few hours of it (I hope) planning my novel and getting myself geared up for the month of insanity.

This is my seventh year participating in the writing challenge. My first year, was insane. I wrote 25k words in just a few days. I was full of excitement, energy, and really pushed myself. The rest of the month slowed down but I got my 50k, and I got to write ‘The End’. My brain felt pretty empty by the time December 1st rolled around, and I spent the following year replenishing my words. In the years that have followed, I ‘won’ several times and failed several times. But the way I look at it, at least I tried and getting 25k written is better then a big fat zero.

My plan for this year is to write about 10k the first weekend. I like to get a bit of a cushion underneath me. That way if there is a day where I am sick or life really gets in my way, I won’t panic about not making my word count. The first year I failed was because I got very behind, couldn’t catch up, and got frustrated. And having a plan in advance should help me stay on top of things. (Year three I learned I am NOT a ‘pantser’-someone who writes by the seat of their pants; having little idea of what they are going to write.) But on the other hand, I’m not a 100% planner. If I do that I find I grow bored and won’t want to write my story. One of the joys of NaNo, is that it has taught me a lot about writing over the years.

Here’s a few things I have learned  in the last few years. Maybe something here will help you too.

1- Index Cards. These beauties is what always help me get to my goal. I will be opening a crisp new pack today. I use these for outlining my novel. I take a card, and write a few words about the opening scene. Then I take another card, and write an event. After writing five to ten, I lay them out, and see what order I want them in.  I start filling  in the gaps, adding new scenes, events, and characters. When I finish, I stack them and keep them together with a large paper clip. I will look them over during the next few weeks, adding cards or even removing them. I don’t outline the entire novel, but the basic outline and important things I want to remember. It helps for when you get stuck and to help keep you on track.

2-Have a bible. No, I’m not talking about the religious type. I mean a notebook you can keep on you at all times. In it, have character sketches, story notes, and anything else important you your story. If you happen to be out and have an idea, scribble it in for later. If you are at home (or where ever you happen to be writing your novel), having it at hand helps when you forget the smaller details, like what kind of car your hero drives or what color eyes your heroine has. In my book I have character notes and sketches, pictures (of what they look like, important things in their life), and since several of them are vampires, I have vampire lore and mythology that I have created for my world.

3-Shutting up that inner critic. For years every time I wrote something, getting to the finish line was long and tedious work. I was constantly stopping and editing what I had written. My inner critic loved to tell me just how shitty my stories and ideas were, and I listened to him a bit too much during the first draft. Nano taught me how to turn that part off. In order to get to the 50,000 word mark, you (well, at least I don’t) have time to stop and nit pick with the story. The idea of this is to finish a first draft, and to show you that it doesn’t have to take ten years to write a novel. Now when I am writing something, for Nano or otherwise, I don’t have that pesty bastard ruining my momentum. There will be many writers next month thinking “This is total shit but keep going!”

4-Laying out the ground rules to family. I have already told my fiance that I am not to be disturbed unless it is an absolute emergency. Well, when I’m in my office that is. And my friends already know that come November, I am essentially M.I.A. I’ll be devoting my free time to writing. Because of this, when ever I have to do edits on a story that is getting published, writing for the fun of it, etc…I get left alone. They know and respect how much it means to me and that sometimes I just need to get shit done. Of coarse, there will be some people in your life that won’t understand, but luckily for me everyone in my life is used to me saying “Sorry, I can’t go out. I’m writing.”

5-BACK UP YOUR WORK. This is the most important thing I can think of, and I like reminding writers (both the newbies and veterans) because it is something that people tend to forget.  I know a few people who learned the hard way how important it is to back up their novel. I save mine onto two memory sticks. Everyone has their own methods, but for the love of all that is holy, save that sucker in at least one other location aside from your desktop.

Every writer is different, and these things are what works for me. What do you do in prep for Nano? What are the things you have learned from doing it?


3 thoughts on “What NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me

  1. Ooh, backing up is especially important–the first serious NaNo I ever attempted, I got to about 30k and the file corrupted somehow. Luckily, I’d literally just printed out a hard copy, so I didn’t lose it completely, but losing the digital file killed my momentum and I didn’t finish. This will actually be my seventh NaNo, as well, although I’ve only won twice. Through NaNo, I found a post on outlines (sort of) by author Rachel Aaron which inspired me to try an outline for the first time last year, which was directly responsible for enabling me to finish my first novel. Now I always make sure to have an outline of some kind. (Index cards are awesome for outlining, like you said.) Although mostly my successes have come from consistency–averaging the same new words a day, every day, never getting behind, because I have a really hard time catching up, period.

    I’ve heard of story “bibles” before, but somehow I never manage to put one together. More of my worldbuilding never leaves my head than does. I think I might try harder this year, though; having a physical copy of all the pertinent bits on hand sounds like a really useful idea. 🙂


    • bear1982

      Oh that sucks! My momentum would also been lost, after having something like that happen. Consistency helps for sure. If something happens and I miss a day or two, I find it takes me out of my groove. The year of the EPIC FAIL, having little consistency played a big part of my failure. I’m glad you are finding what works for you 🙂 A story ‘bible’ works for me, and maybe it will work for you too. Give it a shot, and you will find out how much it helps (or doesn’t) for you. Personally, it is one of my must haves. Good luck with Nano this year! Feel free to let me know how it goes. 🙂 And thanks for the comment!


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