5 Things I Learned While Losing NaNoWriMo

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Well hello there, I would like to begin by apologizing for my very long absence. Although, if you read my blog you are likely to be a family member or friend, in which case you probably have seen me around despite the lack of blogging. I could list all the reasons I stopped writing but I’ll keep it short and get the point across quickly. My husband was in training for a new job and I was with our kids most of the time by myself. Then we moved a few hundred miles away. At least we have moved ourselves and some clothes…our belongings are still back home, waiting for us to find a permanent place to live. We’re currently crashing in someone else’s home. Thank God for vacation rentals!

Despite all the chaos, I decided to take on my first ever professional editing gig. This backfired when I realized that I needed to pack boxes, clean and sell our house, find us a new place to live and then proceeded to get the flu in the midst of trying to move. However, I did end up completing the project, although at a slightly discounted price due to my lack of time to edit as thoroughly as needed. (Many life lessons learned there, but that is a story for another day.)

Being the crazy person I am, I still felt as though personal writing time could be squeezed in somewhere and decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (for those of you unfamiliar with this term it is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month).

NaNo (as it’s often called, because who doesn't like abbreviated abbreviations?) is a friendly competition that takes place every year in November. The goal is to write 50,000 words towards a novel beginning November 1st and ending on November 30th. It’s free to participate (although donations are encouraged, plus cool merch!) and the website has fun ways to track progress, talk with fellow writers and read motivational tidbits from experienced writers that like to pop in and cheer everyone up. It’s like they know how hard it is to silence the inner demon and just get something on paper, and then how discouraging it can be if you make the mistake of re-reading what you just wrote. (Don’t do that. Just. Don’t.)

I can’t chat with you about how I won NaNo, sadly. (If you want to read about the excitement of someone who did, you oughtta go check out my friend’s blog. She writes a bit about her experience of exceeding her goals last month in this post here.) I can however, talk about what I learned from participating.

          1) It’s fun. Friendly competition can be a very fun thing. Especially when you have a buddy or two. If you don’t have real life friends, you can pick some up on the NaNo website or on Facebook writing groups for your area. (That sounded weird. If you don’t have real life WRITER friends, is what I meant to say! Of course you have friends IRL. Duh.)

          2) Goals are motivating. Having a goal to work towards every day can push you to write just a few more words than you usually would have. This really helped show me where I had been failing to push myself in the past. Whenever I hit the end of a scene or when things would slow down thought process wise, I used to hit save and quit for the time being, always saying I would come back and finish later. When I came back to it, I would curse myself because I didn’t push past that part when the idea was fresh. Then I would have to start my writing session with something difficult to get out. During NaNo, whenever I was about to quit, I would look at my word count goal. (Scrivener is good for tracking that sort of thing, FYI.) Realizing I was still short, I would pull up my big girl panties and crank out a few hundred more. When I hit my goal, I wouldn’t realize it immediately because I was in the middle of a scene. When I finished the scene, I often exceeded the needed daily 1,667 words.

          3) Competition is a healthy thing. That is, if you have the right mindset. Going in with personal goals and working towards them as hard as you can, knowing that you’re simply competing against yourself and alongside other people who can get as discouraged as you, yet pick themselves up and keep going, makes NaNo a fantastic experience. Competing against other people is good as well, but it has its place and that is not in writing. When it comes to writing, it can wind up being detrimental. To yourself. No one ever benefits from comparing themselves to people who either have more time on their hands or who have had years more experience. If you are capable of being reminded that the best thing you can do is beat yourself at your own game, then you’ll wind up coming out the other end a stronger writer.

          4) Participating brings self-awareness. I learned a lot about myself as a writer last month. I’m still a newbie for sure, and maybe you know quite a bit about yourself already, but my bet is that each new writing experience, competition or whatnot will bring out something new in you. New stories and characters have a way of speaking to us in different ways and bringing to light our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Be conscious of how you’ve done things in the past and my bet is that you’ll come out the other side just a bit different than you were going in. If you’re aware of your struggles, it makes you able to attack it from a whole new angle next time! (Because there WILL be a next time! NaNo 2017, I’m coming for you!)

          5) Winning isn’t everything. What am I saying? Of course it is! No participation ribbons given            here! All joking aside, while winning is amazing and I fully believe in pushing yourself to complete your goals; sometimes you can learn just as much by not finishing. Oftentimes, we writers get extremely overwhelmed when things don’t look or sound exactly the way we pictured in our head, or we don’t reach our goals (amongst many other insecurities). To not finish can really put us through the ringer, but if we learned something from it and became a better writer at the end of the process, then it’s okay if your measly 24,225 words doesn’t look as nice next to someone else’s 50,000. (Yes, that’s how many words I completed last month.)

Well I hope this list was enlightening to you, or at the very least a tiny bit entertaining. If you didn’t finish this year, don’t cry. Maybe cry a bit, but wipe those tears off and get writing again! The only way we’re ever going to get better (or get to the end of that damn manuscript) is to keep going! So, get out there and write some more words! Life doesn’t end at the end of NaNo!