All the way back in the ancient times of 2013 (how was that five years ago already?), I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of writing 50,000 words throughout the month of November. I failed to meet the 50,000 words goal, but I succeeded in writing 10,000 words that month. What’s more, I succeeded in learning ways to be more productive with my writing. I haven’t participated in a NaNoWriMo challenge since 2013, but this year I have set myself the goal of finishing a first draft of my novel by the end of the year, and will use NaNoWriMo as a starting initiative. With two weeks to go before NaNoWriMo 2018 begins, here are the five lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo 2013.
NaNoWriMo is described by the organizers as “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing”, but I am most certainly not a “seat-of-your-pants” person. In 2013, I wrote a basic outline, but left most of it blank thinking I would fill it in as I wrote. That lead to many hours of losing a staring contest with my computer. In order for me to be most productive, I need to have a fleshed out outline of what I am writing. This gives me something to look back to, to get my bearings when I can’t think of where to go next.
As the end of November 2013 crept closer, I become more and more disheartened as I was barely hitting 10,000 words – 40,000 less than the 50,000 words challenge goal. At the end of the month, I tried to stay positive by reveling in my success of 10,000 words, which I would not have written had I not been trying to hit 50,000. I also used that experience as a learning opportunity, figuring out what makes me more productive, and what makes me less productive. But after 2013, I still felt like I had failed because I didn’t hit 50,000 words, and because I had to re-write that draft almost completely. This kept me from participating in NaNoWriMo again.
In order to stave off that feeling of failure, which keeps me from being productive, I need to redefine what it means to me to be successful at NaNoWriMo. And I must do this before I begin, not as a way to see a silver lining afterward.
Goals & Deadlines
I am one of those people who thrive on setting goals and deadlines for those goals. I like planning, so having a set goal with a set deadline is crucial to planning correctly. NaNoWriMo has an overall goal of 50,000 words with a deadline of November 30. Working off of this one goal, in 2013, was not enough to be successful as there was not enough incentive throughout the month to keep me on target of hitting the goal. I need smaller goals with shorter deadlines throughout the month to keep me on track. These smaller goals and deadlines, I believe, will not only keep me on track to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but will keep me feeling productive by making my feel accomplished. One of my biggest obstacles in 2013 was becoming disheartened by my lack of successes, but small accomplishments will allow me visualize my successes.
Don’t Pressure Myself to be Perfect
People use NaNoWriMo for different things, but this year I am using NaNoWriMo as a push to write a first draft of my novel, which is what I also did in 2013. In 2013, however, I put far too much pressure on myself to produce a perfect draft, and was disheartened when that draft needed to be re-written. This year, as part of my redefinition of success and goal-setting agenda, I must remember not to push for perfection, as this prevents productivity.
In 2013, I would sit in front of my computer for three hours, mostly staring at a blank page. It was only later that I realized that my three hour staring contest yielded the same amount of words as writing for one hour and then taking a break. Too many breaks can become problematic, but stopping and watching a YouTube video for a while can be far more productive for me than pushing myself to write more words. Breaks allow my conscious brain to think about other topics, which allows my unconscious brain to work out problems with my novel. Then, when I come back to writing, I feel refreshed and am able to write more successfully.
For the next two weeks, I will be planning my novel, redefining what I view as a success for this year, and settings goals and deadlines for myself. Then, in two weeks, I will begin my NaNoWriMo challenge, remembering not to expect perfection, and to take breaks.