3 Things I Learnt During NaNoWriMo

By Jess Gately

Over the years I have participated or skipped NaNoWriMo as I see necessary. For me, NaNoWriMo has always been an opportunity to fully explore an idea and get the groundwork going for a novel. It’s also a great time to build your writing skills, identify your writing weaknesses, and to get back into the habit of writing on a daily basis. I learnt a lot of things about myself as a writer and about my story this year, and, judging from various forums and NaNoWriMo threads I was reading, a lot of people had similar experiences. So, what exactly did I learn? Well…

I learnt discipline

I think there were only three days in the whole of November when I didn’t write my NaNoWriMo story. That’s down from 25 days in October where I made no progress on any of my writing. That’s a pretty massive change to my behaviour. Even on the days during November when I just wasn’t feeling the words, I told myself I just had to write 500 words and more often than not that flowed into my full daily goal word count. In fact, I think the smallest amount I wrote when I actually sat down to force something out was 671 words. It just goes to show what that bit of discipline can do for your writing.

The whole question of ‘do I need to write every day to be a writer?’ is certainly flashed before you during NaNoWriMo, but the whole experience always gives me the same answer. YES. Yes you do need to write every day, even if it is just 500 words. Nobody needs to see them. You may go back and edit it down later to just 150 usable words, but you do need to write. Those days when I had to force myself to get something out inevitably led to the days when the words wouldn’t stop. But I wouldn’t have had those days if I hadn’t forced something out when I didn’t want to write. I would have stayed stuck in the same place in my story endlessly waiting for it to change when it wouldn’t.

I learnt new ways to motivate myself

Two new motivators took the stage this year and they made writing really fun. I have to give credit where it’s due as I’m not sure I would have survived NaNoWriMo without them.  

Firstly, I joined four Facebook groups dedicated to people participating in NaNoWriMo. This served some very important functions; locked away in my study I still felt connected to other people and, what’s more, those people were often feeling the same way I was. It was validating to know that other people were struggling when I was and it was exciting to share my achievements with other people who’d also had particularly successful days. It also meant that when I was procrastinating on social media I was often still thinking about NaNoWriMo. My feed was filled with people asking for help or celebrating their word counts or sharing their food and playlist choices or their workspaces. Even when I was procrastinating I was still discussing writing and getting excited by it. It also reminded me that for all the time I was sitting on social media replying to all these posts I could also be smashing out a few hundred words.

The support I found in these groups was overwhelming. When people were having a rough time they would be bombarded with messages of support or advice or validation. With all of these good vibes it was easier to pull myself out of the hard days and into the good ones.

Which leads me to my next motivation: word sprints. The NaNoWriMo website offers the ability to do word sprints but I was particularly fond of the group sprints. I’d create a group sprint and post the URL to the various Facebook groups asking people to join me and together we’d all smash out generally somewhere between 800-1200 words in 20 minutes to half an hour. At the end we’d all congratulate each other on getting half way through our daily word count together. That group motivation was huge. Even on the days when I could just write on my own I found myself wanting to do sprints with other people because it made the writing that much more fun.

I learnt a lot about my characters and my plot

The goal of 50,000 words is secondary to me over the goal of figuring out the holes in my plot. This year’s NaNoWriMo saw me set the ground work for an idea that I’ve had in my head for at least seven years but even just in planning it I could see exactly where the holes in my story lie. Trying to figure out what was going to happen in each chapter to get my characters from A to B was impossible to plan. This was my chance to just write out the journey in full and hope for the best.

There’s some pros and cons to this method of course. For one, it’s incredibly long-winded which means I spend a lot of time writing things that will never make the final cut. At the final 50,000 words I’m still only about a third of the way through my novel. However, it does mean that I can see where my ideas of how certain characters will develop do and don’t make sense. It also helps me to really round out my characters and truly understand what motivates them and what shapes them. They stop being characters and start becoming people during this process.

This does have some pretty dramatic effects on my plot. One of my happy reunion scenes suddenly became very awkward and not-so-happy, and one of my cute relationships became loveless and sad. However my characters were real and so were their reactions and the story made more sense and flowed more naturally.

With November over, the lessons from NaNoWriMo have left me feeling more confident as a writer and more motivated going into December and 2018. There’s one last thing I’d like to share though. Originally I had planned to just share my own journey through NaNoWrimo by sharing a picture of my word stats graph. However, I put the call out to my virtual writing buddies to share their graphs too.  It shows how all of us differ in our writing processes. Some of us write in bursts. Some of us started strong but struggled to keep it up through the second half of the month. Others however barely kept up to begin with, but hit the word count out of the park by the end. Others were just on fire and smashed the goal by half way through the month (demons that they are).

Below is a collection of graphs that show the daily progress some of us made. If you’ve never seen a NaNo Graph before, the grey line shows what your total word count should be each day if you write an equal amount each day. But pay attention to the bumps and troughs in the individual bars. That’s the actual word count at the end of each day and that’s a reflection of how each writer was approaching the challenge.

This is my graph. You can see I started out strong but was barely keeping up as the month went on

This writer stuck to the linear progression to make sure they didn’t burn out

This writer kept ahead of the game but you can see they made more progress in the beginning of the month with steeper progression up until about 15 days in

This woman hit her 50k goal on day 15! She said the words were just flowing this month…

This writer didn’t start off as strong but really took off in the second half of the month

This writer used NaNoWriMo to finish an existing project and to write filler scenes and descriptions for a manuscript that was too short

This writer and I had a lot in common, starting off strong but unable to commit in full during the middle of the month

This writer wrote in fits and starts, and didn’t reach the target in the end. But that’s still nearly 30,000 words that wouldn’t exist without the hard work and dedication of sticking to (some of) NaNo’s parameters!

In the end it was discipline and hard work that kept us all going. No matter how we started, or where we fell behind, we all finished. So keep at it and next year, join us!

Underground Team

One thought on “3 Things I Learnt During NaNoWriMo, by Jess Gately

  1. Great little summary. Learning a lot about your novel (your characters and plot) is a great outcome to have. Good luck with your 2018 editing.

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