5 Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo
1. Carve out a daily writing window
NaNoWriMo started out fairly smoothly, but towards the end of the month, when I was desperately trying to maintain my daily word, I found myself begrudgingly writing at any spare moment. Sometimes this was helpful, but most of the time it just made the process of writing very stressful.
I enjoyed working on my NaNoWriMo project much more on the days I stuck to my writing window. I knew from previous experience that the morning was my favorite time to write.
Furthermore, NaNoWriMo took me away from my morning journaling, because I used that time to try to reach my project word count. Eventually, the lack of journaling led me to stop writing altogether. I realized I need to use some of my morning writing window for journaling because it’s an important part of maintaining my creativity and my passion for writing.
Journaling might give me the energy and inspiration to work on other writing projects, but if not, that’s okay too. Regardless, journaling keeps me consistently writing.
2. The writing window is a judgment-free zone
Next year I’m putting this on a post-it note on my computer (you should join me if you need this reminder). My word count started to dwindle when I started self-monitoring my writing, deleting sentences immediately after writing them.
Sometimes you just need to allow yourself to write for the sake of writing. Eventually, you may produce something worthwhile that takes you down a rabbit hole of exciting work, but you’ll never get there if you keep critiquing every word, or holding back from writing because you have no ‘good’ ideas.
The writing window is a judgment-free zone, where nothing you write has to see the light of day if you don’t want it to.
3. Writing and editing are different tasks, treat them as such
If I re-read every sentence I wrote after reading it, I would delete every word I’ve ever written. Carve out a writing time and an editing time. Even if these two tasks happen within the same window of writing time, give them their due space. Stretch your legs or refill your coffee after writing and before editing.
4. Blindly following goals that don’t serve you is unnecessary
I love a goal. My physical health pretty much revolves around the monthly challenges I set for myself. This became especially helpful during quarantine when gyms and fitness studios closed and I was responsible for my own physical wellbeing. This month I want to run x amount of miles. This month I want to do strength training x times a week. It’s fun, it keeps things different and thus interesting, and having a bigger picture goal gets me out of bed on the days I feel unmotivated.
With this line of thinking I thought NaNoWriMo would be perfect for me. 50,000 words in the month of November. I told myself my project would be very free-form in order to help myself reach this goal for the first time.
It went well at first, I planned my project in October, wrote every day for the first 15 or so days, but I started to lose steam mid-month. One lost day meant 2k more words the next day, and 2 missed days meant 4k more the following day. Things quickly spiraled to the point where catching up felt like a daunting, impossible task.
It wasn’t like my physical challenges where the hardest part is just lacing up my shoes and getting out the door, or stepping onto my yoga mat. If I sat at the computer and had nothing to write, I was quickly able to abandon the effort and take on a different task.
I had also given up my journaling time to dedicate to NaNoWriMo, which turned out to be a huge mistake. My morning pages allow me to clear my mind and write other things throughout the day. I was so focused on putting any free moment in the day toward my word count goal.
Realizing that even as a goal-oriented person, certain types of goals, like this one, weren’t serving me, was a huge takeaway for me. It also led me to ask myself an important question…
5. Ask yourself if you’re a marathoner or a sprinter
Being the goal-oriented person I am, one of the things I fail to do sometimes is check in with my big picture goals. As I trudged along 20–28k words, far closer to the end of the month than I had intended to be at that point, I realized I was a marathoner in the shoes of a sprinter.
I understand the goal of hitting 50k is a way to dramatically increase your writing (a sprint for those writer’s not used to this level of producing) but I’m a marathoner. I sit down every morning and journal. I then start working on another writing project for anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour tops, and then I’m done writing for the day. Doing so gives me consistency in my writing practice.
I have learned over the years that 20 minutes can be more fruitful than a labored 2 hours. But this isn’t the case for everyone. Someone else might spend an entire day writing, then take the next 5 days off.
NaNoWriMo helped me increase my daily mileage, and showed me what I was capable of. It illuminated the fact that I’m a marathoner, who writes a little every day. NaNoWriMo put me into a sprinter mentality that left me resentful of writing time that I used to enjoy. I would put off writing because I didn’t want to sprint, but I felt like I had to in order to bang out as many words as possible, frequently checking my word count to see how much progress I had made.
I was nearing burnout to the point where December would probably be a month where I wouldn’t write at all. I would be too deep in recovery mode, too sore and sour from an experience I didn’t enjoy to want to write again. I prefer my consistent morning jogs, which slowly increase my word count over time.
If I participate in NaNoWriMo again next year…
If I participate in NaNoWriMo again next year, I will focus less on the word count (while still aspiring to reach the coveted 50k words) and be diligent about my morning writing time. I will carve out more time than I usually do in my schedule in order to give myself the room to reach that higher word count, but I won’t go overboard to the point where I’d be sitting behind the computer screen fiddling my thumbs. It may take some time to figure out that sweet spot for how long my writing window will be.
I also wouldn’t give up my morning journaling for my NaNoWriMo writing project.
When in doubt, I would remind myself of my big picture goals, enjoy my jogging style of writing, and remember to leave judgment behind in October.