What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2017

Well, readers… I did it. For the first time, I  participated in NaNoWriMo, and better yet, I won. If you’ve been following my 2017 NaNo journey, you’ll know that this is the first time I’ve set the goal of 50,000 words, and although I was nervous about it, I finally reached my goal, and two days early at that!

Of course, my story is nowhere near being complete, and it’s definitely going to take me some time to rework this idea and craft it into something I can hopefully one day share with the world. Chances are, whenever I make it to a final copy, it won’t look at all like what I wrote in November. But does that mean that participating in NaNo was in vain? Not at all! In fact, I learned a lot about myself and my writing in the past month, and today, I’d like to share those lessons with you.

Lesson #1: I can actually write every day if I want to

In the past, I’ve set goals about writing every day, even if it’s just a little bit, but I’ve never been able to fully achieve them. Sometimes it’s due to outside circumstances, but more often than not, it’s because I simply don’t want to write. However, NaNoWriMo was different. For the entire month, I did in fact write every single day!

I was amazed, since I was sure there would be at least one day where I didn’t do any writing. That day never came, though – during the competition, I made writing a priority, and it really paid off. In fact, I think treating it as a task helped me in some ways. For example, I wouldn’t let myself play video games or read until I had written my NaNo words. It really helped motivate me!

The takeaway: By prioritizing your writing, you can get a lot more done than you might think! Even if you don’t write every day, it can make your sessions much more productive.

2017-12-03 002 Calendar
If you prioritize it, you can write every day!

Lesson #2: It takes me a while to really know my characters

Even after writing 50k words, I’m still not sure I have a strong grasp on my protagonists. I know about their traits and mannerisms, but I’m not familiar with their voices, motivations, or goals. Going into NaNo, I thought I knew enough to write them, but compared to other projects with characters I’ve worked with for a long time, I just didn’t feel like I knew these as well. On the bright side, writing with characters is how I usually become more familiar with them, so I definitely think I know them better after writing this.

The takeaway: Really knowing a character inside and out takes time, and it’s okay if you don’t get it the first time. Just keep writing, and it’ll fall into place eventually.

2017-12-03 003 Character
It’s okay to not know your characters until later on.

Lesson #3: It’s impossible to be 100% prepared

I’ve been planning my 2017 NaNo story since the beginning of June this year, which I’m so glad I did. It gave me time to figure out plot, setting, characters, and all sorts of other things that went into writing in November. Even though I hadn’t planned everything out, I thought I knew enough to carry me through most of the month.

Want to know something? I still wasn’t completely prepared for everything. While I was writing, there were still things that came up that I had to resolve in the middle of writing. Some things, like names, I decided to figure out later, but others I had to work on right then and there. Sometimes that was frustrating, but I kept moving anyway.

The takeaway: You’ll never be fully prepared for any writing project when you begin – there will always be unexpected things that come up. The best thing to do is either make a note to resolve it later, or solve it then and there. Just don’t get frustrated – fix it and keep moving!

2017-12-03 004 Papers on floor
Even if you have papers like this, you’ll never be 100% prepared.

Lesson #4: Adapting is important

When I first started my NaNo story, I planned to write it in third-person point-of-view (POV), alternating between the two main characters’ perspectives. About a third of the way into the story, I decided to switch to first-person POV instead. I’d been wanting to do it for a while, but I resisted because I wanted to keep my story consistent. When writing in third-person became boring, I finally made the switch, and I think that really helped me write the rest of the words. I tend to prefer first-person over third, and writing it came much more naturally to me.

The takeaway: Sometimes in a project, things won’t be going the way you planned, whether that’s in the actual story or how you’re writing it. When you’re writing a draft, it’s better to just adapt and keep moving – don’t go back and change what you did, just keep going. You can always refine it later.

2017-12-03 005 Skittles bookmark
Adapting may mean doing something different for the good of the story, like using a Skittles wrapper as a bookmark.

Lesson #5: It’s easy to get distracted

Like I said before, there were times when I was in the middle of writing and I had to fix an unforeseen issue. Sometimes doing so involved doing a bit of research. Fortunately, I have the internet at my fingertips, but it’s both blessing and a curse. As soon as I open my browser to look up a simple fact, I’m bombarded with e-mails to read, Facebook messages to check, and other things that can and will distract me from what I’m doing.

When I had to get a lot of writing done, I often disconnected my computer from the internet entirely and set my phone to “do not disturb.” Sure, the temptation is still there, but it’s a little easier to stay focused. As the month went on, I started learning more about what my biggest distractions were, and I found new ways to combat them.

The takeaway: It’s incredibly easy to get distracted while writing, so figure out what your biggest distractions are and take steps to minimize them. You’ll never be 100% distraction-free, but every bit helps!

2017-12-03 001 Phone Laptop
I know we all want to look at cute dogs on Instagram, but your story is calling!

What lessons have you been learning about yourself and your writing lately? How do you fight back against distractions? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time!

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