The NaNoWriMo Experience and the Taste of Victory

When I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo for 2009 – my very first one – it wasn’t just because it sounded like an interesting and challenging experience. Well, there was that, too; I was intrigued by the idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days as part of a large community of people doing the same thing. But what I mean is that I decided to use NaNoWriMo as a platform to aim for some very specific goals:

  • Imposing self discipline. I wanted to form a daily writing habit, and discover how easy or difficult daily writing goals of this length would be for me.
  • Writing a story sequentially, from beginning to end in order, instead of jumping around all over the place like I usually do.
  • Suppressing my inner editor. I’ve developed a nasty habit of editing while I’m writing a first draft, which often stifles the creative flow and stops you from really just writing. NaNoWriMo was the perfect opportunity to force myself to just write, to just get the words on the page, and leave the editing until later.
  • Improving my writing. The only way to do that is to actually write, right? Even if I didn’t reach all my other goals, this is one goal I’d achieve just by doing it.

NaNoWriMo 2009 is officially over (has been for a couple of days, a little late with this post), and my recorded word count is 50,885. I reached the 50k goal three days early and decided to finish off the chapter I was working on and then stop. I’m pleased to say that I did achieve all my goals, and also discovered some things about my writing process and myself as a writer:

1,500 to 2,000 words every day is actually pretty simple; I can fly through the word count when I know what I’m writing about. It’s only when I enter murky waters that things start to slow, and I think this is because I find it hard to string a good sentence together when I’m also trying to feel my way through the story. I realised this about halfway through November, and decided to abandon great writing in favour of increasing the word count. This worked well for NaNoWriMo, but for my own writing, I think I prefer to keep the daydreaming and the writing a little more separate. This allows my ideas to bloom instead of being half-baked and forced, and I think I enjoy the process more this way.

My story is an absolute mess filled with sections of bad writing. I actually ended up with two first halves of two separate stories that are linked together. While I’m stoked that I made it over 50k, I’m going to welcome a slightly slower pace once again, and spending more time on the planning and worldbuilding will be nice, especially when I hit a road block and feel the need to consult or rework the plans even while in the middle of a chapter.

I learnt to shut out my inner editor completely. A couple of times I’d catch myself going over a paragraph I’d just written to see if it was structured well and made sense, but those occasions were rare and fleeting. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you actually force yourself to keep moving forward. Do that enough and it becomes a habit.

Writing is work. It might be enjoyable work, but it’s still work, and some days you just don’t feel like doing the work. It took an event like NaNoWriMo to make me realise that this is perfectly normal, and probably something that all writers go through. Even those off days filled with bad writing are rarely a waste of time; often figuring out what doesn’t work helps you to figure out what does.

I’ll be honest here: I never had any doubt that I would finish NaNoWriMo. My personality type and work ethic would never allow me to stop without crossing the finish line. That said, I’m still proud of myself and what I achieved, and I think everyone who participated this year, whether they reached 50k or not, should be proud. I think NaNoWriMo is more about the journey than the end result, and I got so much out of the experience that I definitely want to do it again next year.

As for the my 50,000 word novel, it’s definitely not my best writing to date (which is probably to be expected), but there’s some great ideas in there that I want to explore, and will do so now that I’ve developed a writing habit and realised it’s not so hard when you take the time and do the work. I’ll be continuing with it and aiming to finish my first draft. But I doubt I’ll be working on it exclusively; one thing I didn’t anticipate from NaNoWriMo was all the ideas for other stories that sparked just from being in a creative kind of head space. Can’t wait to start writing those.