Nanowrimo like a loser: What I learned

By the official guidelines, I lost nanowrimo big time. I don’t have an accurate final count, but it’s about 36,000 words. Still, based on my own goals and expectations at the beginning of November, I won. You can read more about that in my last post.

I finished the first draft of my novel, the second book in a series, after about 29,000 words, which left me with the question, “What now?” This is why you’re supposed to start nano with a new story, but I knowingly broke the rules. With about two weeks left, I decided to work on my outline for the third book.

Launching straight into my outline had some advantages. Everything from Book 2 was fresh in my mind, and it’s helped me figure out what some of the changes I need to make to my draft are. The drawbacks? Writing 1,667 words of outline a day was not a doable task for me. Once I got the basic outline down, I decided that instead of trying to force out more words for the sake of my nano experiment, I should actually switch to editing. Editing, and by extension, deleting words, is not conducive to “winning” nanowrimo. After all, one of the rules of nanowrimo is that you don’t go back and edit. It’s also not conducive to tracking daily word counts, which is why I don’t have a completely accurate word count for the month.

Am I disappointed I didn’t hit 50,000 words? Yes, a little. But the truth is, I didn’t set myself up to succeed at that goal, and I have to remember that. I not only achieved my own goals, but exceeded them, which is all I can truly ask of myself. So, what did I actually learn?

Habits are crucial.

The biggest thing I gained from trying nanowrimo was writing everyday with a goal in mind. I know how many words I can reasonably write in my two hours before work. If I’m in the zone, I can hit 1400. If I’m working hard, but not in that writing flow, I can hit 1000. If I’m tired, distracted, or directionless, it’s less than that, so I try to prepare myself in such a way that I’m not going to fall into those traps. I moved up my bedtime, put my computer in airplane mode, and outlined my story so that I could hit the upper end of my productivity spectrum. I’m always looking for ways to get more writing from writing time, and trying nanowrimo, and applying the pressure of a deadline really helped me learn about myself.

I also started waking up and going straight to writing (after brewing some tea). Before, I got ready, then wrote. Now, I write, then get ready for work. It’s weird, but it’s made a big difference for me.

Outlines are gold.

Like many other outliners, I deviate from my outline, but the days when my outlined was detailed and the scenes had already been fully visualized went much more smoothly. In fact, outlining is on my list of skills to improve, because I really think that a lot of the issues I run into while writing could be solved by smarter outlining.

Finish a scene the same day it’s started.

This one surprised me a little, but on days I started a new scene and wrote it all, my writing flowed much more easily. If I tried to pick up a half-finished scene the next morning, I struggled to regain that momentum. Obviously, jobs and life will make this impossible to do sometimes, but when I can, I now know to aim for scene completion as an objective over word count.

Good lighting makes a difference.

This was an unexpected discovery. When the days got shorter, I struggled to wake up early. I got a sunrise simulation light, and it’s made a huge difference in helping me wake up when it’s pitch black outside. It gradually gets lighter in the 30 minutes before my alarm goes off, easing my brain into wake-up mode. I never thought I could wake up early to write, but it’s actually been the best thing to happen for my writing. I haven’t made the commitment to wake early on weekends, but I know I should, and committing to that is next on my list of habits to adopt.

I also got a new LED lamp for the room where I do my writing. The overhead lighting in the room was insufficient, so it always felt dark. Having a bright space has helped me feel awake and get straight into writing.

Love what you write.

I’m writing the story I want to read. Some mornings I would wake up dying to write the next scene because it was going to be awesome. I love my story. I love my characters. I love the world they’re in. This doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of editing in my future, because, oh man, there is. But I’m excited to do that editing. I’m excited to clean this draft up, share it with my beta readers, and grow as a writer.

What did you learn from nanowrimo? Anything you weren’t expecting to discover?


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