What I learned from National Novel Writing Month

This year I participated in the 2011 National Novel Writing Month, or otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. I got familiar with the activity last year, but just thought it was a novel (see what I did there) idea. Since my initial familiarity with it last year, I have dabbled with a bit of writing, blogging (rarely), and even the beginnings of a work of fiction in my head that had a couple “chapters” make it onto a written page.Thing is, I haven’t done a great deal of writing. Between the project from hell at work, and general other things that took up my time, I just never had the time I wanted to devote it. Then the project from hell ended, time began to open up and there I was on November first, talking with a friend about NaNoWriMo and it’s actual start being that day. I created my account on NaNoWriMo.org, still not sure whether to do it or not. By the end of the work day, I had decided to make a go of it.I cheated a bit as I really didn’t write fiction, but the important thing to me was that I was writing. I had this idea in my head that my family had made my life somewhat interesting so I started the idea of, “How The Old Country Died in America.” Conceptually this was my growing up in America, with the slant that my family brought me with their upbringing in eastern Europe. What mattered, to me, was that I was writing.

This being my first experience with NaNoWriMo, here’s what I learned:

  • For the month of November, I watched a lot less TV.
  • Holy crap! Distractions!
  • I have some supportive folks around me, especially Flak, my wife, and certain members of my family who read a few excerpts and gave me a bit of feedback.
  • I learned that I want to know more about my family, because to truly depict their lives correctly and respectfully, I need to write more than what I know, but about them and their views.
  • I can actually write (not sure how well, but I can put words on a page in a coherent manner).
  • Scrivener is a pretty cool writing instrument.
  • 50,000 words is a whole lot of words.

So, as much as I enjoyed the experience, for someone like me, trying this for the first time, it’s pretty daunting, even near impossible.

There are a few things NaNoWriMo could do to make the experience…I don’t want to say better, but more palatable for less experienced writers. NaNoWriMo is held in November, which is where most of the drawbacks exist:

  • November is short
  • November has a major holiday that most people likely celebrate
  • For students, November tends to be near the end of fall semester which certainly doesn’t help get things done

Now those drawbacks can be overcome, I just couldn’t do it. Once you fall behind, it’s daunting to try and catch up. To hit that 50,000 words, you have to write around 1,666 words a day, which is doable, but pretty challenging. Personally, my subject matter was practically already written in my head, until I hit the wall of what I didn’t know, but when I fell behind, I found myself trying to make up that deficit the next day, which was nearly impossible at some point. At the end, I started using NaNoWriMo’s dashboard tools with Scrivener to figure out better daily goals that were more palatable.

In the end, I enjoyed the experience, even if I didn’t hit the goal for the month. I wrote almost every day, save my wedding anniversary and Thanksgiving. So, not that you all care, but I did get 28,440 words down and the intent to write more on the subject.

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5 responses to “What I learned from National Novel Writing Month

  1. Glad you enjoyed the experience overall. I have some concerns with NaNoWriMo being seen as a legitimate source of good writing – but that mostly applies to self-important authors. You clearly approached it realistically and handled the failure in a reasonable way. As a three-time trier and three-time loser I can say that the impetus to write alone is a positive point for me.

    Good luck next year!!

  2. Hell, I hadn’t put much thought into what this even is or even how to undertake that much writing in a month, and I think this post fills in a lot of grey area in my mind. Writing is difficult for me, and I don’t think writing fiction is easy in general, but I’ve skimmed a couple books about writing of all kinds and I think taking notes is something important. It’s kind of like an artist keeping photos or colors for future use, little events and descriptions are likely good stimulus, especially if the writing is based on your own experiences.. at least, that’s what the books tell me. The longest story I’ve ever written was in a middle school creative writing class, and even then it was 5-6000 muddled words. You did awesome in my opinion, and I’m not so sure this 50k words in a month thing produces a great story (editing and all that other stuff still needs to happen, then there’s planning/storyboarding and whatnot.. one month is short), but it sounds like a strong start in the right direction.

    And writers probably read and write more than anyone else. Good habits to have I believe, but personally writing takes so much time that it’s difficult to find pleasure in it.

    Hope you stick to it and give it another shot next year!

    P.S. This is a nice wordpress theme!

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