What I got out of Nanowrimo

So for anybody who hasn’t been following along, this year I did Nanowrimo, which is an annual contest (against yourself more than anyone else) to write 50,000 words in the month of November. 

I’ve toyed with it before and never really done it. I have also been a nano-naysayer in the past, so I am familiar with a lot of the arguments against it. In fact only two weeks or so before it started, I was telling people that from now on I was dedicating myself to slow writing, and quality over speed. Which may be how I ended up signing up; I’ve always been contrary, with myself as well as others.

So I thought I’d share what I got out of the experience. Mileage may vary.

  1. I discovered I could in fact write 50,000 words in a month. Which, wow, I never thought I would be able to do. To contextualise, in the last five years or so I’ve written a total of about 30,000 words. And what’s more, although time may change my mind, to my view they were pretty decent quality words. Sure, a lot of it will be rewritten or cut, and there are some crap passages. But there are also some passages that I love. And I don’t think the quality overall is any different to that which I produce when writing slower.
  2. It took the pressure off. For the last few years, I’ve been struggling with the fact that it takes so damn long to write a novel. And what if you’re investing all that time in a dud idea? What if this novel is going to end up in the bin? It’s hard to work for a year, two years, three years, on a book that you know might never see the light of day. It’s a lot easier to give that book a month of your time.
  3. It helped me redefine how much I can write in a session. I used to see 350 words as a good daily target, aiming to have a novel done in about a year. It never seemed to happen, but that was my goal. This month I’ve been writing 1600 words a day, with 3000 words on a good day. Most days that was slotted in around full time work, before work and in lunch breaks. Even if I can’t sustain the same pace, after November, the fact is that I’ve pushed myself and discovered I can be more productive than I ever thought.
  4. Nano made me set good patterns. Previously I’ve toyed with the idea of writing in the mornings, and I usually last a few days, and then I stay up too late or have a bad night’s sleep and I give myself a morning off, and then another, and the pattern stops. Having a 1600 word a day goal meant that I couldn’t afford to work that haphazardly, and so I was a lot more tough on myself in terms of getting to bed early, and not taking days off (I took a couple but not many). I *did* get tired toward the end of the week, and my Fridays were a lot less productive, but I managed to compensate by writing more on Mondays and Tuesdays. 
  5. It reminded me of the value of a supportive community. For the last five years or so I’ve largely drifted away from any groups or other writers, and I’m not naturally a network sort of person. It was really good to have a ready-made cheer squad of other writers on hand to push me through the difficult days. I don’t believe in being beholden to the opinions of others, but it certainly helps accountability to know that other people are there watching, and some days it helped me dig deep to pull out those words i thought were beyond me.
  6. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the world you’re writing. One of the problems I’ve had in the past has been sustaining the love for a novel. An idea that really moves you or inspires you can start to lose its lustre after two or three years, and that leads to a lot of second-guessing, doubts and just a lack of motivation. One benefit of nano is that you’re churning out the bulk of the novel during a time when you’re still in love with it, and that really helps to pull you through. Writing so many words also keeps the book fresh in your mind. Sometimes too much; after a few of the darker, more painful scenes to write, I really found it hard not to carry the characters into everyday life 🙂

I’m sure there are other benefits that I haven’t realised yet, but those are the things I got out of the process. I found it very useful and it has helped me to feel enthused about writing again for the first time in years. So I’d totally recommend it.

Nanowrimo’s not for everyone. And if you don’t feel like you want to commit to that sort of thing, that’s fine. If you do try it, my only advice is to make it fun, and to try to hit it as hard as you can in the first week. A lot of people I know got disheartened when they fell behind early. I think it’s important to keep deadlines and goals reasonable, and to keep ourselves feeling positive about what we’re doing. If you start feeling like you’re struggling to keep up or depressed at being behind, the best thing you can do is rewrite your deadline to something that you can feel good about. 

Anyway, I still have a novel to finish. Even if I only carry on part of the productivity from this month, I feel like I’ve come out ahead. And then I’ll have a book to edit and revise.

I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

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2 Responses to What I got out of Nanowrimo

  1. I’m so glad you found it such a positive experience, Ben. It’s great to hear you got your mojo back. I participated in nano last year, and although I didn’t get to the 50K, I had similar revelations. (Except for number 2 – even with a slab of nano, it still takes me too damn long to write a novel!)

  2. Awesome. I think I’d struggle to cut and paste 50K of words in a month these days.
    Now this is the part where I remind you that you don’t have to wait until next year.

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