What I learned doing Nanowrimo this year

November was a blur, but I’m happy to report that I did it. I won Nanowrimo.

Nanowrimo 2017 - Winner

Sort of. What I did was hit the 50,000 words required (50,327 words, to be exact), and immediately collapsed. The novel is far from finished, but it serves well enough as a first draft that I’ve started over from the beginning for a second.

It was an incredible experience, and I learned a lot from doing it. Here are my five takeaways from Nanowrimo 2017!

I spend my time very poorly

Turns out, writing 1,667 words a day is fairly easy to achieve and doesn’t take an enormous amount of time. You just have to make the time.

I don’t have a formula for how I did it. I didn’t write a time-stamped log of what I do every day, nor did I analyze any charts to see where cuts could be made.

All it took was keeping myself alert and present in every moment, constantly asking myself if what I’m doing is worth the time I’m taking to do it. Time is a currency. Am I spending my money in the right place?

Here’s where I found my cuts naturally:

Facebook

The pit where people drop their free time to watch it die. For this, I wish I’d made a chart. How much time do I waste scrolling past poorly photoshopped images with inspirational quotes on them? How many ads do I breeze over in a day? Are the memes really that funny?

Compare that time to how many meaningful posts by friends and family you actually see. There’s a startling lack of balance there, and I found my time was better spent elsewhere.

Make a list of friends and family you want to keep up with. Bookmark that list. Post your thing, check your list, and close that fucking window.

Video Games

My greatest hurdle. I found that I have a habit of logging into my MMORPG of choice and… doing nothing. Staring at the chatlogs, waiting for something to happen. Before I know it, nothing happened, and it’s time for bed.

I can’t bring myself to break off gaming forever, but I found if I loaded up a game with a specific goal in mind, I waste a lot less time. Do the thing, log out, go write!

The strange takeaway is that, while I played the games less, I actually accomplished more in them by going in knowing exactly what I wanted to accomplish and just doing it.

Television

This bad boy was pretty much nixed right out of my life with zero qualms. Sorry ’bout it.

Socializing

Not to say that being social is a waste of time (I totally want to say that let me be a hermit please), but it’s important to be able to tell your friends, “No, sorry, I can’t go out tonight because I need to work.” They’ll huff, and they’ll roll their eyes, and they’ll pressure you anyway, because they don’t think this silly thing you’re doing is work.

The important thing is that you consider it work, and treat it as such.

Maybe go out for that drink, or join them for dinner. Just remember that it’s totally okay to cut your time short so you can get home and write a bit.

The busier I am, the more productive I’ll be

On my days off, I would lounge about in my pajamas for hours without a care in the world. “I’m going to write so much today,” I would hotly declare. “I’m going to write so much this weekend that I’ll barely have to write the rest of the month!”

Why wouldn’t I? A full 48 hours of freetime is practically forever. So, I treated it as such. Until midnight rolled around and suddenly I’m in a frenzy over my laptop nailing down every stray word that comes to mind.

Folks, it’s a true fact. Busy people get shit done. My most productive days weren’t my days off – they were days that I worked two hours extra at work and had a social commitment for dinner. Not a moment to be wasted, and I churned out up to 6,000 words on days like that.

People act like they shut theirselves in for thirty days to do Nanowrimo, and they can’t do anything but write the whole time. I found the opposite to be true – I got more done in general this November than I almost ever do. I wrote more, I cleaned more, I read more. When you make an effort to carefully budget your time, you tend to make things happen.

Stay busy. Get shit done.

Never take two or more days off in a row from your writing.

Stephen King talks about this in his memoir On Writing, and I’ve never heard truer words: You can take two days off when you’re first getting in the habit, but never take more than that. Try to whittle it down to one day off, if you can.

Why?

King says it’s because you lose the sense of urgency, and I agree completely. It was incredibly difficult to get back into my story after a few days off, and the looming count of words I’m behind on did nothing to help matters.

Not only did I lose my sense of urgency, but I lost my character’s voices. I became detached from my story, and it was that much harder to find a flow again.

Get that draft out of your system, and take your break when it’s finished.

Reading is part of a well-balanced breakfast

Whenever you’re stuck in a chapter, it’s tempting to hop over to other windows and check your social media accounts while you “figure it out”. Maybe you think a nice break in front of the television is what the doctor ordered.

Don’t.

Put down the remote. Put down your phone. Stick your nose in a book instead.

You will be entertained, you will learn, and most importantly – it will keep you inspired. Are you a writer that’s looking for your muse? I’m telling you, that muse is hiding in the pages of the book you’ve been neglecting to read. Quoting Stephen King again (look, I just reread the memoir – don’t judge me): If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

Books are fuel for the creative mind. Make sure you’re getting enough.

And, finally…

Nanowrimo is not for me

I’m really proud of myself, and consider it a check on the bucket list. Nanowrimo is an incredible learning experience, but I think I’ve taken what I need from it. See: everything listed above ^

It’s just not my style. Toward the end, I was desperately throwing down words to hit my counts, with little regard to logic, character, flow, or story. That’s not fun for me. I enjoy the first draft, I enjoy editing as I go and making every scene flourish as much as I can while I’m at it. When I write a stinker of a chapter, I don’t want to ignore it and keep going – without fixing it, anything I produce afterward isn’t true to the story.

By the end of November, I knew that my story needed to take a different turn earlier on that would drastically change everything I was doing. I knew that anything I did in that last week would be a complete waste of time, and it killed me to dry-heave words just to hit a target.

But, dry-heave them I did. I got my winner’s badge, and now I’m working on a second draft that hardly resembles the first at all.

I’m grateful for the experience, because this story probably wouldn’t have happened had I not committed to Nanowrimo. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned, and I hope to use that to hone better habits in the future. But, for now, I bid Nanowrimo adieu.

Anybody else participate? How was your experience? Did you win?

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