12 Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo – Tuesday Writing Tip

Today, in Australia is the final day of NaNoWriMo so I thought it was a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned from the experience.

This post was going to be the 10 things I learned from doing NaNoWriMo 2010, but when I tried to write it, I realised that there are more.

I wanted to share them with you because I think they are principles that can be applied to your writing regardless of whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not.

They are 12 things that can help you develop great writing habits and achieve your writing goals all year round.

Here’s what I learned:

1.    It’s really worthwhile to set yourself a daily writing target. Even half an hour’s writing is better than none.

2.    Allow yourself thinking time. If you have already thought about ‘what’s next’ for your story, you’ll find that half an hour can be very productive writing time.

You can keep adding pics and notes to your planning cork board as you write

3.    Plan at least a rough outline of your novel first so you have some idea where you are heading.

4.    Don’t worry if your ‘planned’ novel changes direction. Allow your characters to take it where they think it should go.

5.    Have some idea of setting before you start. Setting can affect plot outcomes.

6.    Do character profiles for your main character/s before you start – so you know how they’ll react to things that happen to them

7.    Join a group of some kind. I found that the NaNoWriMo Warriors was a great group. It was full of wonderful people from all around the world so there was someone to chat to almost 24/7.

If I was up at 1.00am pondering over a dilemma with my writing, there was always someone ‘out there’ in cyber space to mull it over with and gain support and encouragement from.

8.    Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Writing is a solitary profession, and everyone has down days when the words just don’t come – when things seem impossible.   Having someone to chat with about this (whether it be in person or online) can be really inspirational.

People telling you that you CAN do this helps you believe that you can – helps you to achieve your goals.

You might also find that other writers have resources that can help you. For example, if you decide you don’t like your main character anymore, another writer might be able to offer you the perfect article or post to help you develop your character and become fond of them again.

Joining a group also makes you realise that you are not alone. That all writers have doubts and dilemmas and that it’s perfectly normal to have problems being mean to your main character (or not) and that doesn’t make you a wuss or a sadist, it just makes you the writer that you are.

9.    Set realistic goals for yourself. Everyone is busy and has different commitments in their lives. Realistically, you need to write about 1700 words a day to reach your 50,000 word target. If you know your characters and what’s going to happen to them next, this can be done in an hour.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t achieve a daily goal. You can always catch up the next day or the day after – and the worst that can happen is that you don’t finish by the end of November, but you’ll still have more words written than you had at the start of the month – and possibly would have written in that time.

10.    Don’t be afraid to post your word counts on Facebook and other social media and gain motivation from the congratulations you receive from your “friends”. This isn’t bragging, it’s a way of getting acknowledgement for your achievements and keeping you inspired. It’s a way of spurring you on.

11.    Get involved in Word Wars. I’m a pacifist generally speaking, but I found that Word Wars were great for getting your word count up. They usually go for an hour and there’s a moderator who tells you when to start and when to finish and then you compare your word totals with other writers who have participated in the war.

It doesn’t matter if others have written more than you. Word Wars are all about helping you achieve your own personal targets.

12.    Try and eat well and sleep well during NaNo. If your brain is well fed and rested, it will work better for you.

If you achieved your NaNoWriMo goal this year, that’s fantastic. Congratulations! If you didn’t, don’t worry there’s always next year and you can still keep writing your novel and working on getting it finished.

Congratulations on what you have achieved and remember that word counts aren’t everything. Even if all NaNoWriMo did for you was get you writing on a regular basis, that has to be a good thing doesn’t it?

What did NaNoWriMo do for you? I’d love to hear about it. So feel free to share your experiences in the comment section of this post.

Happy writing:)


21 thoughts on “12 Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo – Tuesday Writing Tip

  1. Great article, Dee!

    This is my third NaNo year. I love the feeling of achievement and the way my inner critic is silenced in the rush to get to 50K. Then, on December 1, I’ve got a (very rough) novel that I can buff and polish into shape!

    I’ll be back next year!



  2. This is great advice, Dee. I know I need to have a sense of what the story is about before I can write. There are writers who simply can’t do this, so for them plotting ahead probably won’t work. But thinking is for every writer. It puts our imaginations on red alert, ready to unleash inspiration.

    Three things I discovered were:

    1. The capacity to override self-doubt is always at hand. It’s up to me to choose it.

    2. The only person who listens to my internal editor is me. I can choose not to.

    3. The only person who can turn off my internal editor is me. I can choose to do just that, at least, during the time I’ve committed to write.

  3. Thanks, DC,

    Does that mean you have finished your NaNo novel? Must admit I think mine will need more than a buff and polish – could be some major transplants involved lol.


  4. Thanks, Shelley,

    These are really great tips. And it’s true, we are the ones in control of our novel – at least until it gets into a publisher’s hands lol. Inner editor IS something we can control.

    I know that some people aren’t plotters (and I used to over plot) but I think that you need to have at least some idea where you want your story to go…even if it changes direction a few times:)

    Congrats on your NaNo achievements and hope the editing goes well.


  5. Great advice Dee. This year was my second attempt at NaNO, and I was lucky yet again to make it over the finish line. I find that working to a deadline certainly helps with the writing process.

    I did work to some kind of rough outline and I certainly had plenty of thinking time about my novel. I’m wondering now if this is how I should write from now on – NaNO has at least taught me to just write and worry about editing later. I only hope I can keep this momentum going.

    Congratulations on your own efforts during NaNO, Dee and enjoy the editing process! 😉


  6. Thanks, Debbie,

    Congratulations on making it over the finish line two years in a row. Fantastic achievement!

    I know what you mean. Allowing yourself thinking time is definitely essential. And I always try and move forward with my novel and not edit as I go. It helps me get the story out of my head and onto the computer.

    Good luck with your editing too:)


  7. I learned some rather counter-intuitive things this year with NaNoWriMo, as well as some uplifting ones.

    1) When I get stuck, reading something can often pull me out of the story enough to get my head on straight and dive back in.

    2) If the words aren’t coming on one project, sometimes it’s becasue they need to be written on another project first. I wrote several chapters for other pieces (both new and existing) this month and after that, the fuel was back under the fire for my NaNo project.

    3) I can get chores done, play with my cat, visit my parents, spend a little time with my husband AND get more than 2,000 words written in one 24-hour period.

    I think all three will help me on writing projects in the future, but discovering that third one really made a difference this month.

    Heather 😎

  8. Thanks for your comment, Heather.

    I know what you mean about switching projects. After doing my Nano Project, I’m actually really enthused about going back to my YA.

    Isn’t it amazing how many words you can write in a 24-hour period and still fit in lots of other important things too?

    For me, the best thing I’ve got from NaNoWriMo is getting back into good writing habits.

    Hope you have an inspiring writing month in December.


  9. Dee, this is just the post we all needed to cap an inspiring and exciting month! I’m going to print it off as a daily reminder – it’s so easy to forget all the positive lessons of NaNoWriMo once the holidays that follow are over. Thank you for being such an active and motivational moderator over at the NaNoWriMo Warriors group!

  10. Yeah, that’s so great. What I really like about NaNoWriMo is the way it perpetuates the belief that each of us has a novel in us, and anybody who can crank out 50,000 words in a month should be celebrated, because we, each of us, are each so special in his or her own special way. I love the way we can all come together and celebrate our specialness together, plus, maybe, who knows, one of us will get his or her novel published! Which will be like a big victory for all of us!
    See you next November!!!

  11. This is a fantastic article, Dee.

    I loved every bit of NaNoWriMo but three things that I learned really stood out for me:

    Write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. I usually want to once I get started.

    Turn off that internal editor!

    If you don’t know a word or a fact, press on. You can always go back and change it or add it in.

  12. Thanks, Michael.

    What you say is so true. It has been very special to write together and have the support of people who truly understand how hard writing can be and what we have all accomplished.

    It is fun to have people to celebrate with, isn’t it? We are going to continue to support and encourage each other through Warrior Chat on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_111157412281395&id=121584584572011#!/home.php?sk=group_173117552699977&ap=1

    Might see you there otherwise I’ll catch up with you next November.


  13. Thanks, Breanna,

    I know what you mean. Forcing yourself to write every day is such a good thing to do isn’t it? And like you say, once you start, you’re off and running.

    And definitely, turn off that internal editor:)

    Good luck with your writing.


  14. Hi Dee,

    This is my fourth NaNo win, but the first time I finished early and found I still had words after the 50k.

    I find that the NaNo group is divided into two, the planners and the pantsers. I am a pantser all the way!

    Each year I go into the month knowing the characters names, a bit about the story, and the end result I want… Of course this tends to change.

    Things I have learned from nano:

    1. You don’t have to know where the story is going, the high velocity approach of nano tends to make it happen.

    2. If your characters start doing things and you are left trying to keep up with them, it is one of the best feelings in the world. They tend to know better than we do what should be happening.

    3. Talking with fellow writers can really help, even if you don’t talk in specifics. And this year I found that keeping a journal of current words and dates throughout November is quite a good idea, too. I can’t believe the amount of despair I felt at my crappy writing on the second day, compared to the longing I now feel to return to the month I just lived.

    4. Some of the best parts of your novel happen when you are trying to go at high-speeds and your characters know they have to kick into action.

    5. I tend to write a lot slower when not nanoing, which merely results in the characters being lazy, as they don’t have a deadline either. If you want to know about what makes a character tick, you have to throw an explosion or two at them.

  15. Thanks Figment Queen for dropping in.

    And thanks for your fantastic comments on what you got out of NaNoWriMo. I think that NaNo added spark to my writing. I think it was getting rid of the internal editor that did it – and having a sense of urgency in my writing because I was trying to meet the NaNo deadline.

    You’re right about the high velocity approach. It kind of gets you moving, doesn’t it?

    Sounds like NaNo has been a fabulous experience for you and thanks for sharing your experiences.


  16. This was my second year of NaNoWriMo and what it taught me last year was this: I love to write -and I’m actually good at it! I wrote another novel this summer (rough draft) and then did Nano again. Loved every minute and brought a friend along for the ride as well (first timer). So fun to be able to encourage her and cheer her on as well! Being a part of the craziness of Nano is just plain fun. Can’t wait for the day when my kids want to try it!

  17. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for dropping in. Sounds like you’ve been having lots of fun with NaNoWriMo too. My 12yo has just finished the first draft of an 11,000 word story. I’m hoping he might want to NaNo with me one day too:)


  18. Hi Judy,

    Great to see you here:) Everyone writes at a different pace. There will always be someone who writes quicker or slower than you. I know some people who were writing over 2000 words an hour and others who were writing 400.

    Before I sit down to write, I always have a lot of thinking time which I guess I don’t usually count in that ‘hour’. So when I actually write, I know exactly where my character is, who they are with, what will happen to them in that scene and how they will react to it.

    Besides I might end up having to throw out 1200 of my words while yours might not need much editing at all. Everyone works in different ways.

    Good luck with your writing:)



  19. I loved Nano and especially the company, feedback and advice. I found my own writing space and shaped a habit of writing a minimum amount of words each day. People were so generous with support.
    I also love the AWM Writing race, but that’s not back until April

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