Today I completed 50,000 words, thus making me a #NaNoWriMo2015 winner. Winning NaNo was a goal I’d set for myself a few weeks ago, and I am definitely feeling a sense of accomplishment for having achieved this goal. I’m pleased that I now have 50K words toward my first draft, but the greatest takeaway from having completed NaNo is what I’ve learned during the process.
- I learned I’m a weekend writer. I might write a bit during the week, but the bulk of my NaNo writing was achieved on the weekends. On most weekdays, I didn’t write at all. Sometimes I wrote a few sentences. On the weekends, I wrote in bursts of several thousand words. This might not sound like a groundbreaking piece of knowledge, but I think it’s important for writers to learn how and when they do their best writing. Not so they can change who they are, but so they can make their schedules work in their favor.
- I learned that making writing a priority doesn’t mean I have to write every single day. A few weeks ago, I made the decision to make writing a priority in my life. I wrote down several goals and lifestyle changes I’d like to make in order to prioritize my writing. It turns out, writing every day isn’t as important as I’d once believed. Writers are often inundated with advice. “Write every day” is one piece of advice that does more harm than good. During NaNo, I prioritized my writing. I set aside uninterrupted time (on the weekends) to write. I talked about my NaNo goals with my family. Even when I wasn’t writing, NaNo was never far from my mind. I don’t have to write every day to accomplish my goals or to prioritize my writing. Prioritizing writing involved a change in attitude- not a rigid schedule that make me feel like crap when I wasn’t able to stick with it.
- I learned to break away from the guilt. During the first week of NaNo, I fell behind on my word count. Despite my best efforts to write during the week, it wasn’t always possible. By the time the weekend rolled around, I was far behind the overall word count goal and I felt horribly guilty for letting myself down. I caught up over the weekend and vowed I wouldn’t let myself fall behind again. Guess what happened during week two? You guessed it. I fell behind during the week and caught up over the weekend. When week three rolled around, I knew I probably wouldn’t reach my daily word count goals during the week. I also knew I could catch up over the weekend. I stopped seeing myself as “behind” and started accepting my schedule and my writing process. And I stopped feeling guilty. Writing every day works for some people, but not for me. I accomplished my goal by working with my schedule instead of against it.
- I learned I am capable of more than I’d given myself credit for. When my weekend daily word counts topped 5000, I was astounded. I didn’t neglect the kids or the dog, and I didn’t sit in front of the computer nonstop. In fact, I went to my local writer’s group, a craft fair, shopped, visited a friend, made dinner- all the things I would normally do on a non-NaNo weekend. The reason I was able to bust out such an impressive word count is because I made my schedule work for me by writing first thing in the morning. Writing came first. Everything else fit in nicely after that.
- I learned that perfection is overrated. NaNo is not about perfection. It’s about getting the words on paper. When it comes to writing a first draft, perfection is your enemy. It’ll hold you up and slow you down. Over the past 29 days, I crafted a manuscript full of plot holes, inconsistencies, repetitive words, and excessive adverbs. Whether it takes me a month or two years to finish a first draft, it’s going to have all those flaws. It takes rewrites, edits, beta readers, and more edits in order to craft a perfect manuscript. So why worry about perfection on the first draft? Write the story. Save perfection for later.
- I learned that goal-setting is crucial. In the paragraphs above, I mentioned goals several times. You don’t have to set goals in order to write, but it really helps. There is something magical about writing down your goals. The key is to set realistic, achievable goals. And then reward yourself when you reach them. With NaNo, I loved watching the word counter climb. I loved earning little NaNo badges every time I reached a major goal. Now that NaNo is over, I’m going to revisit my goal list and attach small rewards to each one. I might even break each major goal into smaller ones so I can check things off my list more frequently.
- I learned that attitude is everything. The main thing that really changed for me during NaNo was my attitude. I didn’t make writing a priority by quitting my day job, building a home office, or ordering business cards. I prioritized my writing by changing my attitude about my writing. My writing became important because I believed it was important. I stopped waiting for other people to validate my writing. I don’t need other people to do that. My writing is legitimate because I say it is. When I changed my attitude, the rest fell into place.
I’m a NaNoWriMo winner in more ways than one. I earned a 50,000 word first draft in less than a month. I also won a cool banner to display on my blog. But, most importantly, I learned a lot about myself as a writer. I think that definitely makes me a winner.
How about you? Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? Did you learn anything from your experience?