NaNoWriMo 2016: Reflections of a 12 Year NaNo Vet

NaNoWriMo 2016
NaNoWriMo 2016
NaNoWriMo 2016

After this year I have officially participated in NaNoWriMo 13 times.  I have won 12 times.  I have been a municipal liaison 12 times.  I have yet to publish anything from the November program, but come March one of my Camp NaNoWriMo novels will be published.

I would not be a writer or author if it was for NaNoWriMo.  I would never had the skills to write something publishable.  I would never had the confidence to submit anything to a publisher.  I would never have met other writers and authors who inspire me.  I would never realize how much there is to learn about writing if it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo.  Participating in NaNoWriMo is one of the best decisions I ever made.

This year, for a variety of reasons, I was surrounded online by people participating in NaNoWriMo for the first or second time.  I was amused by their reactions to the way the month went for them, for good or bad.  I kept my mouth shut because the success of NaNoWriMo is in the experience.  I don’t offer advice to people who don’t ask me for it.  That is, until the month is over and I can reflect on my experience.

My first time doing NaNoWriMo found me in a position very similar to almost every other first timer.  You want to write the perfect novel right away.  You want to know your characters, your plot, and every other detail of what is going to happen.  I didn’t know how to handle writers block.  I didn’t know how to handle deviations from my planned novel.  I spent more time worrying about mistakes than simply worrying about numbers.

Here is the thing. NaNoWriMo is a numbers game and nothing more.  You need to write 50,000 words to win.  They don’t really care what 50,000, but they ask that it not be the same one 50,000 times and most of them fit together to form actual ideas.  NaNoWriMo is to get you writing, not to give you your final project.

I learned that the next year when I lost… by like 1,000 words.  Why?  Mostly because I got distracted by Thanksgiving and stopped just writing.  I was still too caught up in it being right.  That was when I started breaking from my idea of what I should be doing and just focusing on the hard numbers of the month.  That’s when I started experimenting with what I wrote.  That’s when I re-wrote things because I didn’t like the first version.  That’s when I wrote part of my master’s thesis and counted blog writing in the word count.  This year I wrote a detailed outline for 5 books and background for a 6th.

So, with this in mind, here are my 10 tips to new NaNoWriMo participants… after the month is over.

  1. Never forget this is only about the numbers.  Focus on the goal: 50,000 words.
  2. Don’t erase or delete words you have written.  Remember: 50,000 words.  Change the color, the size, or the font.  Just don’t delete them.
  3. Blocked?  Skip this section and move on to something else.  Even writing character details counts as words.  Write what you feel like writing.
  4. Is 50,000 words technically a novel?  Is it really that important?  Not all 50,000 of these words should be published.
  5. Do you suck a dialog?  Skip it.  Do you suck at describing your scenes? Skip it! Do you suck at character descriptions? Skip it!  You have 30 days to write 50,000 words!  Don’t agonize over details.
  6. Do you not want to write today?  Ok, don’t force it.  Also, don’t just give up because you skip some days.  This year I saw people give up on week 2, rally on week 4 and win.  The only time it’s too late is when you give up. Even if you don’t win NaNoWriMo, you are doing more than those who never start.
  7. Your family and friends might not understand what you are doing, but your fellow WriMos will.  Look to your local region for support.  You don’t even have to give them up at the end of November.
  8. Set your own goal!  I know it may feel like cheating to not write 50,000 words.  Yes, you won’t technically win if you set your own goal.  Still, you know you.  Set a goal that works for you.  Something you can achieve, but will still work for you.
  9. Remember, they do this again (with flexible goals) in April and July.  Maybe November isn’t the month for you.  Try it again when it does work.
  10. If you publish what you have at the end of the month, you are doing a disservice to yourself.  Edit it!  Make it the best thing you can send out into the world.  It is very rare for a first draft of a first book to be perfect.  Give your novel some time and love before you just publish it.

Have you done NaNoWriMo?  What advice do you have for new participants?  Leave them in the comments!

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