5 Things NaNoWriMo Taught Me This Year


I just finished (and won!) my fifth NaNoWriMo. I’m still in that hazy, how-in-the-hell-did-I-survive-that mode and wondering why I put myself through it year after year. I’m tired—like down in the bones, every cell in my brain is fried, I could sleep for a week tired. And it’s one of the best feelings ever.

NaNo isn’t for the faint of heart or those with serious ADD. It takes concentration and determination and in some cases the ability to say “I’m not going to make 50,000 words and that’s okay because what words I do make will bring me that much closer to writing the end.” But getting to 50,000 words this year was hard. Harder than previous years. Despite that though, I managed to make it, and I learned a few important things along the way.

5. Knowing you’ll be using this book in a workshop/retreat with an author you admire/respect/fangirl over causes a lot of stress

A few months back, I applied for a spot in a YA writers workshop/retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California. The main draw was that it was bring led by YA magical realism writer and all around cool chick Nova Ren Suma. After taking the class with her this past spring, it renewed my desire to interact with other writers. That class gave me some of my closest writing friends to date and a support group I am grateful for every damn day. On Halloween (aka the All NaNos Eve) I got my acceptance. (Insert serious flailing and squeeing with my friend Rebekah who also got in to the Feb workshop with me and our other CPs who are going in June!) I had planned all along to use the novel I would write this NaNo as the MS I workshopped at the retreat. Stupid, stupid, Sus. Instead of giving me the extra push to write when I wanted to take a break, all it did was make me stress about what I was going to do if the story wasn’t Nova-worthy and I wasted this amazing opportunity to work with her because I couldn’t get my shit together. (For the record, Nova is way too nice to ever tell anyone their work isn’t good enough, but I respect her too much to turn in something half-assed or merely perceived as half-assed by me.)

4. Writing chronologically is not for me

This is not new to me. I’ve never written a book in order from start to finish, but seeing as how I knew I needed to have a minimum of 50 pages ready for my workshop at Djerassi in February, I was determined to try. I made it partway into Week 2 before abandoning this plan. And here’s why: I write what excites me. When I get stuck on one scene, I don’t have to struggle through it just to keep in order. I can jump around and write a swoony scene or a fight scene or a big emotional revelation scene and get myself unstuck. I’m pretty sure this is the only way I’ve made it through every NaNo I’ve done. I’m glad I tried something new, and that I have 80ish pages straight through that I’m very happy with, but I just. could. not. do. it. anymore.

3. Being prepared won’t eliminate the inevitable Week 2 freak out

This book was the most prepared I’ve ever been for NaNo. I had a full scene-by-scene outline for the whole story, character sketches with photos, a Pinterest board of inspiration and who knows what else. And then Week 2 swooped in, laughed in my face, told me my book was shit, and then kicked my ass just because it could. What’s worse, Week 2 was right. My plot leaned toward the epic side of things (with big deaths and shocking betrayals and a love story so big it would be, as VMars’ Logan Echolls said, “spanning years and continents, lives ruined, bloodshed epic”). What I had planned was over the top and trying to be something my stories just simply are not. Not to mention one character was so disjointed I couldn’t even write him because I had planned for him to be one way (broken over the death of his sister) and was writing him to be something completely different (flirty, and swoony, and dealing with his loss like a healthy person). And I had no clue how to get myself out of the mess I’d made by trying too hard. I was thisclose to slamming my computer shut and quitting. Which leads me to…

2. Husbands and caramels save lives in November

M cares about my writing in so much as that he cares about me and I care about my writing. He’s not the type of husband to be my first reader (or even my tenth). He’ll read things if I ask him to, but what I write is just not his thing. And that’s okay. But when I descended into full on freak out mode, he calmly sat there with me, asking questions about the characters, making me dig deeper into their motivations and desires and hangups and flaws. He talked strategy and plausibility of plot. He didn’t laugh when I practically whined about how damn hard writing is or when I almost started crying because it seemed like the only logical thing to do (because, yeah, Week 2 is that much of a bitch). And somehow he got me through it. Then I went and reworked most of my plot and rewarded myself with a caramel because some days (or weeks in this case) will try to kick your ass, and when you survive it’s definitely cause for celebration.

1. NaNoing with other writers kicks ass

Over the past couple NaNos, I’ve convinced a few writer friends to do it with me. We’d touch base at work or sporadically though email, and that support was great. This year, however, four of my CPs decided to do it too. We spent the month cheering each other on; joining in on writing sprints; emailing fun scenes we’d written and inspirational quotes to each other; encouraging each other when one of us had a hard day; sending goodies, including caramels, mix CDs, “In case of NANo emergency break glass” vodka and other hole-up-in-your-room-and-not-talk-to-anyone writing essentials, and celebratory champagne. And on the days when I wanted to sit and read a book instead of writing, I’d make myself keep going because I didn’t want to have to tell these girls that I’d given up for no good reason.


I’m still a long way from being done (at least 15,000 words I think) but even after a month as difficult as November was, I still love this story and these characters and will see them through to the end.