What I Learned From National Novel Writing Month

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo lately, but I wrote this in 2006 after the first time I played. Maybe it will help current participants. Or not. But I wrote it and here it is. So there.

What I Learned From National Novel Writing Month


The number of Legos on my son’s floor? The number of rejection letters I’ve received? Miles of cable hooking up my computers, printers, and modems?

No. Well, yes, but that’s not what’s important right now.

61,412 is the number of words I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month challenge between November 1st and November 30th, completing two first draft manuscripts of my middle grade novels.

Chris Baty started NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 21 aspiring novelists accepting the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel from scratch in November. Six of them crossed the 50,000-word finish line. In 2005 there were upwards of 59,000 participants with 9,769 crossing the finish line. They anticipate 75,000 participants in 2006.*

Why, you ask, would I subject myself to this type of chained-to-your-desk-butt-numbing-highly-caffeinated torture? Simple. To write. To get it done. To learn. Having survived, I highly recommend this peculiar approach to kick-start a stalled project or to silence your inner-editor or to give yourself a shove right over the Niagara Falls of your creativity.

But before I go any further, I have a confession. I cheated. I didn’t write one long novel; I wrote two short ones. But I knew I was going to cheat before I even started so as penance, I set my bar a bit higher at 60,000 words. There, I feel better.

Despite bending the rules, I wrote and I learned.

I learned to plant my hindquarters in my chair for extended periods of time. It seems obvious, but the obvious truths are often the very ones we overlook. If I’m not in front of my keyboard, it’s guaranteed that no writing will take place. But if I’m sitting, fingers poised, I will write.

I learned the importance of an organized plan of attack. I knew how many days, hours, and minutes I had available to write. I knew how many words I needed. I had access to a calculator, a 40-cup coffee hypodermic, and the pizza delivery guy. My plan was born.

I learned how to write faster and better. When quantity matters more than quality, I learned to stop editing myself along the way. Something magical happened when I ignored my dictionary, thesaurus and style manual. I was free to write creatively instead of correctly. My word choices broadened in direct proportion to how far behind I was on my word count that day. Instead of using a safe but boring word like quickly, I found myself using a more colorful phrase like in a jiffy or as fast as a pig going downhill on roller skates. What a bonus to count all the extra words!

In the dark recesses of my gray matter, I know there lurks a problem with POV. Writing oodles of scenes, broken only by eating and sleeping, allowed me to shine a very bright light on POV and keep it in the front of my mind. While I may still have occasional POV issues, thirty days of concentrated focus taught me to notice and correct them. My critique group will be delighted.

I also learned it doesn’t matter whether I’m cranky, sad, angry, tired or hungry. Nobody can tell based on my writing. Now I know I never have to put off writing until I’m in a better mood. As a bonus, I learned that writing always puts me in a better mood.

I learned the importance of good health. Sitting and writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. I had to take time to exercise and stretch every day. I had to protect my fingers, forearms, neck and eyeballs constantly. I also flossed more often than normal, but in retrospect that probably had more to do with stalling.

On a personal note, I learned my household will not fall apart if I focus on an all-consuming project. Thanksgiving dinner is just as enjoyable with Stove Top as it is with homemade chestnut-oyster-blue cheese stuffing. (Actually, my kids say it’s more enjoyable. Go figure.) Laundry will not topple over and suffocate us while we sleep, field trip forms will get signed in a timely manner, and the Health Department will not need to visit.

Those Legos, though, do need to get picked up.

* Stats for 2008 ””

119,301 adult participants

22,000 K-12 student participants from 600 schools

21,683 winners

1.6 billion words

If you haven’t dipped your toe in this water yet, you owe it to yourself to try. Nothing bad will happen. Swear. It’s not too late to get started this year and it’s certainly not too late for next year. Do it!

7 thoughts on “What I Learned From National Novel Writing Month”

  1. You have nicely summed up all the reasons I am participating this year, for the first time. And 4 days in, I am more than 10% toward the goal, and have done more productive writing in a short space of time than I have in maybe the three months prior. This is all good 🙂

  2. Good luck, Angela and Deb … you rock! And don’t forget to treat yourself to a massage when it’s all over. I think I read that somewhere in the rules.

  3. Wow! I also participated in the 2006 NaNoWriMo challenge, after reading about it on JAP’s MySpace page. I wrote 50,000 words in 28 days, because I had to get my Christmas cards out before December 1st.
    I didn’t think it was very hard. You know what else it wasn’t? ANY GOOD. My story, that is. Might as well been a monkey at my keyboard. I HAVE TO edit as I go. And if I’d written in my normal style, it would have taken me 10 hours for those 30 days to write anything close to decent.

  4. I’m an outliner so I always know basically what my stories are about before I sit down to write. Then when I do sit down, I can pound out a first draft like nobody’s bizness! Of course, every single one of my words is like an elegant shimmering oil sheen floating upon the flotsam and jetsam of the sea that is my novel. (I’m fairly certain there is always a monkey at my keyboard.)

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