What I learned from NaNoWriMo… again

tree-bark-2685376_1280.Chesna Pixabay

Photo credit: Chesna at Pixabay

November is over, and I will soon resume my normal flash fiction posts, but first, one last post about National Novel Writing Month.

Yay NaNo!  WOO HOO!  We love you!  Come back!

Ahem.  Sorry for the outburst. Apparently I’m suffering from NaNo withdrawal.

I hope everyone out there who participated in NaNoWriMo this past month wrote more words than you did the month before, and are happy with your progress!  I definitely wrote more words than usual: over 60,000, whereas I’ve been struggling most months this year to meet my goal of 10,000.  So what I’ve learned – again, as I did with my first NaNo in 2015 – is that boy, I sure can write a lot of words if I try.

I ask myself the same questions I did last time – why can I write so much during NaNo but then fall flat the rest of the year?  And how can I learn from that, and use what worked during NaNo to write more words in my non-NaNo months?

Note: from now on, years shall be divided into NaNo and non-NaNo months.

Part of my word count success was that I took several days of vacation off work.  I literally gave myself more time.  That helps!  However, it isn’t something I’d be able to do most months.

Part of it was that I had a good outline, and was writing brand-new words for a brand-new story, which always feels easier and faster to me than revising.   Unfortunately, I have a growing pile of works in progress that need revising, so I’ll need to deal with that too.

Part of it was that I was focused on and dedicated to a clear goal.  That is definitely something I need to work on in non-NaNo months.  I often feel torn in so many directions that it’s hard to make progress in any of them.  So there’s a good strategy: force myself to make clearer and more concrete goals.

But a big part of it was having long periods of time where I allowed myself to blow off every other aspect of my life, when I had absolutely nothing else to do except write.  That really frees up my mind to do what I do best:  get into the zone and surge.

Let me back up a bit.  For years now, I’ve been reading blog posts, books, and other advice from people who swear that Real Writers write every single day.  If you’re really good, you’re able to take any spare ten minutes you happen to have and quickly write words that add up to a novel.  These types challenge each other with sprints – on your mark, get set, go!  Look how many words you can write when you have that clock ticking down!

This always bothered me, because, I’ll confess:


Probably the best way to stop my creative mind and writing fingers from working is to point at me and command me to write, especially something extemporaneous.  The idea of “improv” writing gives me the heebie-jeebies.   Those workshops where they challenge you to write up a paragraph or scene based on a prompt they gave you five seconds ago?  I totally freeze.  I’m still thinking though the scenario, formulating it in my head, when everyone else has scribbled down wonderful prose and is reading it aloud.

I was starting to think I was a loser.  Just… you know… bad at this whole writing thing.

But I hit the 50,000 mark in NaNo after only 12 days of writing.  Hit 56,000 that day, actually.  And they’re good words, too.

So I’m rethinking that loser idea.

Maybe I’m not a sprinter.  Maybe I’m a marathoner.

I remind myself that not everyone can write all day long, especially not many days in a row.  They get tired, get distracted, lose their momentum.  But I can.  In fact, it’s my favorite way to write.  I may not have a great words-per-hour ratio, but I get more done in one seven-hour stretch than I would ever get done in seven one-hour stretches.    It’s trying to squeeze writing into my calendar between the other tasks that kills my productivity and creative process.

Now, I think I should work on all of that – increase my words-per-hour ratio, increase my productivity at revising, get better at writing something if I only have an hour.  And I will.  But in the meantime, it makes sense to play to my strengths rather than my weaknesses.

So, how do I do that?

My idea is to make time for more marathon sessions, even during non-NaNo months. This means clearing up at least a few weekend days every month, so that I have NOTHING to do except write from morning until night.  (Ah, that sounds like the best vacation ever).  I’m looking for ways to fit my other tasks into the early morning and evening time slots during the week.  Instead of waiting for laundry to pile up and doing six loads on a Saturday, I’ll do two loads on a weeknight.  Same with catching up on emails and blogging, and with other housework like grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking – all things I can do in short bursts on weeknights or mornings instead of trying to do a long list on the weekend.   (I’m already doing this most weeks; I bring a backpack on my morning exercise walk and stop by the grocery store along the way.)   I won’t be able to clear out every weekend, but hopefully I can carve out enough big chunks of time so I can achieve my 10K goal every month.  Maybe even double it!

Sounds like a plan.  Can’t be worse than not having a plan, right?

Is that my muse I hear laughing in the background? Hm…


Thanks everyone for listening to me babble about my writing.  Maybe it’s even been helpful  to someone!  I’d love to know how YOU feel about sprinting versus marathon sessions.  What strategies work for you?  And what did you learn from NaNoWriMo, this year or any other year?

13 thoughts on “What I learned from NaNoWriMo… again

  1. I can identify with so much of what you describe. With one difference , , , I’ve always been able to free up the time to write. It used to be after work, often running late into the night, totally unaware of the world around me. Plays havoc with social life. The Christmas before I was made redundant cos of the health, I had taken days out of my holiday allowance so the 2 days of Christmas and another one for New Year stretched into a blissful 2 weeks. And when the family departed me on Christmas day, I set to writing again. I remember my thoughts when it came time to return to work. How I wish I could stay home and write, write write. And I went into work, got called into CEO’s office, and was told I was redundant. How I managed not to punch a hole through the ceiling in my elation I really don’t know.
    I am most definitely a marathon writer. I’ll take ages to plan it. I’ll write the first few chapters in my head, and the ending, and I’ll sit at it, day in, day out, taking time out only to do the essentials (food shopping, answer emails, the least I can get away with on housework.) But I have found, since my health has recovered and I’m out there with the camera. and then spending time in processing the photos, that my marathons are now more ‘broken’ than they were. There’s also the thing with age: the older you get, the faster time goes. A 36 hr day is not enough, a 450 day year would only just satisfy.
    So that’s me. And congratulations you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I envy you your ability to work in the evenings. I somehow used to be able to do that when I was in college, but only if I had deadlines the next day, and I’d bet it wasn’t my best work. Now I get home from work and my brain is just exhausted from all the thinking and decisions and writing and meetings. Sometimes I’m too tired to even READ, much less write anything more complex than a chatty email. I’m glad that being laid off was such a positive experience for you — obviously it’s not for most people. It would certainly help with the time-to-write issue, though!

      And I know what you mean about new activities taking time away from others. My life feels like one big juggling act, and at any given time, half the balls are on the floor waiting for me to drop one of the others to pick that one up. For instance, I’m doing a lot of reading and a fair amount of writing, but when was the last time I played guitar? Or had a dinner party? Or went dancing? I don’t know whether a 36 hour day would be enough, but I’d like the chance to test that theory!

      My plans to write all weekend have failed the first test, or at least the first weekend. I am still playing catch-up from NaNo (as you say, I did only the absolute essentials for a month) and getting ready for the holidays. In fact, all of December may be a loss, realistically. But January — ah, that wonderful world of “fresh new year” where all things will magically become possible!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, I feel like I’ve just been released from . . . I was going to say prison, but I think just handcuffs or shackles might capture it better. I love history, and I thoroughly enjoy the research, and it was a delight to research the history of Saxlingham, such a beautiful Norfolk village, with memories of childhood, and the heart of several ancestral threads. But I always underestimate how time-consuming such projects are. So Friday I finished it, uploaded and scheduled it. With Can of Worms also finished now . . . great big sigh of relief. This is the first time since starting g the blog at end of 2012 that I haven’t had any ongoing fiction or history [projects, no deadline (even if self-imposed). Such a feeling of freedom. And I’m to chapter 11 of the rewrite/edits of Feast Fables. Feels good. Now with the winter weather wrapping its chilly hands about me, it’s a delight to stay in the warm and write. Even if it is rewrites and edits and nothing new for a while. A great inhale. And a great smile. Yep, I@m glad I don’t have to work. And I don’t mind if that means the finances are . . . rather tight.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am not very good at estimating how time-consuming those large projects are, either. Even when the research and writing are fun, I can see why you’re relieved to be done, after all that work! But revising can also be a lot of work. I love the image of winter’s cold hands, and being snuggled up inside in the warmth just writing. It’s harder to justify that here in CA, but I am wearing a sweater — isn’t that close enough? 😉 Good luck to both of us on our revisions this winter!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Setting specific goals does feel like it helps – it’s something I don’t do often enough but when I do I feel like I’ve achieved more.

    The idea of writing sprints against other writers to see who can write the most in a set amount of time just makes my brain shut down and I hate being put on the spot – it stops me from thinking.

    I’m glad that NaNo went well for you. Not only did you hit an amazing word count but you learned about your writing process and where your strengths lie too. That sounds like a really successful November to me 🙂

    My post-NaNo plans have already stalled. I was hoping to be well on the way to finishing my first draft by the end of December but so far, I’ve only managed one short writing session 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates sprints. And don’t feel alone: my post-NaNo plans have totally stalled too. I did get one flash fiction story posted, but that’s it. I was busy with other “regular life stuff” all weekend, and again every night this week — lots of cooking and cleaning and having dinner with friends and putting up holiday decorations and running errands, etc. So far, for the first 11 days of December, I had/have plans for 9 evenings. So much for getting other stuff done in the evening to make room for weekend writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad things went well for you in November. They went a lot better for me, too, than I would have thought seeing I was starting out in a fog about how my story was going to go. If I can think over my tale before-hand and mentally lay out the scenes, then I can write it later like a book I’ve already read, I can go to it like you did. But this time I was going step by step, only as far as I could see.
    This time around I learned the value of commitment: “I have to sit down. I have to write something — even a short scene — because I have committed to updating my word count EVERY night.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad it worked out well for you, Christine! Yes, having a clear idea ahead of time really helps speed up the writing. But then, what I *thought* was a clear idea quickly got fuzzy as I started to put words onto the page! I totally agree with you about commitment: like so many things in life, half the battle is just showing up (or in this case, sitting down) and starting.


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