8 (More) Lessons I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2018

NaNoWriMo is chock full of lessons to be learned. About yourself, your writing and your process. Here are eight more things I learned from participating in NaNoWriMo 2018:

Writing is its own reward.

One of the tips you often hear thrown around during NaNo is to reward yourself for every milestone. Whether it’s a small reward for hitting your daily word count or something bigger for hitting those major numbers, rewards are part of the motivational process. But if you want to be a writer outside of November, you should get excited about the writing itself. Whether it’s a word count, plot point, or revision goal, cultivate a sense of accomplishment from the work.

But you should reward yourself anyway.

That being said, celebrating those milestones are still important. While writing, I never motivated myself by saying, “when I hit this word count, I’ll get that prize.” But I definitely appreciated them after the fact. A new candle to brighten up my workspace or mug to sip my tea from during afternoon sessions certainly kept me happy and excited to write when my motivation might otherwise have waned.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself into the work.

Ever since I started taking my writing seriously, I’ve always been worried about creating the dreaded Mary Sue character. So while I would make my characters share my heritage or favorite color, I’ve always limited the similarities. But for the main character of this year’s NaNo novel, I didn’t hold back as much. Whenever I needed a detail to build the character, I pulled from what I knew: my own life and the people around me. And somehow, the character remains completely different from me as a person. But those details allowed me to get under her skin and bring her to life in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.

You don’t have to talk about your story unless you want to.

I’m lucky enough to have small Thanksgiving dinners with only my immediate family and fiancé. So we rarely get into contentious conversations about politics or how we each live our lives. But my family doesn’t really “get” this whole writing thing. My mom dismisses it as a weird quirk of mine, while my brother gets hung up on the why of it all. Which is why I tend not to talk about NaNo when I’m home for the holidays. On the other hand, my fiancé and best friends are incredibly supportive and are the enthusiastic recipients of near-daily updates on my word count. Pick your audience wisely.

Slowing down can help you speed up.

This NaNo, I tried something I’ve never done before: I handwrote large chunks of my novel, then typed it up to get the official word count. And while this added work on top of the regular writing, it ended up being a lot easier than I thought it would be. I got the idea because that’s how I write these blog posts and because handwriting always feels a bit closer to the kind of writing that I did when I was doing it just for me, not with the goal of publishing. And though the physical act is slower, it helped me write more than simply typing. There was much less staring at a blank screen, thinking about what to write next because, by the time my hand caught up with my thoughts, I’d figured out what came next and could just keep going.

Writing happens in layers, like a painting.

One of the consequences of this handwriting, then the typing process, was that my word count expanded as I typed. I’d slip in details that I hadn’t thought of while handwriting or expanded scenes to show much character development. What ended up in the typed draft was a little more polished and robust than the handwritten draft. And it reminded me of the process I go through when painting. The initial, base layer is much sketchier and less developed than the final image. By building up the layers, instead of trying to get it all down in one go, you can add depth and polish that would otherwise be impossible.

It’s okay to write a story just because you like it.

I’ve written about this before, but it was really driven home by this NaNoWriMo. I had no expectations for this story coming into November. It was something I was writing entirely for myself because it would be fun. And perhaps because of that, it’s been the easiest story I’ve written in a very long time.

Quantity begets quality.

One of the major criticisms people have of NaNo is that there’s no way writing 50k words in a month can lead to good writing. And in a way, they’re right. Those 50,000 words are a hot mess. But the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to create one perfect sentence. It’s to create hundreds, even thousands, of imperfect ones. And maybe somewhere in those thousands of messy sentences, there might be a handful of keepers. But you know what you’ll have if all you focus on is that one sentence? Probably nothing. NaNoWriMo is the Parable of the Perfect Pot in ecstatic action. Millions of writers cranking out pots as quickly as they possibly can. And when they come back later to edit that hot mess, they might just find something worth salvaging.

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