I finally remembered that at the end of my last post I promised to write about what I learned from NaNoWriMo the next day. It’s now twelve days later. In my defense, I’m a terrible person. Nevertheless, onward and upwards, and I’m going to write about it now.
I’m writing this for myself as much as you, dear reader. NaNoWriMo was quite an experience, one who’s lessons I’m keen to distill into a fine and pungent liquor I can guzzle down whenever I’m feeling less than motivated in the future in order to give me that sweet writing buzz.
Here’s what I learnt:
- I can write far more on a given day that I expected of myself. On my best day I topped somewhere around 6000 words, and averaged somewhere around 2,500. Were they good words? Depends on the context. On their own? Sure. The way I strung them together? Quite a bit less so. Which leads me to my next lesson.
- Good words don’t always have to be good. That last sentence is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. The words I write don’t always need the best version of themselves in order for them still to have value. In the case of rushed, oh-god-I-just-want-to-reach-my-word-limit, type words their value comes from simply existing, by having something I didn’t have before. After smashing out words that way I then have some content that, however bad, I can slowly work on and improve until it’s of a higher quality. Without that, I literally have nothing. Bad words are still better than no words at all.
- Writing by myself is possible but writing as a group is better. I was lucky enough to share this NaNoWriMo season with an excellent group of people. We all worked individually on our own novels, there was no co-writing going on, but knowing they were out there slogging away at it, as well as having the opportunity to talk or message about the process, helped greatly. It gave me external as well as internal pressures, as well as people to bounce ideas off of and compete with. Writing is a solitary endeavor most of the time, having a writing group around you is a good way to alleviate that.
- Consistency is best. This is a lesson that I feel I was already aware of, like something in my periphery, but was really brought home by NaNoWriMo. By forcing myself to write everyday and seeing that page count climb ever higher it truly showed me that getting results isn’t a matter of one crazed burst of energy but by slowly and consistently putting time and energy into a project. I walked away with 61,000 words written in a month and I can attribute that to staying consistent (and also to drinking my body weight in coffee).
- Just start. I’m definitely someone who likes to know exactly how I’m going to do something before I start doing it. This often leads to me not starting a project or endeavor because I feel like I need more time to plan every aspect of it out in my head. Often that’s an impossible task, not to mention unnecessary. With NaNoWriMo I had the very basest of plans for my novel and it didn’t matter. I made it up as I went along and for the most part I didn’t hate what came out. Some of it I even really loved and have to ask would I have discovered it if I had tried to plan it all?
- I can write a novel. Easily the best lesson from all this. I haven’t written one yet by my measure, but I have made a damn good start. I’ll do a second draft of all those words I wrote, a slower and more considered one, and using all the lessons I learned I know by this time next year I can say that I have. I know this because of NaNoWriMo.
These lessons aren’t just good for writing either. Two days ago I ran a half marathon, a little bit over actually as I ran 22 kilometers. I’ve done this twice before in my life and both times I spent months training for the event. This time I just went for it. I started and simply kept going. I did it at a consistent pace and by finishing got far more out of myself than I had expected. It wasn’t my fastest run but it also wasn’t as bad as I would have thought. I timed in at almost exactly two hours (I was .9 of a second over). Basically, I did the NaNoWriMo equivalent of running and since I started this whole thing by describing NaNoWriMo as a writing marathon it seems appropriate.