Six Things That I Learned During NaNoWriMo

November is over, which means yet another NaNoWriMo has come to an end. I have now officially done the challenge of writing at least 50k words of a novel in a month for six straight years. For the sixth straight year, I have won the challenge. This year, I actually wrote my most words ever with 66, 793 words. For the third straight year, Everett has embarked on this challenge with me, except he does a version where he can choose how many words he will write, and he aimed for 10k but blasted past it with an impressive 15k.

NaNoWriMo is an amazing challenge to take on for anyone who has dreams of writing a novel. It is even great for someone who has never imagined publishing a novel, but just wants to try a creative challenge. It forces the aspiring writer to actually get to work and write. They can not be precious about the words or wait for a muse, but rather just write for 30 days, so they can win the challenge. Then at the end of the month, the writer is awarded with 50k plus more words than they had way back on November 1st.

There are a lot of things that I've learned while doing NaNoWriMo, and this year was no exception. In honour of my 6th year of taking on the challenge, I decided to present six things that I learned and discovered this year doing the challenge.

1. The value of a community. Writing is a solitary activity. It is just the writer and the keyboard or the pen or whatever tool being chosen to create the words. But like most things in life, it is much easier and more rewarding when we involve others.

Everett started doing it in 2019. I am so touched and thrilled that Everett wanted to share this experience with me, and he wanted to tackle such a major creative writing project. It has been nice these past three years having a thing that I share with him. This year we both hit our best ever word count by the end of the month, and I think a lot of that comes from us both pushing each other. 

There are badges you can achieve while doing the challenge, and we both declared that we wanted to win all of them. Often, one of us would reveal we just won a badge and shortly after, the other would push through to try to get their achievement. We both stayed far above the necessary word count each day, and I think, a lot of that has to do with us encouraging and pushing each other and doing a lot of our writing together. We didn't share a lot of our stories with each other, but we enjoyed each other's company while we transported to our worlds of creation.

There is also a Brantford chapter of NaNoWriMo that is a great community of fellow writers that encourage and support each other. If we're stuck, then they are there to offer some suggestions. If we need some motivation, then they are quick to offer encouragement. They are amazing human beings along with being great writers, and it is a helpful reminder to me that even though I must do all the writing myself, that I don't need to do it alone.

2. First drafts are meant to suck. Even though I wrote the most words ever in the month of November, this turned out to be my messiest manuscript, and I was less than thrilled with huge portions of what I wrote. As I've said before on here, I am what is a called a 'pantser'. I fly by the seat of my pants. I don't plan out my story before November 1st. I often haven't even decided what my story will be before November 1st. When I start to write, I just have an idea like 'what if a giant stone block mysteriously appeared in the city square' and then run with it. I allow the characters and the story to guide me.

This has always meant that there have been large swaths of text that solely exist for me to work out the story and for me to understand the world. I often write stuff that I know will not stick around for the final draft but are important for me to work through who are my characters or where I need the story to go. It just feels like a more natural and organic process for me than spending hours planning everything out, even if they are in a lot of ways the same thing.

This year was the first year where I decided that I would rewrite a previous story that I did. I really liked the concept of my 2015 NaNoWriMo project, but I had never completed it and it appears that it somehow never made it on to the cloud before I reset my desktop. I decided I would revisit it, but what happened was creative warfare. 

There was a part of me that was following where the characters and story was taking me, but then another part of me screaming, 'That is not what you did in 2015! You need to recreate that awesome scene or moment from 2015! 2015!'. What happened is I'd often shoehorn moments and scene from my foggy memory of what I did several years ago, or I'd start steering away from the current direction so it could lead to a scene that I had written before.

What I ended up doing was the prose version of chucking week old stew at the wall. It was a mess and kind of stunk. But despite how painful it felt at times, the story slowly became its own thing as the month went on. I started finding a new direction that I never expected, and my novel gained a new voice. I solved the major issues and started crafting a fresh story and gained focus on where I wanted to go. 

This also means that half of the 66k that I wrote is a real mess and is in some serious need of fixing and rewriting. But that is okay. This was never meant to be the final draft.

I don't know any writer who creates a masterpiece on their first go, and every writer must do a second or third or twelfth draft. It is part of the creative process. What people end up reading is never what was initially there.

This is something I had to remind myself constantly this year and allow the story to kind of suck while I worked through all the issues and fought to find a direction.

3. Believe in the end goal even when self-doubt is screaming. I've been feeling overwhelmed lately. I've felt like self-doubt and my insecurities have been in the driver's seat. I have so many things that I want to accomplish but there has been a dark voice trying to convince me that I'm inadequate at accomplishing any of it.

In November, I had the clear goal of writing at least 50k words of a novel. Even though throughout the month I heard voice say, 'This sucks', 'You aren't any good', 'You are wasting your time'. 'You should start over'. and 'You should quit', I stuck with it and wrote the most words ever. I won. The voice lost. I accomplished my goal.

I learned that when I am battling with dark emotions and I felt like I hack that I can power through it and create something. It helps that I had Everett beside me encouraging me, and it was a reminder that when you have dreams and goals that you don't need to do them alone.

I have many dreams and goals. I need to be better at sharing them with Emily and recognizing that I have a support system behind me. I need to focus less on the negative voice, and more on my dreams. The more that I believe that I can achieve my dreams then the closer they will be to reality.

Writing 66k words in one month is only one step, but it is a step. It is a victory. I need to remember that, and realize that I accomplished this goal, and now it is time to accomplish many more.

4. There is more to NaNoWriMo that what is done in November. I did my words in November. Now I need to use the next few months to finish the novel. Then I need to use the months after to rewrite and refine the novel. Then I need to use May to start sending out the novel to potential agents or publishers. Then I need to use the other months to write more things. 

If I really want to be a novelist, and I do, then I need to use the other 11 months to make that dream a reality. November creates a healthy habit of writing my novel every day, but I need to keep it up all year.

November is exhausting because there are badges and daily word goals that I aim to achieve. Luckily, in December it doesn't need to be the same pace, and I can take a bit more time and not worry about burnout. But I still need to write.

Of course, I don't just have my novel goals. I have this website that I want to grow. I have client work that needs to be done. I have other non-fiction books that I want to publish. I have articles to write and sell to other magazines and sites. November helps motivate me to really focus on my creative writing and find a way to balance that with my client work and other goals. Now, I need to make it work year-round.

5. Failure isn't defeat. There were so many times this past month where I looked at my writing and I knew what was coming out was unusable. I was just having two characters chattering away at each other, because I had no clue how to progress. Or I had a character wandering around in an abandoned factory because I hoped he would find something of interest. Or I'd introduce a new character (because my writer's block go-to is always throw in more random characters) in hopes that maybe they'd offer something up or at least be more interesting than the ones who were just chattering or wandering.

The dark voice spoke up and told me that this all sucked. I should just delete and quit. I knew that I was failing. This was not interesting stuff. I had a few good scenes and moments, and I liked my concept, but there were long stretches of what felt like utter failure and defeat.

But then all those messy prose and jumble of words would trigger something in me. That seventh new character suddenly had a story to tell. I figured out why that detective was wandering in that factory. The jibber jabber finally revealed some truths about the characters that I could use in the story. I stuck with it and overcame my discouragement, and I finally solved some story puzzles and figured out where it was going.

Yes, I failed at writing some interesting chapters. But I did not waste my time. Those rough days were subconsciously guiding me to those bigger and more important story moments.

As exhausting as some of my writing sessions turned out, it taught me that failure is not defeat. Failure is lessons learned. Failure is a guide towards greater success. Failure is only defeat if I allow it to be. I stuck with it, and I now really believe that I have the beginnings of what is a sellable and solid story. I've got a lot of work still, but it will be worth it, even if some more failure is in my future.

6. Be easy on myself. I still haven't published a novel. I still haven't grown my site and podcast to the level that I want. I still am not making the money that I hope in my writing career. I still feel like I keep disappointing as a father and husband. I still feel like I am decades away from my dreams.

Okay. I also felt like I wouldn't be able to do 50k this year because I had low energy and was battling extreme self-doubt. But I did. Even if I didn't, I was making an effort to do it.

Sometimes we can spend so much time on what we're bad at or on not being good enough or focusing on our mistakes that we burn ourselves out before accomplishing all that is good and great. This year taught me that I must accept the mistakes that I've made and I need to be grateful for where I am now. Then by showing a bit of compassion and kindness to myself, I can be ready to work hard for my future.

NaNoWriMo turns out to offer a lot more than writing 50k words towards a novel.