As November comes to a close and with it another NaNoWriMo, I look back at the insanity that is always there but always different. Three years I’ve written a full novel in November. Last year I was editing a completed novel – some call that mid-project. This year, I had a half-baked idea that I tried to write by the seat of my pants with basically no preparation – otherwise known as pantsing. Which I hate, for the record. I’m sure you’re wondering whether I “won” or not this year. Did I go the distance. The answer is no – and yes.
In the literal sense, I did not win this year. An official win consists of fifty thousands words – any words – written in the course of the month. In total, I was able to crank out just under thirty thousand words.
In the broader sense – that of being a professional author – I did win and learned new lessons along the way.
I learned that I cannot write productively without having a plan. Pantsing a novel is not for me. Not now. Probably not ever. I also learned that I am far more productive when I write what inspires me rather than trying to force a story that I don’t feel in my gut.
I write and read mostly dark fiction – not always horror but always dark. My oldest daughter has become an avid reader and really wants to read my stories. Every time she has tried to read my work she has to put it down because it scares her too much. She requested a story written for her, not too dark and not too scary. I tried. I really did. But I failed. I was bored so I barely wrote anything each day. All the great ideas I had that excited me would have turned it very dark very fast so I didn’t indulge my inner muse.
This same lesson of productivity being driven by excitement was cemented when about three weeks in I abandoned the flailing idea and instead wrote something I’ve been thinking about for months and just hadn’t had the time to focus on. The words poured out of me – thousands by the day over one weekend – and I made up quite a bit of ground. As a professional author, I know this lesson will do me well in the coming years. Translated into a bigger context, don’t write what you think will sell or what the next big thing is. Write a story that excites you. Either you’ll sell it or you won’t. Guaranteed it will feel less like work regardless.
This marked the eighth year I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo but in truth I write like it is NaNo all year long thanks to the habits formed in November. Consistent writing and putting in the work of learning the craft are the best rewards there are to embarking on this crazy journey year after year. I have multiple publishing credits to my name and I’m well on my way to my goal of publishing novels thanks to National Novel Writing Month and those who organize it every year. There was a badge this year you could earn by updating your word count for thirty days in a row – sort of the booby prize in case you didn’t get the word count for an official win. I wrote every single day in November and am just as proud of that badge as I would have been for a win in the word count.
Until next year, NaNo – thanks for all the memories and all the lessons.