Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 2015

I just glanced over my post I wrote last year for 2014’s lessons learned; it makes me chuckle quietly. The lessons there seem so obvious and foundational now, it seems odd there was a time I didn’t know them. And this was only a year ago!

But perhaps it’s really less of learning something new and realizing cognitively something you already know.

Anyway, moving on to the year 2015:


Writing a shiny, shiny new idea and writing a novel you’ve painstaking planned for years have very different effects when you hyper-focus on them for a month. Last year feels like zipittydooda in comparison.

That being said, I’m really glad I focused on this novel for November. Not only because, I don’t know, I got 50k more words out for it (52k, to be precise, MWAHAHA), but also because, as always, more writer lessons learned. I don’t think it would be as poignant if I’d gone with a newer idea.

One of last year’s lessons was definitely reaffirmed – or more accurately, evolved: make it happen even when you don’t feel like writing.

Like I mentioned in previous posts, this novel was a lot more difficult to get long sections out. Sometimes I only wrote a couple hundred words and then got disgusted and stopped. But those words had more importance than I originally thought.

I’d always heard the advice, “write all the time, every day, even if it’s just a couple words” and kinda went “yeah, yeah, yeah” (like everyone, I’m sure). But I think I’m starting to really get what people are saying when they give that advice.

I’m not sure how to explain it. It wasn’t so much that making myself write every day created more creative energy, though sometimes it was true. And it wasn’t completely about creating a habit everyday, though that certainly was important and helped.

There was just something so soul-satisfying about making the time to write. It was like giving myself permission to take myself seriously. A month of believing in myself. Those few hundred words, though small, were still proof that I took my craft seriously.

(That’s not to say I didn’t get plagued by the writer-doubt demon. I have a whole ‘nother post on that coming up.)

In a similar vein, I gained a better grasp on my limits. We all know pushing yourself is important as a writer to improve your craft, but when you physically feel like vomiting it might be time for a break. Sometimes a hundred words is all I have in me that day. And I had to make peace with that many a day this past November.

This year was also excellent in teaching me to let go, especially with a novel I’m so emotionally invested in. I had to tell myself to let it go and edit later to continue on. I usually edit and write at the same time (think the Diana Gabaldon pep-talk, for those of you in NaNoWriMo who read that), streamlining the story as I move along and piggy-backing on previous edits to write more completely than writing for the ‘first’ time.

Also, I think it didn’t help I had no clear picture of the ending. I knew the vague ending, but not the details. It wasn’t until the last few days here that I really knew what it looks like.

But back to my point. I already know that I dislike an odd character development that occurred (and will be changing, thank you), and I’m afraid that certain parts did not come across as vivid as they should be. I also realized halfway through November that somehow my brain mixed up dates and my timeline is all screwed up.

But there was no way I was fixing that while getting word counts every day (work counts, mind you, I had to struggle for).

And I’m not going to fix any of those problems until the zero draft is done. The idea of fixing it all actually has me excited. I can’t wait to get my hands on the whole, completed thing and then start ripping it apart to make it better. I think it’s going to be the undertaking from hell, and I don’t have a lot of experience rewriting nearly a whole book. But it sounds fun.

(If I remember correctly, I completely rewrote a manuscript at 14. I think I can do it again.)

I’m not sure what all of these things mean as I move forward as a writer. I’d like to find a balance in writing, between letting my editor run the show and just completely blasting through words (i.e., the need to spend a lot more time editing later). But perhaps that means I just need to plot more than I pants.

Nevertheless, NaNoWriMo was great for helping me get this giant manuscript done. It’s sitting at almost 115k right now (O.O), and I’d probably still be sitting at 70k if I hadn’t used NaNoWriMo as a tool to get the words out. The end of the novel is in my sight and am hoping to finish in a week or two.

How about all of you!? Forget word counts and concluding numbers – what did you all learn? What was surprising about yourself under the pressure for this year/for the first time doing it?

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

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