5 Lessons I learnt from ‘Winning’ Nano

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On my forth attempt, I have succeeded in a long held dream of completing Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time.  (Here is my post about why I would attempt such a thing)

Before this year I didn’t even bother aiming for 50K, I kept my goals modest because 50K just seemed impossible.  But after four years of a mostly daily writing habit,  I was ready for the challenge. And at about 8pm on the 30th of November, I ticked over to the mighty 50K.

It was a great month.  A story that had been stewing in my head for most of 2018 was finally given a chance to be.  There were twists that I didn’t see coming, and characters that I grew to love.

And there were lessons I learnt along the way.

Don’t be competitive

The first day of November I had the almost unheard of opportunity of sitting in cafe for two hours to write.  This was after already waking at 6am and writing for a good hour and a half before the kids woke up.  So I started Nano with a 1K lead, and was excited for the month ahead.

But as I followed people on Social media, I was surprised to find I was the middle of the pack.  There were people aiming for 70K, even people who got to the 50K by the fifteenth of the month.  It was easy to feel like my ‘success’ wasn’t all that impressive after all.

And of course there were also those who struggled to hit the 1667 words per day, who felt like giving up, or who wrote 10, 25 or 35K for the month and felt rubbish because they ‘failed’. Which of course they hadn’t.

If I had been too caught up in what others were doing, I might have been discouraged.  But any words you get down are more than you started with, and we all have very different lives and writing strengths.  It is important to celebrate your own achievement, and not let comparisons take away from your successes.  And I would have never had got to 50K if I had gotten caught up in what others were doing.

Life is very hard to put on hold

I had many intentions of making writing the priority.  And there were things I did to make that happen.  I watched much less TV, I got less sleep, and I didn’t even open the packages that arrived from Booktopia over the month.

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My overly-ambition cake, I had been dying to try a mirror glaze. Chocolate Cake Base with Strawberry curd and White Chocolate Bavarian Cream Mousse, mirror glaze and a ginger-nut sand. #procrastibake

But life is almost impossible to put on hold.  You can plan to wake up early to write, but sometimes there is a baby that decides that 530am is the time to play.  Or that same baby turns 1 and you want to host a party with an over-ambitious cake.  There are forms that can’t fill out themselves, and meetings that can’t be missed. Sometimes the kids are sick, and the husband is sick, and you are sick and that is just life.

I had this blissful image of a beautiful month of writing.  And it was.  I just had to squeeze that beautiful writing time out of the hectic-ness of a normal month.

It turns out you can’t always switch off life to write.  You just have to fit your 50K words in admits the chaos.

The Writing Community is amazing

Three years ago, when I started NanoWriMo-ing.  I didn’t even join the website, I just kept track of my totals and posted them occasionally on Facebook.  But over the last three years I have steadily been building connections with writers, mostly over social media.  It has been such a joy, and that power of community really hit home during Nano.  We shared our totals, celebrated each other’s successes, and reminded ourselves why we do it on the days that were tough.  I am a better writer because of all the people I have writing beside me.

There are limits to what you can do in a month

Writing fast is a wonderful thing.  There is a heady excitement of getting the words down, the emersion that comes from swimming in the new world you have made.  Nano is permission to stop navel gazing and just see what happens.  But there are definite limits to what you can do well when you are writing so fast.  I got to the end and I could name about four characters who were well-rounded enough for my taste.  The rest were on the wooden side and need lots of work.  And though I had plotted, and world built in preparation, as the story unfolded there were questions about my world and how it worked that I just didn’t have time to properly answer if I was going to reach my words goals each day.

There might be experienced writers who can come up with something brilliant in a month. But I am not there yet.

It is only a Beginning.

Thanks to some work I did before Nano, I now have the roughest of rough first draft of my new novel.  And there is definitely a little thrill that comes from that knowledge.  But as I saw that winners certificate come up on my computer, it didn’t feel like an ending.  If it was anything I would say it was the Inciting Incident. Belinda Grant has written a rough draft of a story.  What will she do?  Will the editing get the better of her?  Will she lose focus on her goal and move onto the next shiny thing? Or will we see that triumphant moment of her story on the pages of a real, in-her-hands-book?

November is over.  I have the first draft of a new novel.  And now the real work begins.

Why Nano?

 

The month of October has arrived.  That means more sunshine, Cherry blossoms, and days in the backyard (at least for me here in Melbourne).  But it also means that Nanowrimo is on its way.

Nanowrimo is a yearly writing challenge that runs every year in the month of November.  Working on the basis that a novel is around 50K, the challenge is to write an entire novel in a month, along-side other writers.  You can find out about it here.

Writing-twitter and my writing related Facebook pages, are filled with people talking about and planning for Nano.  There are also others who are wondering, is this the year to try it?

And while it isn’t for everyone (and some years just don’t work), this is my plea for you to consider it.  Because it is an experience that has changed my life.

You realise just how much time you have.

The first time I did Nano, I had two year old twins and a 5 month old.  An editor friend asked on Facebook who was doing Nano and I said “I would love to do it one day but…” and brought up the afore mentioned off-spring.  She replied that I could always set a modest goal and see how I go.  So at the time in my life where I had less time for writing than I ever had, I set myself the goal of writing 1000 words a day.

I managed 25K words that month.  I cut out night-time television and day time naps and I  wrote more in that month than I had written in years.

Nano is great because when you are forcing yourself to stick to a word goal each day, you realise how many little pockets of time you have in your day.  You realise that television and social media aren’t half as satisfying as writing.  Nano taught me how much time I had, and how much I could get done if I spent it writing.  And those lessons have carried on into some excellent writing habits.

It is a finite time

New Years resolutions rarely work.  Promising yourself that for a whole year you will X, Y, or Z might seem a great idea in January, but come March that enthusiasm starts to wane.

But one month of working hard at a goal, is much more manageable and realistic.

One month of your kids watching slightly more television than normal is okay.  One month of a messy house is okay, or one month of easy, simple meals.  One month is measurable, finite.

And I can plan for it.  I can spend October getting the house in order, and preparing for activities that couldn’t be moved.  Because it is only a small block of time, I can work hard the rest of the year to make it possible.

It is accountability

This is the first year I am trying for the 50K, and also the first time I have actually signed up on the ‘official’ website.  But even before I did that, I have always been public with my Nano-goals.  I have Facebooked my Nano-journey, celebrating the milestone’s and despaired during the difficult days.  Not everyone who read my status’ would have cared or understood, but for me it was a powerful incentive.  I had told the world I was going to write, and so write I did.

And while I had set myself the goal of finishing the first draft of a Novel every year for most of my life, with the accountability of Nano, it became a reality.

 

These are all really good reasons to do Nano.  But there is one big reason why every year since that first faithful 25K, I have made myself do Nano.  And it is not about good habits (I write most days now), or accountability (I have writing friends who help me with that), or the finite nature of the month (though it is related to that).

For One Month, I let myself prioritise writing

My life is very full of good things and I have lots of wonderful responsibilities.  I have four beautiful children, with various important needs and wants, and as a Stay at Home Mum I have day-time duty for them.  I have friends, I have responsibilities.  I have a house that is never tidy and people I care about and volunteer work I do and family and friends I love and…the list goes on.

And I find it very hard to put any of that aside for my writing.  It feels selfish to say- “No, that is my writing time”.  Sure, I am happy to spend my leisure time (Ha!) on writing, but to treat it like a job and not a hobby makes me feel like an imposter.

But I want writing to be my job one day.  And it never will be unless I treat it as such.

So Nano is my permission to do that.  It is the month where I let myself say ‘Yes’ to writing, and ‘No’ to the other good things in my life.  And every year I do it, every year I reach my goals,  I get a little bit better at believing in myself.

October might have Cherry-Blossoms and my favourite mild weather.  But November is my favourite month of the year.  Because November is the month where I get to write my heart-out.

And what could be better than that!