16 Things I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo

16 Things I've Learned from Nano

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is held every November worldwide. The goal is simple: write 50,000 words towards a novel from November 1 to November 30.

I’ve been participating in this event since 2007 and have been hooked ever since. I love participating every year because of the challenge it presents, the global community of support offered, and the push it gives me to just get the words out there.

In 2012 I volunteered to be Municipal Liaison for my region which is very similar to being a chapter leader for my area. MLs are responsible for hosting weekly write-ins (where we literally get together and work on our novels together), host kick-off parties, and Thank Goodness It’s Over Parties when the month-long craze is finally done.

Being an ML and a yearly participant is seriously one of the most thrilling and exciting things I’ve ever done (and continue to do!) in my life.

Throughout my years of participating in NaNoWriMo I’ve learned a few things: everything ranging from time management to patience to dealing with frustration to just having fun with my process. I started this list in November 2012 and have been adding to it ever since – it’s amazing how I seemed to notice these nuggets of truth the more I opened myself up to them!

While most of the things listed are writing-centered, I’ve found that these nuggets can transcend into other areas of my life as well (as writing lessons tend to do – this is why writing is awesome). I hope that you too can find something worthwhile in my life-lessons:

1. I have more time than I think I do – and I usually squander it

Time is a privilege. Having lots of time is a luxury. A luxury that many of us don’t have! What, with the demands of everyday life, relationships, family, work, etc., time is just something we don’t seem to have a lot of these days.

What I realized, however, is that I have more time than I thought I did – that being busy is not necessarily the same as being productive and actually getting work done. When I realized this, I was able to budget my time more efficiently and be extremely intentions with what time I had.

I realized that being busy is not necessarily the same as being productive. Click To Tweet

2. I respond well to recording my progress (keeps me accountable)

I’m a person who’s driven by seeing my progress and seeing results from the things that I do. I’ve known this for a while, but to actually experience this and see how effective the results are for me is something entirely different.

3. I respond well to deadlines

I LOVE schedules. I also happen to love lists (hence the format of this post!). I need to see things in front of me to make them real and keep myself on track. Some people don’t respond well to having deadlines in front of them – whereas people like me thrive on them. Know what your personality type calls for and proceed accordingly.

4. I need to take my writing more seriously and myself less seriously

There’s a difference here, people! Just stick with me.

I’ve learned that if there’s something I want to do well in, I have to give it the proper time and effort to make it work and be the best at it I can be. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun with it! In fact, that helps the whole learning and development process be more enjoyable.

5. I need to write everyday to stay on track and stay within the story

This lesson refers specifically to novel-writing, but I could easily amend it to say, “I need to engage everyday with my project to stay on track.” There’s something about consistency that makes all the difference when working on something of importance. Whether that’s marketing your business, refining your customer service routine, or working on a large writing project like a novel, being consistent will ensure that you keep your head in the game for the duration of that project.

6. I can actually do this – be a successful writer

Coming to this realization was such a great thing for me. I’ve been a writer for as many years as I can remember and have been pursuing a career as a writer for most of my adult life. When I realized that I could actually make a living doing something I love so much, it was a game-changing moment. It helped me write with more intention and push through on the days when writing was just plain difficult.

7. Writing is really important to me

The more time I spend with it, the better I get and the more connected I am to my creative self.

The more time I spend with writing, the more connected I am to my creative self. Click To Tweet

8. I have never once felt like I was wasting time or doing something stupid.

As with the other points, this lesson relates directly to NaNoWriMo. Sometimes in our lives we do things or have passion for things that other people just don’t get. We have to come to the decision of either letting the approval/disapproval of other people run our lives or push through no matter what people think.

Because the idea of NaNoWriMo isn’t normal and is maybe a little insane (I mean, it is pretty intense…50,000 words in 30 days?! Craziness.) the #1 question I get when I tell most people what I’m doing is, “Why?”

Plenty of people can’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of why someone would put themselves through such an ordeal without being greatly rewarded for it.

The point is: I participate for me, to have the sense of accomplishment that brings me one step closer to my writing goals.

And that’s enough for me 🙂

9. I truly can write anywhere and on anything if I set my mind to it

50k words comes to roughly 1,667 words per day, for 30 days. And please be reminded that life absolutely does not stop just because I’ve set a goal for myself to write – in fact, it gets a little more hectic. As an American, I observe Thanksgiving in November, still hold down a full-time job, two businesses, side projects, and spending time with family and friends.

Granted, I focus on some things a little less during Nano, but the point is life still goes on. This means I have to be extremely intentional when it comes to adding words to my daily word count goals. For consistency, yes, but also to not fall too far behind.

10. How to write quickly

Like I mentioned in the previous lesson, keeping up with a steep word-count goal is all about being intentional with my time and making the time for my writing. Learning to write quickly has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from NaNoWriMo. Outlining the plot of my novel before the month begins really helps when it’s time to sit down and actually start writing the novel. Having an outline takes the time-consuming guesswork out of things and allows me to just sit down and write.

I’ve also been able to apply this to other types of writing (like any content written for VHC). It’s so helpful to be able to get the words out there and on paper without the pressure of trying to make them perfect – no first draft is ever perfect!

 11. I feel ok doing other things when I know I’ve given myself a chance to write

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s actually pretty hard for me to do other things when I know I haven’t completed my writing for the day. My writing is something important to me; therefore, I try to do it first and foremost before completing any other tasks that will take a while and keep me from writing.

12. Every word counts – especially in the first draft!

Perfectionism is something I have to deal with for nearly everything I create. I want it to come out just right and when it inevitably doesn’t, I want to start over and scrap the work I’ve already done. NaNoWriMo has taught me to just get the words out there by using the 50,000 word goal. As I mentioned before, this breaks down to 1,667 words per day which leaves very little time to worry about is something is “right” or not.

Every word counts - esp. in the first draft! #amwriting Click To Tweet

13. I have an unhealthy fear of unknown and/or uncomfortable things

We all have to face fear in our lives, no matter who we are or what we’ve accomplished in life. With my writing, I often face the same couple of fears: not being good enough, people not accepting my work, and utterly and completely failing.

The key to overcoming fear is to acknowledge it, deal with it head on, and do what you have to do (even if that means doing it afraid).

14. I need discipline in order for me to be productive and work well on a deadline

A lot of creatives hear the word “discipline” and automatically cringe. They understandably don’t want to be boxed in or have to adhere to a schedule that could potentially stifle their creativity. I used to think that way as well – until I realized how freeing having discipline and routine truly is. Being disciplined not only keeps me on track, but it allows me to set a goal, create an action plan, and follow through.

15. Perseverance

Time is of the essence during NaNoWriMo, but let’s be honest – there are just some days when I don’t want to write. Nano, however, leaves no room for slacking off on writing and since I work from an outline, I can simply rely on that when my motivation is low. Doing so helps me keep my goals in front of me so that I can push through until the end.

16. Writing really makes me happy

It’s as simple as that. It gives me a sense of purpose and when I don’t engage in it enough, it’s like a lose touch with myself. Through NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned that I need to constantly engage with my writing and that my words really do matter. Whether or not someone else ever sees my work, my stories and my words matter to me – which means what I’m doing is important.

My stories and words matter! #amwriting Click To Tweet

What did you think of these lessons? Did any of them speak to you? Let me know down in the comments.

Are you interested in learning more about National Novel Writing Month? Go here for more info: http://nanowrimo.org/about



  1. November 1, 2015 / 8:48 pm

    As soon as I found this internet site I went on reddit to share some of the love with them.

  2. November 2, 2015 / 8:03 am

    Sounds awesome, Kortney! I don’t join NaNoWriMo myself but I often read the results on different forums, and it’s a great challenge. Hope what you write this year will be amazing!

  3. November 4, 2015 / 5:09 am

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