Three Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Four days since the official end of NaNoWriMo, and I’m still plugging away – though with slightly less fervor than before. It’s nice to be able to breathe and take my time, so long as I don’t lose my overall momentum.

As one of those breaks, here are three things I learned from my first crack at NaNoWriMo:

1. Be Sure You’re Ready Before You Start: Outlining is key. I won’t go on any further, since it’s something I’ve discussed at length before. The one thing I’ll mention is not to waste time on too much planning. Writing the first draft will help you realize the holes you need to fill in your story and any further research you need to do.

2. Don’t Write Every Day: The entire principle of NaNoWriMo is to write every day in order to achieve your goal, to make things easier on yourself. This might work for some writers, but I think that taking a break every few days is essential to not burning out. After about eight days of solid writing at the start of November, I found that my brain needed a rest, and so I took a day off. The next day I wrote about 3,000 words. Your brain can’t keep working tirelessly on a project, especially when you account for everything else in your day. Even if you’re working on a deadline, it’s best not to push yourself too hard.

3. Keep Notes Instead of Backtracking: While writing my first draft, there have been several moments where I’ve realized that something in a previous chapter needs to change – a particular event, a piece of scenery, the presence of a particular technology, etc. For example, most of the characters in my book are using tablets, but around Chapter Thirteen I came up with a much better personal technology, and had to rein myself in from going back and adding it to every previous chapter. The impulse to go back and edit is powerful, but often going back and changing things will ruin your momentum, and therefore it can wait. What I’ve been doing instead is keeping detailed notes of the changes I need to make, and continuing the draft as though I’ve already made those changes. If someone were to read through the entire draft, they would get horribly confused; but luckily no one will see the draft until you’ve edited those changes in.

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