What NaNoWriMo taught me about writing a book

Check out more NaNo comic like the one above at nanotoons.net.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book. It’s been my deepest desire, the dream that topped my bucket list. I wanted it so bad that sometimes, when I thought hard enough about it, I could barely breathe.

I have dozens of early starts to novels collecting dust in a box in my garage, or trapped in a file in my computer – dozens that will probably be nothing more than pages without an ending.

And then, in 2010, I did it. I wrote a book.

So what changed?

NaNoWriMo. For those not familiar, that’s short for “National Novel Writing Month”. It takes place in November, and is when thousands of people stop what they’re doing and write every single day to produce a novel-sized (50,000 words) story by the end of 30 days.

Easy, right? Try telling that to the writer who hits writer’s block at about day 3.

But basically, the process works because you show up every day to write. You don’t slow yourself to edit (there’s no time!). You stop worrying about how bad it is, and just let the characters take over. And by the end of the month, you have a messy, crazy, totally all over the place rough draft of a novel that could possible be cleaned up and turned into a novel.

I surprised the hell out of myself that first year when I wrote my book. Granted, that book is so rough it will probably never make it to final draft form. But it doesn’t matter because it paved the way to two more 50,000 word novels – one of which I published earlier this year. And that novel taught me a few things about writing that I want to now share with you.

1. Show up every day
Set up the same time every day to sit down and write.  Even if you don’t feel like writing, write.  Even if everything that comes out of your writing session is crap, write.  Eventually, your body will start getting used to this practice, and writing will become a lot easier.  But it won’t happen unless you show up.

2. Turn off your inner critic
What kind of help is that inner voice if all they can tell you is “this story sucks”?  I mean, of course it sucks.  It’s a ROUGH DRAFT.  When you get to the editing stage, you can kill off those characters who are stifling the story, or take them out altogether.  You can add periods in the middle of all those run-on sentences.  You can describe the smell and feel of the wind in full detail instead of just saying it was lightly blowing.  When that negative ninny rears its ugly head and makes you question why you ever thought you could write a novel, kick that inner critic to the curb.  And then, just write.

3. Don’t look back
The storyline is going to take turns you weren’t prepared for, a turn you hadn’t even set up in the first few chapters. Or, you’re going to get to a place where you’re stuck, and feel that reading everything you already wrote should be re-read to get you back on your feet.  Or, you’re going to be tempted to start editing what you wrote NOW so that it will be even more perfect.  DON’T DO IT.  This will only result in a total halt in your writing momentum, leaving you stuck in the past of your story, and threatening the future of where the story is headed.  Keep moving forward in the story, and refrain from looking at anything you’ve already written.  You can do that when the story is done.

4. Write without abandon
Sometimes you have a carefully laid out plan for where your characters are supposed to go.  And then out of the blue, a character wants to become a trapeze artist.  Let them.  After all, that’s where she might meet and fall in love with the troubled circus clown, or learn to overcome her irrational fear of elephants.  Stop putting reins on the storyline, and just go with the flow.

5. Make friends in your writing community
You can write all by your lonesome, pounding the keyboard in total solitude until you (hopefully) type the words The End.  Or you can meet others who are on the same journey as you, who will serve as motivators when you’re ready to throw in the towel.  Over at NaNoWriMo.org, they have forums where you can meet other locals also participating in a month of novel writing.  We chatted online, and sometimes even met up in coffee shops or bookstores to write together.  There are numerous ways to meet other writers and cheer each other on.  Check out Goodreads or kboards.com to start.  If you know of others, leave them in the comments!

6. Celebrate your own victory!
Trust me, there will be no fireworks when your rough draft is done. I know. I expected them, and they never came.  However, I did blow my own whistle and toot my own horn, shouting from the online rooftops that I WROTE A NOVEL! So when you write out The End, know that you did something HUGE!  And then let everyone else know, too.  😉

P.S. Look me up at NaNoWriMo, and let’s be writing friends! nanowrimo.org/en/participants/crissi


Crissi Langwell is the debut author of A Symphony of Cicadas.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

5 thoughts on “What NaNoWriMo taught me about writing a book”

  1. I’ve been going back and forth trying to make each chapter of my novel perfect, thanks a lot! You just gave me the key to proceed faster! I love this! Once more, thanks!

    1. It’s amazing how much this helps! When you keep looking back over what you read, it just totally stunts the process. It’s better to just keep moving forward so you can gain momentum. Ignore the mistakes and keep moving. You can fix everything when the rough draft is done and it’s time for editing. Good luck! Here’s to a finished RD of a novel!

  2. Pingback: How Trader Joe’s helped me write my latest novel | Crissi Langwell ~ Author

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