Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Hello everyone! You thought I fell off the face of the earth, didn't you? Probably because I did. I fell into the black hole of NaNoWriMo and decided to go on a blogging hiatus without telling anyone. Which was very impolite of me, not?

Anyway! Seeing as how NaNoWriMo was the defining characteristic of last month, I though I might as well do a post on it. Overall, I'm glad I did it. I managed to get past 50,000 words and finish a rough draft of The Time Traveling League.'s an incredibly ugly first draft. But my first drafts are always hideous, so that makes little difference to me. :)

I learned lots of things from NaNo, and I'm slightly impatient to make a list of them and share them with you. :)

General Stuff about Being a Writer

1. It's not impossible.

Whenever I read anything about National Novel Writing Month and the wild craziness that November is for some writers, I got the impression that participants spend all their time divided between writing, sleeping, and eating.

In reality that is simply not the case. Writing 2000 words only takes a few hours, tops. I had plenty of time to do schoolwork, hang out with friends and siblings, and fangirl over Laramie. (Have I mentioned Laramie on this blog...? No? Oh, I guess that's a subject for another post.) You just have to prioritize.

Which brings me to point #2:

2. I just have to make the time.

For me, this meant cutting down on computer time. Email was sorely neglected. This blog was sorely neglected. Pinterest -- didn't miss me because Pinterest is like a cat and gets along fine without anyone giving it attention all the time.

But anyway. The point is, if I really want to write, I can find the time.

3. But I can't be a writer 24/7.

Actually this is more like something I started to think about during NaNo rather than something I actually did learn. Ever seen this writing quote?:

this is so true:

Turns out that quote is a bunch of hogwash. G. K. Chesterton would say so, I am 100% sure. (But that, like Laramie, is material for another day.) Writers cannot be always always thinking about writing. They have to take breaks sometimes. They have to be people, not just writers.

There comes a point when I have to close the Word document, leave my characters to themselves, and just let it all go. During the first days of NaNo it was incredibly freeing to think "I've written all I have to today. I'll come back again tomorrow," because then I could give my all to my schoolwork, or doing the dishes, or playing a board game, or walking up and down the driveway.

(Of course, that only lasted for the first day or so. Then I started thinking, "Even if I've made my word quota for today, it can't hurt to get a jump on tomorrow's word count" and then bye-bye to all Chestertonian reflections on how I have to be a person first and a writer second. But at least I started to think about it.)

Specific Stuff about Writing a Book

1. Talking to my characters can help unstuck a scene.

I started to write a post on this in the middle of last month and never got around to finishing it. (Maybe I'll post it later.) A couple of times during NaNo, the scene I was writing would come to a screeching halt. It wasn't that I didn't know what had to happen next - the story was in good shape - I just didn't know what my characters would do in that next second of time. Here, I employed a piece of writing advice I had read somewhere but never used - I started to write a dialogue between myself and my characters asking them what they wanted most in that particular scene. Once I realized what everyone wanted and how badly they wanted it, I was able to use the people with the most clear-cut goals and the most forceful personalities to move things forward.

2. Causing the characters problems solves the writer problems.

Groundbreaking, right? :) Haha, I feel so silly admitting that I never before realized how invaluable conflict is to a story. But really. So often I'll be writing a draft, and a thought will cross my mind, "Oh, this could go wrong..." And for one second I'll consider changing things up and making my characters suffer. But then I think, "No, that'll add another ten pages to the book and I'm impatient to get to the climax!"

But with NaNo - lo and behold! Adding ten pages is a good thing. So...maybe that was part of the reason I followed more of my impulses and actually let my characters have to go to the emergency room for severe burns?

3. It's okay not to have a theme down pat until the end.

I knew I wanted my book to have a specific, powerful theme. I just didn't know what that theme was. To my delight, the climax determined it for me, and from that point out I knew what the story was really supposed to be about. Well...okay, maybe I didn't know what it was really supposed to be about. But I definitely had a better idea. I was reminded of the slogan I've got somewhere in my Pinterest collection,


4. Just because a first draft can (and should) be rough doesn't mean I shouldn't put effort into it.

When I was really close to getting my word count done for the month, there was a big temptation to rush through the climax and denouement and conclusion and just worry about getting those last thousand words down. But I decided that I wanted to finish the story in this first draft, not just write a shoddy climax and get the word count down. And it was so, so much more satisfying in the end to have a story that actually made sense, even though it still needed a ton of help.

(Note that I'm not saying my climax isn't shoddy. It is pretty pathetic. But at least I didn't just type out "then they beat the bad guys!...and lived happily ever after the end" and called it a climax the way I've come pretty close to doing before.)

Personal Writing Weaknesses

1. I need to work on developing my main characters. 

This is something I've known about my personal writing for awhile. My protagonists are the most boring creatures in book-land. I tend to think of a story idea and then choose a really bland person (usually a bland and slightly-modified version of me) as my focal character. The people I really care about, the colorful characters I actually have fun with, are the ones who come in and make friends with this dull main character. You can imagine the result.

2. I need to work on developing my bad guys.

My main conflict, like my main character, is usually pretty weak. I guess I have a lot more fun with subplots than I do overarching story plots. Maybe I should write short stories instead of novels. Or romances instead of speculative fiction.

3. I need to work on my world-building rules.

When it comes to magic and science fiction-y stuff, I hate rules. They're way too mathematical for my word-wired brain. I want to write about the beauties and flaws and quirks of my characters' souls, not under which circumstances a time door will work!

The thing is, I have to figure out how the time doors work if I want to write about my characters' souls. Sad but true: writers have to think about things that hurt their brains sometimes.

Fun Music!

Another reason I'm glad I did NaNoWriMo is that, because of The Time Traveling League, I (kind of on accident) discovered some really fun WWI-era songs. K-K-K-Katy, It's A Long Way to Tipperary, and Over There are all delightful - and I even used There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight/Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here in the concluding scene of my story. 'Twas quite perfectly delightful.

All in all, I'm glad I did NaNoWriMo! How about you? Did you learn any valuable lessons from last month (assuming you participated)? What was your favorite thing about it? Your least favorite? 


  1. Sounds like you had a grand old time, Lucy! :D
    I did not make 50k, but almost. :) And I feel that I never want to look at the story again (or at least not until I can actually see it happen in real, you know, about the year 2110...). ;) But, I will tell you that the first quote is very much my thought. I am almost always like that. Rare is the moment when one of my thought trains doesn't eventually lead to writing. I'm glad you're back again! :D

    1. Good for you, Belle!! Almost 50,000 words is awesome! (And ugh, I know what you mean about not wanting to look at a story ever again. That first draft feeling...I think all writers are familiar with it.)

      That quote describes me very accurately, too. I'm always thinking about my characters and stories and scenes. :)

  2. Well, I'm happy to see you back, and glad that you enjoyed your adventure!

    I don't know, that Eugene Ionesco quote must be true for some. My mind is usually busy with story ideas and scenes...even during inappropriate times, like at lectures, meetings or while I'm driving. Or at 11:50 at night.

    Many of those songs I recognize!

    1. Thanks, Blue!

      Yes, I think the Eugene Ionesco quote is certainly true to a large extent...I can certainly relate to it. :) And calling it "hogwash" is probably hyperbole. And of course there's nothing wrong with thinking about writing a lot. I just think there's a fine line between thinking about writing a lot and thinking about it too much. For me, personally, there's a temptation to make writing the sole aim of my life. :)

      I love those songs. :) I've actually known "K-K-K-Katy" for as long as I can remember, but I'd never heard anything but the refrain until last month.

  3. YAYAYAYAY!!! YOU SURVIVED NANO!!! :D Hmm, I'd have to say that that quote actually does pretty much apply to me though. :) Ooh, talking to characters is good idea. I don't think I've ever done that.

    1. I DID SURVIVE! :) And oh yes, that quote applies to me 100%. I think I shall have to devote another post to rambling through my thoughts about it, though... Talking to characters is fun! You should try it sometime. :)


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