What I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo for the First Time
Last month I participated in National Novel Writing Month (also known as “NaNoWriMo”). It was fun, exhausting, stressful and at times just unhappy. But it was also one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned in regards to time management and creativity.
NaNoWriMo’s goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. That’s roughly 1,667 words a day (for reference, this article is even half that size). Your novel doesn’t have to be finished — mine’s not — but in order to “win,” you must write at least as many words. This is an exciting activity! Imagine your life in a month and you have a romance, or at least a good start to it, and you get the idea. However, when you have a steady job, personal life, family, and other side projects, it can be incredibly difficult to find the time to express your opinion.
But it’s all worth it. NaNoWriMo taught me a lot. I learned once and for all what is the best time to write during the day; I have learned that listening to ambient sounds can be as or better than listening to music when I am writing; I’ve learned that it’s best to leave writing the fun parts for later so you can get started right away when you start your next session; and I found out that I generate more ideas for other projects when I work hard on one big project. It’s like a creative feedback loop that gets stronger and stronger the more you do and the more capable you start to feel.
But most importantly, I learned that there is always time to create things . No matter how busy I was – full-time work, other writing projects, a few weekend trips to San Diego, business trips to New York, running around tables at multi-day conventions – there was always little time to sit down and relax. a few words for my story. I even managed to write on my birthday. Eat your heart, Stephen King. NaNoWriMo, more than any other creative endeavor I’ve embarked on, taught me a serious lesson in time management. I knew that “finding” the time would never work. You don’t find time, you “do it” . But this challenge proved this concept tenfold to me, especially as the month dragged on and it was getting harder and harder to stay on track. If you are a little behind every day, you will be a lot behind by the end. If one day I didn’t write enough, I knew I would have to catch up later, and it really became apparent in the second half of the month. I have no doubt that this lesson would not have gone the way it did for me if I gave up after 10 days. You need a whole month.
This challenge also made me rethink how I spent my free time before starting NaNo. Even though I wrote more than I ever wrote before, in November I still had plenty of time to meet friends, watch TV, go to the movies, travel, and even play video games. Admittedly, I didn’t get the chance to do any of these things nearly as often as I used to, but the cool thing was I didn’t miss it that much. It’s like eating a couple of bites of dessert instead of eating the whole dish. I still got the satisfaction of doing these things without overdoing it. You can eat your cake and eat it, but not all of it.
I don’t know how long the effects of this hard-earned mindset will last. Now I can barely sit down to enjoy a video game or watch TV like I used to because I feel like I’m not being productive. It’s as if a little devil in a business suit was constantly poking me with the pitchfork of success. It’s nice to feel guided, but it’s exhausting. However, I look back at my life before I tried it, wondering what the hell I was doing all my time. I believe that I have a new, very useful habit, and I do not plan to throw this devil off my shoulder anytime soon.
Have you participated in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, what have you learned?