I “won” at Nano again this year. 50,062 glorious and absolutely dreadful words to build on and polish into something worth reading over the next year. Like many others I currently have a love/hate relationship with my manuscript, Keeper of Shadows, but I will keep working at it until there is more love than hate. That’s the plan anyway.

This year things were different. I didn’t waste the full first half of the month and then sprint my way towards the finish like last year. This year I created a plan, stuck to it, and even finished a few days early. So what did I learn during this year’s process?

It’s all in how you say it: Last year I had daily word goals, and considering I wrote most of my novel in the last half of the month these goals were like mini Everests. The other problem was that my weekends were completely unproductive because I was just too busy with things I couldn’t control. Any words I didn’t finish then got added to my weekday goals. Honestly, it hurt and I constantly felt like I was failing.

This year I changed my approach. I set a 2500 word goal for all the weekdays in November, so instead of my pathetic weekend writing increasing my daily word count, it went towards decreasing my word count. In the end it was the same amount of words, but the change in focus from being behind all the time was a lot more encouraging than I thought. Make sure you create goals that work for you and work to motivate, not de-motivate, you. Don’t set yourself up to fail, because you probably will.

All the small things: Like any writer I had some days where creativity was as probable as a litter of purple polka-dotted baby dragons showing up on my doorstep through Fed Ex. On one of these particular days I read one of Chuck Wendig’s writers write manifestos on his blog Terrible Minds (if you don’t mind swearing I highly recommend this site). Grumbling, I opened my laptop and forced myself to write just a little bit – like 150 words. A few hours later, still grumbling, I did the same thing. And again. By the end of the day I had actually surpassed my daily word count. All those little pieces added up and didn’t involve me staring at my screen for an hour and bashing my forehead against the keys trying to unlock some deep subconscious creative wisdom.

A special kind of crazy: This year I was very vocal about my participation in Nanowrimo. Last year I locked this part of my life away in a scary basement where I would visit and feel dirty and sensitive to light when I resurfaced. This year, I didn’t care who knew. I am a writer and that what writers do. Interacting with the “real” world about what I was doing, did make one thing clear. Writers are a special kind of crazy. They don’t just pick up a pen because they’re bored and feel like it’s something to do. It’s something inside that begs to be let out. Writers are storytellers, dreamers, the kids who lied to their parents because they could. Writers are insane to do what we do, but I couldn’t picture my life without it.

For everyone else who passed the 50,000 threshold – congratulations! For those who didn’t, don’t worry about it at least you wrote something, which is more than a lot of other people can say. 

Did anyone else learn any valuable Nano lessons this year?



I’m doing Nanowrimo again this year. Although I “won” last year it wasn’t without difficulty. I admit that I only had 8000 words on the 17th of November and I quit 3 times during the month, twice in one day alone, but at 3pm November 30th I uploaded my 50,117 word manuscript for confirmation.  It was tough, but I learned a lot about writing and about myself as a writer.


There is always time to write: During November of last year I was working my full time and then some day job, a part time job that consumed another 20-30 hours per week, had two hockey tournaments and had to devote time to trivial things like eating, sleeping, and showering.  I also wrote 50,117 words. I’m not a very fast writer. Sometimes I get on a roll, but I didn’t pound out those word gems over 3 days, it took time. A lot of time. But even though I was extremely busy, I found that time. I got into a routine and I made writing a priority. So in July when I think that I don’t have time to write, I do. No excuses.


When to cut and run: If you have done any studying on writing craft I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to “arrive late and leave early” when writing a scene or to “not write what readers skip”. I’ve tried, I really have, but Nano was the best teacher for this concept. When you have a limited amount of time you write what you feel and what drives you. There is no time to smooth out a nice transition or worse add another Tolkien-esque walking scene. During Nano I wrote pages of dialogue with no action, action with no dialogue, and great snippets of plot treasures that popped into my head. After November I needed to beef up these scenes, but in most cases I didn’t need to add transitions. Had I taken my time to write the first draft I know I would have dragged these scenes out, which was something they didn’t need.


Developing a routine: I write more during the week than on weekends. I write better in mid afternoon than any other time of day. Although I had been writing for years prior to 2013, the short time frame showed me some truths about what kind of writer I am. This year, I have actually created my Nano word count goals based on the weekdays in November instead of the entire month, with weekends being bonus words. Now if I can just get my life to stop at about 2 pm so I can have uninterrupted writing time, things would be perfect.


Fast drafting keeps voice consistent: Any writer can tell you that their characters get in their head. They live and breathe even when you aren’t writing, so when it comes time to put fingers to keyboard your characters can come alive on the page. When you are writing regularly, the voice of your characters stays consistent because you are visiting with them more often. My first novel was written over a long period of time and I found that the voice of my character changed every time I picked up my laptop. When fast drafting for Nano my characters sounded more like themselves from beginning to end.


I know there are mixed opinions on the value of Nanowrimo due to speed of production and focus on word counts instead of quality, but it has been a great experience for me. I might not have an award-winning novel on December 1st, but I will have a less lumpy piece of clay to mold into something beautiful.


For all your Nano’s out there, best of luck. If you are interested, my screen name for Nano is RookiePen. See you all in December!