A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

This month I participated in an event known as NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual event that takes place every November. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words toward a novel. People participate for a wide variety of reasons. For me, it was an opportunity to dabble in a genre that I’ve never really tried before. In addition, it was a big challenge. That’s how I like my challenges: the bigger the better!

I knew from the beginning that there was a good chance that I would not reach the 50,000 word goal. After all, November is the kick-off for one of the busiest seasons in the church. I’m a single mom with kids who need me, regardless of what else I have going on. Plus I had plans for a fast trip to Atlanta to hear Anne Lamott speak, followed immediately by a trip home for Thanksgiving with my family. Unlike previous years when I have considered the challenge, I decided that it was okay if I didn’t successfully complete it. It felt more important to me at this stage of life just to try.

So how did I do? Well, I didn’t reach the goal. I did, however, write more than 41,000 words. That’s pretty doggone good if you ask me! It was low pressure. It was fun. And along the way I learned a few things:

1) 50,000 words = a LOT of words for one month!

2) Anne Lamott is right. When you give yourself permission to write really badly, you really can get a lot more written. It isn’t worth sharing right away, mind you, but it allows you to explore ideas and styles, taking risks that you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to take. It also played mind games with my bully inner critic/editor, keeping him quiet – for the most part. It isn’t often that I allow myself to knowingly do something badly, so this was a freeing experience.

3) Writing fiction is simultaneously more fun and more frustrating that I thought it would be.

4) Writing takes on a life of its own. I started out thinking I knew exactly what I was going to write, but as I progressed I discovered myself going in totally different, totally unexpected directions. (Not sure if that’s the nature of writing or ADD. Or both.)

5) I need to learn A LOT more about writing fiction. This was a last minute, impulsive shot in the dark. I need to learn more about developing characters and working with plot. I’m just not sure who to learn from since it seems that everyone has a different take on how fiction is best done.

6) When I write a lot, I dream a lot. My dreams this month have been numerous and vivid. These haven’t been the run-of-the-mill dreams that are forgotten as soon as the alarm sounds. They have been more complex, seemingly interrelated from one night to the next, and packed with meaning. (I mean, one night I had a dream that centered on the farm and tectonic plates. Seriously. I didn’t even know for sure what tectonic meant until I looked it up the next morning.) These dreams tagged along with me during the daylight hours, begging for some attention. Writing so frequently and so intentionally seems to tap into a deeper part of my consciousness that spills over into the night. Or maybe I just haven’t been eating right before bedtime. It’s a toss-up.

7) Writing late at night has the same effect on me as running in the evening. It revs my engines and makes it harder for me to sleep. Still, don’t ask me to write early in the morning. My brain doesn’t work well before 9 a.m. The middle of the day is reserved for my work and evenings are reserved for my family. I guess that means that I just won’t sleep as well – and I will have vivid dreams – on the nights I write late. Eh, it’s worth it.

8) I missed blogging.

9) I write a lot at work. Yes, I should know this already. I just didn’t realize how much “official” writing drains the creative well. There were nights I came home from work and thought, “If I write even one more word today, my brain will explode!” Balance – I think that’s what I need to seek.

10) Ironically enough, even with more on my plate, I was more organized and more prepared, especially at work. Rather than falling behind, it was like I had more motivation to not just keep up, but get ahead.

11) My kids – all three of them – were intrigued by what I was doing. Mia, my young writer, also got busy. She has a story file on my computer that she started this month that has 571 words in it already. Not shabby for a 9-year-old! That makes me smile. And my oldest reluctant writer had either 4 or 5 papers to write this month – one of them 20 pages long. Because of this, I had the opportunity to do a lot of editing as well.

12) Because I was trying to reach a high word goal in a short period of time during a month that involved an entire week of travel and friend/family time, I didn’t do much else with my free time except write. No reading. Very little running. Very little TV. After doing this for a month, I now feel a deep need/desire to read, refill my well, and move. Too much output + not enough input = creative exhaustion. I have a stack of books waiting for me. My body is begging for exercise. My DVR is storing some of my favorite shows that I missed. Time to diversify again!

I could keep going, but I will spare you. I do plan to get to know my new characters and their stories better over time. Maybe one day they will be fit to meet the public. Even if they don’t ever make it there, I have enjoyed getting all up in their business during NaNoWriMo. But now, it’s time to sleep. And run. And get ready for Christmas. And catch up on Bones and Nashville. And read. So where should I start? A Casual Vacancy? A Year of Biblical Womanhood? Thanks, Help, Wow? A Silence of Mockingbirds? Sabbath in the Suburbs? Other suggestions?


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3 thoughts on “What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jan! I was especially intrigued by the effect on your dream life. The brain is a fascinating, complex, always surprising organ.

  2. I agree…the dream thing is great. I’ve read Casual Vacancy; it’s good. Help, Thanks, Wow is, too, but I sort of inhaled it…need to go back and read more slowly. Enjoy!

  3. Wow! I am so late to this post, but what you learned is all so interesting. I have a friend who’s written two novels and trying to become traditionally published. What you talk about, about how the writing takes you in unexpected directions, writing at night, etc, sounds a lot how she describes the fiction writing life. I’m fascinated by it, and I can imagine it uses a totally different part of your brain. Good for you for just diving in.

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