In “What I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo for the First Time” by Patrick Allen on Lifehacker, he describes the lessons he’s learned this year from participating in the annual writer’s challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Most importantly, though, I learned that there is always time to create things. No matter how busy I was—with my full-time job, other writing projects, multiple weekend trips to San Diego, business trips to New York, running tables at multi-day conventions—there was always a little time to sit down and spill out some words for my story. I even managed to write on my birthday. Eat your heart out, Stephen King. NaNoWriMo, more than any other creative endeavor I’ve undertaken, gave me a serious lesson in time management. I knew that “finding” the time was never going to work. You don’t find time, you “make” time. But this challenge proved that concept for me tenfold, especially as the month dragged on and staying on track got harder and harder. Falling behind a little every day means being behind a lot near the end. If I didn’t write enough one day, I knew I’d have to make it up later, and that really became apparent in the second half of the month. There’s no doubt in my mind this lesson would not have sunk in the way it did for me had I given up after 10 days. You need the whole month.
We know this. This isn’t new, but the delivery system that is NaNoWriMo slams this lesson home in everyone who participates, no matter what happens, to complete the month.
Among those in Writers in the Grove who participated, even if for a week or so, it was fascinating to hear their excuses for not continuing on. For our group, members could participate in NaNoWriMo with the goal of 50,000 words, or 30 hours, one hour of writing a day. We have many writers who are poets and write by hand, so we changed the word count to a minimum one hour a day to create the same challenge as the word count.
- It was just too much to ask of myself.
- I couldn’t concentrate on just one thing.
- I had too much to do.
- It was intimidating.
- I had too much to write about and couldn’t get started.
- I fell behind the second week and knew I couldn’t keep up, so I stopped.
For those who kept going until the end of the month, they reported:
- It was fascinating to set a writing schedule for myself. I loved it.
- I found I could break up the hour (or word count) through out the day, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there.
- I learned to write better and faster by turning off my internal editor.
- When I let it happen, I found my story going off in new, fascinating directions.
- I found myself loving that I was making and keeping an appointment with myself every day.
- As I got closer to the end of the month, I’d have bursts of energy and write two and three days worth in a single day.
Fascinating to compare these statements with the lesson in time management learned by Patrick Allen. It really boils down to the fact that you don’t find time, you make time. You make a commitment to yourself and you keep it.
Either way, for our members, there is no right or wrong. There are the lessons learned, and this is one of them. Whatever gets in your way during November’s NaNoWriMo challenge are the things that get in your way the rest of the year. That’s the real lesson.
What gets in your way? NaNoWriMo’s methodology is a great way to test your self-sabotaging techniques in a condensed month-long process. I’m the expert in self-sabotage when it comes to creative writing. Over the years of participating in NaNoWriMo, I’ve met many of my ghosts and demons and survived my personal mental torture chamber of self-doubt, and lived to tell about it. Surviving makes me a better writer, there is no doubt, but finishing makes me a better finisher.
Don’t despair because you didn’t finish or didn’t participate this year. You can NaNoWriMo any time, any month, or even across a single week. Set a goal. Keep it. And whatever you do, don’t stop writing.