Writer Wednesday: What I Learned as a NaNoWriMo Participant


NaNoWriMo “Coffee Rings” poster. Image from nanowrimo.org.


For the first time in four years, I did not participate in November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I love the annual challenge to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November, but I have too many drafts waiting for completion to add another to the list.

Back in 2011, when I took the challenge for the first time, I had no idea that it would change my writing life. Taking part in NaNoWriMo got me back into writing fiction and gave me the nerve to share my stories publicly.

I learned a few things during that first year of participation, lessons that I think will help any writer.

What I Learned About Writing

  • Free writing is an exercise every writer should do regularly. When I started my NaNo novels, I had no outline or defined storylines. I knew what I wanted to write about, but I had no start and finish ideas. Sitting down each evening to write 1,667 words with “literary abandon” was a treat. I created new characters and situations that I didn’t know were inside me, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the novel each evening. Booking one day a month to write with abandon could inspire a new storyline, character, or scene. Circle a day on your calendar and try it this month.
  • Writing a novel is within the reach of all writers. I believe this now. Not all writers will have well-written novels, but we can all write one. The structure is there for the taking, the writing habit just waits to be formed, and the experience will lead to lessons you can carry into your other writings.

What I Learned About Myself

  • Writing is what I was born to do. The NaNo challenges reconfirmed my heart’s desire to write for readers. At the end of my evening writing time, I feel that writing tug and look forward to the next evening when I can begin again. You know the feeling.
  • Writing could easily become my god. There were times during the all-month challenge when I declined a friend’s invitation to dinner, skipped a meal, ignored my family members, and acted in other anti-social ways — not because it was my specific NaNo writing time, but because I felt that tug and gave in to it, no matter what I was doing. And sometimes when I spoke those wonderful words, “I’m writing a novel,” a puff of pride floated over my head. I do not want this to happen, and NaNo showed me that it could. It’s important to keep in mind that we are people first who just happen to be writers.

What I Learned About the Writing Life

  • Writers are willing to help one another meet their goals. Writers from across the globe encouraged me during the challenge. Reading blogs and writer forums, receiving tweets, finding “Like” notifications on my Facebook page — writers make it their business to cheer each other on.
  • The competition is fierce. NaNoWriMo has hundreds of thousands of participants, and that’s just a fraction of the writers in this world who want to be published. There is much work to be done for those of us who want to break into the publishing world. A well-written book is just the beginning. Check my articles in the Business and Publishing category to read what I learned.
  • Writing every day is essential.  It’s the key to becoming a better writer and published author — my two goals. My habit had been to write in marathon sessions any chance I had. But thanks to my experience with NaNoWriMo, I now write daily, a habit that can only strengthen my writing skills.

NaNoWriMo was a great experience for me, and my writing life improved by being a participant. The challenge takes place every year in November. If you’re curious, be sure to visit the event’s website for the details.

What about you? What type of challenge helped take your writing to a higher level?

(Updated. The original article first appeared on DarlaWrites.com, December 2011)

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

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