Five Lessons I Learned From Participating In NaNoWriMo


By Jillian Stacia

Last year, I participated in National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Despite being incredibly difficult, it was by far one of the highlights of my year. I learned a lot about myself, about writing, and about what it takes to be a successful author.

And even though I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo again this year, I’d highly recommend the experience to someone else, because it taught me so many invaluable lessons that I still use today.

Here are five lessons I learned from participating in NaNoWriMo:

1. Writing is as much about discipline as it is about creativity:

When you make a commitment to write 50,000 words in a month, you learn to stop waiting for creative inspiration to strike. There’s a lot to be said about creativity, but it doesn’t get you anywhere if you don’t have the parameters to channel it. That’s why the first rule of writing is to sit your ass in the chair. Writing doesn’t happen without discipline. And good writing doesn’t happen without creativity. They’re like conjoined twins- you need both to be successful. This is an important lesson for every writer to learn. Creativity is only half the battle. The other half is discipline. NaNoWriMo teaches you to hone that discipline and make it a daily habit.

2. Shut off your inner editor:

Anne Lamott said it best: embrace shitty first drafts. This is the writing stage, not the editing stage. You are getting your ideas out of your brain and onto the paper. Stop going back and re-reading what you wrote, and start focusing on what you are going to write next. If you are constantly fixing and tweaking what you’ve already written, you will make slow progress. Remember, it’s a lot easier to edit a bad page than it is to edit a blank page. This is true even after NaNoWriMo is over. Editing needs to be kept separate from writing. Trying to blend the two will leave you feeling frustrated.

3. You don’t always have to have a plan:

If you’re like me, you’re going to struggle with this one, but full-fledged outlines aren’t necessary to complete NaNoWriMo, or any piece of writing, really. If you have the discipline to write every day, give yourself the freedom to let your creativity run wild. Stop worrying about whether or not you have a well-developed plot or relatable characters. Just see what happens. You may surprise yourself.

4. Things like community and accountability are important in achieving big goals:

My favorite part about NaNoWriMo was the community. I enjoyed getting to know fellow writers, reading the Pep Talks and learning more about the writing process. Writing can be an isolating experience, so it’s nice to embrace community whenever possible. I also loved the accountability of having to write every day and record your word count. This definitely motivated me to stay on track. I use similar accountability and community tools in my writing today, and I love how it keeps me invested and engaged with my work.

5. Writing is fun!

NaNoWriMo made me fall in love with writing again, because it made me fall in love with my imagination again. I loved how silly and goofy I could be. I loved the fact that anything could happen in my story. This feeling of empowerment and silliness has definitely benefited my writing in the long run. It’s taught me to enjoy the writing process, to take more risks, and to lean into my creativity instead of following more traditional modules.

Good luck to all you NaNoWriMo writers out there! Let us know what lessons you’ve learned along the way!

Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network here at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

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