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5 Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo
(National Novel Writing Month)

I hope all you fellow scholars have been enjoying the New Year!

Looking back, 2013 was a fun and exciting year here at Inkwell Scholars. I published the first post on this blog on March 4 shortly after releasing the Inkwell Scholars eBook 31 Best Writing Prompts (join the email list to get a free copy). I also created a Facebook fan page; promoted the YouTube channel as it grew to over 150,000 video views; and read over 75 essays written by students in the Inkwell Scholars writing program.

What was one of your biggest achievements of 2013?

Aside from the many milestones reached with Inkwell Scholars, mine undoubtedly happened this past November when I wrote a novel in a single month.

November is National Novel Writing Month (dubbed NaNoWriMo for short). During this month, both professional authors and aspiring writers challenge themselves to pen a 50,000-word novel. The goal is to begin writing on the first of November and finish by midnight of November 30. You can plan and outline your novel as much as you like beforehand, but the actual writing of the novel can only be done during November.

I’m not going to say it wasn’t crazy, but it truly was an immensely satisfying feeling to finish November with a 100-page novel.

Read on for 5 things I learned from writing a novel in a month. These lessons can apply to accomplishing any goal and help you work towards whatever you are trying to achieve in the New Year.

1. Real Writers Write Everyday

Ray Bradbury Quote on Writing

Ray Bradbury, the famous science fiction author, once observed, “If you want to write, if you want to create…You must write every single day of your life.”

By “real writers” I mean those who are truly serious about their craft, those who want to write to the best of their ability. Journalists write every day, and so do most novelists. Writers aren’t any different from athletes or musicians. Anyone who wishes to excel at their craft must practice a little every day.

Unfortunately, this is one thing I struggled with this past year. When I was in college, I was always swamped with writing assignments that kept me busy writing each day. But during summer vacations, I found that I wrote less and less, and especially once I graduated, I hardly wrote at all.

NaNoWriMo was an excellent way to reawaken my dormant writing skills. The truth is that it is very difficult to write 50,000 words in a single month if you do not write a little bit each day. It’s important to break down the larger goal of writing a novel in a month into smaller, manageable goals that you can accomplish each day.

I found that if I chose to write every day at the same time in the evening, eventually I always found that I felt like writing at exactly that time each day. It naturally became part of my schedule, a daily habit.

Lesson Learned: Make working toward your goals a manageable, daily habit and eventually you will achieve those goals.

2. Find a Partner to Keep You Accountable

My brother joined me on the NaNoWriMo adventure. I think this was partly the reason why we both succeeded in reaching 50,000 words (he actually finished his novel a day before NaNoWriMo ended – Congrats, Michael!).

Sometimes we’d compete against each other to see who could write more words in a period of 15 or 20 minutes. When one of us didn’t feel like writing, we would encourage each other and cheer each other on. We’d also read each other’s stories and suggest plot twists and new characters when one of us didn’t know in what direction to take the novel.

Lesson Learned: You are less likely to quit a project when you have friends working towards the same goals as you. Even if you are working towards different goals, you can all keep each other accountable, inspire one another, and ensure that you don’t give up.

3. Formulate A Plan Before Setting Out

moleskine-584708-mWhen I sat down in front of my computer on the first day of NaNoWriMo, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to write.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I told Michael. “I don’t have any story ideas.”

“You can’t quit before you even try to write anything,” Michael told me. So after an hour long stare down with a blank Word document, I finally typed the first line of my novel.

This proves that it is possible to write a novel without any prior planning. However, if I were to participate in NaNoWriMo again, I would definitely make sure to have the outline of a plot typed up before I began. Having an outline doesn’t mean that you must follow it to the letter, but it does mean that you will have a nice roadmap to follow and will avoid writer’s block because you will always know precisely where your novel is headed.

Lesson Learned: Having a structured plan before you set out will make it much easier to work towards your goal a little bit each day.

4. Write First, Edit Later

NaNoWriMo is a very fast paced project. I was always so busy trying to scramble to finish my daily quota of words that I felt like I never had enough time to spend rewriting previous passages and editing. When I write my next novel, I believe I will take it a bit slower and not write at such a break neck pace. However, NaNoWriMo taught me the importance of writing first and editing later. Essentially, there was no time to be a perfectionist, and there was no time to procrastinate.

It is quite a noble goal to want to do things to the best of your ability, but often perfectionism can inhibit you from ever getting out of the starting gate. Indeed, what you might be thinking is perfectionism could actually be a lack of self-confidence. When working towards your goals, remember that you will have nothing to perfect if you don’t first get started.

Lesson Learned: It is important to keep perfectionism in perspective. If you want to accomplish your goals, you need to be courageous, you need to banish procrastination, and you can’t be afraid to make mistakes.

5. Never, Never, Never Give Up

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If this rallying cry helped England win the war, it can probably help us accomplish our goals too.

An author account on NaNoWriMo comes with a handy graph that tracks how many words you have written each day and how many you need to continue writing each day in order to reach 50,000 words.

When I first started writing, NaNoWriMo told me I only needed to write 1,200 words a day. That didn’t seem too difficult. But then one day I didn’t feel like writing, and another day I was so busy I couldn’t find any time to fit in novel writing. I fell behind and the daily quota of words climbed higher. But I refused to give up. I was determined to finish what I had started.

There’s a psychological term for this: grit. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit is  “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” More specifically, it is the quality of persevering towards long-term goals no matter the obstacles. It’s the unflagging passion to continue working towards your goals even when you feel that you simply can’t go on anymore.

And you know what? Eventually, I found out that on those days that the word count seemed insurmountable, that it seemed impossible that I would ever catch up and finish the novel in a month, those were the days I found that I had the most inspiration. Those were the days that the words seemed to flow without any prompting.

Lesson Learned: By setting goals for yourself and working towards them, you will develop endurance. You will discover the grit that you never knew you had. You will discover that you have an incredibly huge reserve of creativity, energy, and determination than you could ever have imagined.

And that’s something to be proud of.

What will you accomplish in the New Year?

If this post motivated you, please leave a comment below and share the post with someone you would like to inspire.

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