What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Last year I completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), finishing the 50,300-word first draft of the novel I intend to work on next (after completing Book Two of Color Mage). This year I’m not participating, since I’m swamped with other things.

But I learned a lot from NaNoWriMo — in fact, it was a great experience.

What can you get by writing a novel in 30 days? Well, discipline, obviously — you have to force yourself to write daily, and that’s a key factor in being a writer all of the time.

But I found there was more to it than that.

The NaNoWriMo structure forces you to focus as you make the many choices involved during the writing of a novel.

Maybe you start with an outline, and figure all those plot and character choices are already made before you begin writing. But chances are, complications will pop up, characters will turn stubborn and want to go their own way, or new possibilities will present themselves — possibilities too awesome to be ignored.

NaNoWriMo forces you to make those choices right away. You have to, if you’re going to succeed. No dithering around for days while you work through your character’s psyche. No putting it away for a week — a month — a year — while you deliberate.

Instead, you have to choose. Now.

And that’s what’s involved in writing — choosing one story to tell from among the many available even after you do your character development and outline. Whittling away all the outer wood to expose the shape of this story.

Granted, in real life you don’t have to do it in one day. But the deadline makes for very good practice!

If you’re participating this year, don’t expect to come out with something highly-finished by November 30. Your novel will still need lots of work. But keep writing away — it’s worth it. And not just to display that “winner” badge at the end of the month! Though that is an accomplishment, all by itself.

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