15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo

I decided to have a crack at the National Novel Writing Month challenge this November. I’ve written 13,400 words in seven days. And like every other writer with a blog, I felt compelled to regale my experience in a jovial list format. So, buckle up, list fans. It’s time to get jovial.

1.) Holy fucking jeebus, trying to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is A LOT BLOODY HARDER THAN IT SOUNDS. I’m serious, break it down: 1,667 words each day… every day… for 30 days. Even on my most productive days writing Citadel, I was hitting 1,500 in a day, once every couple of months. Now I have to pull that out of my arse EVERY SINGLE DAY, with no respite, lest I need to play catch-up.

2.) For all that is good and holy, plan your bastard project with more than 24 hours’ notice. I committed to NaNoWriMo on the 31st October, and whipped up the most cursory plot to a book that’s been hibernating in my mind for some time. At least twice I’ve come up against a wall of incongruity, which might well have been avoided had I given the bloody thing more than two thoughts.

3.) Make a cover before you start. Designing a cover is another level of commitment and gives you a psychological boost in that you can see the end product, even if it is just a hastily thrown together draft. You can see a thing that may well become a book.

Here’s mine:


4.) Hangovers will become the bane of your existence. Example: if my brain is imprisoned within a torture chamber of the damned – also known as my stupid, thick head – it won’t be able to think, let alone craft the world’s greatest epic tome. So getting smashed at a Halloween party dressed as Brexit and staying out until 4am is a sure-fire way to piss on your project.

5.) When you’re trying to churn out 2,000 words on a heinous, hungover Sunday, don’t get into arguments with idiots on Twitter about parliamentary sovereignty or the role of an independent judiciary in an independent democracy – unless, MAYBE, you’re writing some kick-arse Brexit thriller, like the Keanu Reeves movie Speed, only the bus is red and the ticking time bomb is just a brazen-faced lie about NHS money. (Yes, I’m still angry about Brexit.)

6.) Try not to have a full-time job. It gets in the way. Quit, call in sick for a month, or be ready to endure some late nights.

7.) Try not to have children. They will get in the way. Disown them, or send them to their grandparents for a month, or boarding school (presumably that’s what’s it’s for?), or just have some bloody self-control over your loins in the first place, you filthy barbarians!

8.) In all this madness, one thing is abundantly clear: writers need support. Thankfully this comes in many forms, so take advantage of them;

  • Join a writing site, like Scribophile, and join the NaNoWriMo group. Chat with people, big each other up, share pointers on how to stop procrastinating, while you procrastinate on a forum. Joking aside, the respite is invaluable, even if it feels sometimes like you’re wasting time NOT WRITING.
  • At nanowrimo.org, there are forums for local writing workshops and whatnot. I’ve not been to one, but they do “word sprints“, whatever they are, and otherwise invade a Starbucks with laptops and notepads and… I honestly have no idea, but I expect they’re very useful indeed.
  • Tell the people you live with what you are doing.

9.) No, really, tell the people in your home all about NaNoWriMo. Tell your spouse, sibling, flatmate or special friend with sexy benefits. Do this above all things – you will need their support, and more so, their understanding. It’s a fuck-tonne of time you spend being glued to a computer and not engaging with other humans, and the people that love you might start to feel a little left out.

Take my wife (no, wait, bring her back) – I honestly don’t think I’d still be on par with the word count without her encouragement, belief and patience. She’s been amazing.

10.) On that note, don’t neglect your loved ones. There’s a balance. Adopt the mantra of the Roman god of war – work, rest and play. Do as Mars commands or be smited by his almighty caramel wrath.

11.) Don’t look at the news when the world is on the brink of a total fucking cataclysm.

12.) Keep reading. Yes, it’s difficult to cram all that writing into a packed day and still have time for some other fucker’s book, but reading keeps you fresh, and reminds you of the things that get lost in your own work. For me, it’s scene description. I’m all dialogue and characters and plot, I always forget to describe the things. Reading a published novel will remind of you where you can pad out with more words.

13.) If you can help it, don’t go back and edit. I know everyone works differently, but if you start going back to mess around with page 1, you run the risk of tumbling down the vortex of self-doubt. It’s like that Hemingway quote,

“The first draft of everything is shit”

Relish the shit! Keep it safe. For, deep inside, tiny nuggets of creative nutrition reside. That’s what December’s for: picking through your stinking manuscript and extracting the sweetcorn.

14.) Having said that, if you’re stumbling through a scene that makes no sense, you have to be prepared to identify where the story wrong-footed itself. That’s where the planning comes in, but often you need to think on your feet. Every story is so different, so I’ll give you an example from my work in progress:

Geezer needs to get a message to the enemy, in order to collude a truce. But when a messenger from the enemy comes to address the geezer’s allies, he doesn’t do anything, because there were too many eyes upon them.

Three hundred words later, the whole story comes to a grinding halt, because the opposing forces are at a standoff and there seems no way to secretly get a message across the battlefield without being seen.

Delete back to the meeting – Geezer roughs up the messenger in front of his allies, but whispers secrets in the ear of the messenger to pass to his superiors.

Suddenly, my story’s back on track, with a clandestine meeting between the protagonist and a new character, into whom I can pour a soul.

15.) Don’t confuse hard work with drudgery. It is a grind, sure, and finding the time is a challenge. But when the work becomes a chore, there’s something wrong with the story. You need to fix it, sharpish.

That’s what I’ve got so far. Tomorrow I’m set to hit 15,000 words (if I can concentrate while the world continues to kick itself in the balls). Thats’s 3/10 of the way through. Wish me luck.

And to all my fellow NaNoWriMos, may the Muse be with you…


6 thoughts on “15 lessons learned from my 1st #NaNoWriMo”

  1. I love that you dressed up as Brexit for Halloween, ha!
    I’ve never done nano, but I’ve written novels in a month before. I reckon #13 is key. Editing as you write the first draft switches your brain to a different thinking process. You (and Hemingway) are right.

    I like the book’s title, sounds intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aderyn, and I appreciate the RT over on Twitter.

      Amazed you’ve written entire novels in a month without the support and encouragement you get during NaNo. That’s impressive. Not sure I could do it on my own…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nah, I don’t do it on my own. My cat offers her support 😉

        I reckon it’s a practice thing, and a matter of getting over one’s drive for perfectionism (in the first draft, anyway). In fact, overcoming perfectionism is a great quest in all aspects of life, I’ve come to realise. My first two books took two years to write and one of them isn’t even a novel – it’s a short story that I pretend is a novella. But now I roll out the first draft in a matter of weeks. I’m still very much an ‘apprentice’, but learning to speed up the first draft has been wonderfully liberating. And, it seems to me, Nano would be great training for that. Good luck for the rest of November!


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