NaNoWriMo: Why I’m OK with not finishing this book

For the last month, I have been frantically trying to write a novel for NaNoWriMo. The goal for NaNWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month. That seems like a lot.

At first, I thought it wasn’t actually possible for someone to write that much in a month. Fifty thousand words seems like so much. And then, I discovered that it is possible to write 1,500 words a day, and more on the weekends. In no time, I found myself at 10,000, and then 15,000. And then, I started to struggle. Then it became a slog. Writing became harder and harder. And there were a few days where obligations prevented me from writing as much as I should have. And then, at the midway point, as I tried to make it to 25,000 words, I really stalled. I did make the goal a few days later, and then I pushed through to 30,000. I’d made it to thirty thousand words with about a week left in the month.

And I stalled. I’d been working hard and I burned out. As I type this, its the 29th of November, and I haven’t written since last weekend. I’m not going to finish this book.

And I’m OK with that. I’ve learned some important lessons, and to me that’s even better than finishing the first draft of a novel.

So, here’s what I learned:

  1. I can write. I knew that, of course, having written several plays. I know that I can write. But I learned that I can sit down and make myself write with regularity, even if I don’t feel particularly inspired. That’s a super valuable lesson to have learned. I can sit down and write when I need to, not just when I want to.
  2. Planning is important. I had’t really planned this novel out. I had a vague idea of what the ideas were, but not nearly enough. Writing a novel takes planning. You need to know about your characters and what they want. And you need to know where your story is going. You need to plan out the beats of the story. I hadn’t done this, assuming that the vague idea would carry me through if I just kept pushing. My next go at this idea will have the benefit of planning.
  3. The importance of not going back. Writing a first draft is hard. Your inner critic will tell you that the last thing you wrote is garbage, and urge you to either stop or go back and fix it. But the purpose of the first draft is not to be good, but to be finished. You will fix everything when you are done, when you have finished the first draft and begun the revision process. If you go back while you are writing the first draft, you’ll never get any further.
  4. I can make time to write. It is really easy to say “I don’t have time to write,” or “I need to make more time to write”. But I have time. There is time in every day, either in the morning or in the evening. Time that I could use for other things, that I could use for wasting time on facebook, or watching something on tv, or playing a video game. But those aren’t important things. Writing, is. And there’s time for that.

That’s what I’ve learned this month. These are lessons I’ll take with me for my next writing project.

Have you participated in NaN0 this year? What lessons did you learn?