5 Lessons I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2014


When I was in high school, I was obsessed with this quote: 

If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you.
— Henry Rollins

Ugh. (Except I still kind of love that quote, even though the older I get, the more insufferable I find dear old Henry.) But I think this speaks to something all writers go through: young writers tend to be very dramatic, caught up the romance of writing, the feeling of it, the mystery, the potential. Then those young writers grow up, spend a lot of time writing, and realize that the writers they once idolized are not mysterious, romantic types, but rather neurotic, weird, and pretty self-deprecating. Some people pull it off, but in general, it's hard to be a cool, self-confident writer, as much as we all kind of want to be that way. 

If NaNoWriMo teaches us anything each year, it's that: 1. lots of people want to be writers, like lots of people; 2. writing is hard; and 3. November will forever be the month of extremely bad days, late nights, and emotional breakdowns, al thanks to NaNoWriMo. Besides that, here's what I learned this month: 

1. I write best with direction.

If you ever wonder what kind of person I am, here is a brief summary: I am someone who respects authority and rules, but I absolutely hate being told what to do. Ta-da, I am a vortex of contradiction. I've always thought I wrote best without direction -- my last few NaNoWriMo novels were done with approximately zero planning and I thought that worked best. Add any parameters, I thought, and I won't be able to meet word counts without wanting to throw myself off a cliff. Man, I was wrong. Like, really wrong. 

This year, I decided to test myself and write an outline. And let me tell you, for two weeks, I did amazing. I followed my outline; I hit goal after goal, keeping myself consistently 2-4 days ahead and not taking any breaks. But then, I had a moment of I'm a punk kid for life yo! and decided to make a change halfway through my novel that basically made half of the outline I'd written obsolete. 

Guess what happened? The last week and a half of writing, I struggled to meet word counts; I added really useless scenes to make up for the fact that things on my outline no longer made sense with the changes I'd made; and I spent a lot of time bouncing between characters, making them do weird stuff (I wrote a two-page scene of a character grocery shopping for no reason) and generally ruining everything. All because I went of my outline. I need an outline, guys, and I need to reign in my intense and only occasional punk feelings. 

2. I write best at night. 

"Tomorrow, I'm going to wake up at 6am, work out, and then work on NaNoWriMo," I said, tucking myself into bed with a smug grin on my face. Absolute lies. I'd wake up approximately 8 hours later, roll over, and fall back asleep. Long story short, I refuse to get up early for lots of things, but writing is apparently one of those things. I'll get up early for vacations, work out sessions, and my birthday -- but nothing else. 

I often found myself doing my best writing after 7:30pm. In college, I usually did a majority of my writing in the evening, so this actually makes sense. I like to think I'm a morning person, but I'm a morning person in the sense that I feel most motivated to get stuff I hate done (like laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and vacuuming). I don't necessarily want to do anything else in the early morning hours except work out and drink coffee. 

3. Support from others really does help. 

Fun fact: I hate talking about my writing with other people. It makes me really uncomfortable. It's like standing in front of them in my underwear. It's like having a therapy session with them. Whenever I'm doing NaNoWriMo, I try to will other people not to ask me. Don't ask, don't ask, I scream internally, every time someone starts to ask. People always do those because NaNoWriMo is weird and cool and seems exhausting (it is all of those things) and they want to know. 

I'm incredibly, stupidly shy about my writing. But support really does help. Support from coworkers, from Danny, from friends on Facebook. Support helped motivate me to finish because so many people were expecting me to. If nothing else, I'm really easy to pressure into doing anything because of my peers. 

4. I thought all my past novels were awful, but they're not totally bad. 

About halfway through NaNo, I looked back at some of my past novels. My novel from last year (Runner's High, thanks for that title clinically depressed 2013 Michelle) is totally horrid in most parts, but my novel from my senior year of college (Succotash, which is a way better title) is surprisingly good. It lacks any sort of plot and reminds me a lot of Catcher in the Rye (shout out to my high school self, I guess), but it has a lot of material that I feel like I could maybe... possibly... potentially use. Hope is not lost, friends. 

5. I can't wait for next year. 

At the end of every November, I find myself saying, "I am NOT doing that again!" because I'm so tired from writing and bored and aggravated with myself because I've just creatively beaten myself up for 30-some days. But then, I go a week without a NaNoWriMo goal or deadline or idea and I find myself blissfully excited for next November...