Thursday, December 3, 2015

5 Lessons I Learned from NaNoWriMo

by Lynn Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

NaNoWriMo 2015 has come to an end.

I did not win. I didn’t even come close.

I’m completely okay with that.

I knew that signing up for NaNoWriMo this year was a bit…well…crazy. (See last month’s post for the details). I did it anyway, and I have no regrets. There are words on the page that absolutely would not have been there if I hadn’t at least made the effort. In fact, there’s a good chance that my first draft would still be languishing in that dark and dreary place between “almost there” and “the end.” As December dawns, not only do I have a completed (finally!) first draft, but I’m almost 20K into a new story.

If I wanted to base my “success” on word count alone, I would be pretty happy with my NaNo2015 experience.

But something happened in November that I didn’t expect.

I learned things. Not about the craft or about technique or even about how fast I can get 1K on the page.

I learned things about myself as a writer that I don’t think I would have learned any other way. If you didn’t “win” at NaNo, maybe my list will help you develop your own list of things you learned from NaNo2015.

1. I need to decompress after finishing a first draft. Trying to switch gears and throw myself into the new story did not work for me. At all. I lost precious time (from Day 9-13) floundering in a post-first draft funk. A highly unscientific (but I believe entirely accurate) survey of a handful of writing friends provided relief. Turns out this is normal. My creative pitcher had been emptied and it took a few days to refill it enough for me to get the words flowing again.

2. I need to experiment with having multiple stories in process. I’m not sure what this will look like yet. Maybe a novella or an entirely new series? I’ve always been a one story at a time girl, but November’s experience has me at least willing to see what happens when I have more than one storyline in process. I don’t think it will completely alleviate the post-first draft funk, but it might help.

3. I need to write when my world is crazy. I’ve written about this before, but this month reminded me again that this writing thing? It’s a big part of who I am. Not just in the way I define myself to others (“Hi, I’m Lynn. I’m a writer”) but even more importantly in the way I cope with the stresses of life. When I pull away from the story because of life’s demands, I make myself miserable. But carving out a couple of hours to write on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving turned out to be the smartest thing I could have done to prepare myself for the busyness of the days that followed. I learned it’s not selfishness to block out some writing time…it’s critical to my wellbeing.

4. I need challenging writing goals. When I’m not on a deadline from my publisher, I need to be setting more aggressive goals for myself. No more of this, “Well, I’d like to finish a book in six months” nonsense. I can do better than that. If I pulled off almost 30K in a November that was bonkers, there’s no reason I can’t do it again in January. (I’m not doing anything crazy in December…see my next point).

5. I need to give myself permission to ignore the goals. I have a beautiful real life in the real world. If I’d pushed through a few more evenings, I probably could have added another 10K for the month, but I know the time and energy required to get to 50K would have taken more of me than I was willing to give. I have no regrets about the Thanksgiving walk around the neighborhood, the evening spent playing cards with my nieces, or the afternoon where my house overflowed with family, friends, food, and football. I could have said no to those things, sequestered myself in my room, and pounded out the words, and there will be times in the future when I will make that choice. But there shouldn’t be any guilt or drama over choosing to revel in the richness of the real world while saving the story world for another day. Maybe one where it’s cold, rainy, and the house is quiet.

Maybe a day like today.

So how about you? Did you win at NaNo? Burn out by Day 10? Learn something about yourself in the process? I’d love to hear about it!

Don’t forget to join the conversation.


Lynn Huggins Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. 

She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. 

She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children. You can follow her real life happily ever after at


  1. I, too, took the NaNo plunge and knew at the onset that I was unlikely to win this year. I did it anyone and I'm so glad! I discovered I write much better with more of a pantser approach. That goes totally against my personality but it was so freeing! I'm also back in college (for the first time in a very long time!) and found that having a high daily word count goal made writing the three page papers seem super easy. I was already in the habit of writing, and although it was fiction, switching to non-fiction and writing school papers was easy and went faster. I feel like it helped with my blogging, too!

    1. I am a very "organic" writer as well - which is in direct contradiction to the way I live the rest of my life :). And I agree, it is freeing! Not that I'm going to give up my planner ... my "real" world would fall apart! But it sure makes the fictional world fun! Congrats on taking the NaNo plunge! :)

  2. I didn't do NaNoWriMo but I attempted NaNoBloPo (the blogging equivalent). I didn't "win" either as far as posting daily, but I posted far more often than usual and picked up a number of new readers. In the end, it actually was a win and gave me a new respect for those who actually do post every day:)

    1. I agree! Anything that inspires us to push ourselves and write more is a win!