I’m a NaNoWriMo 2019 winner! What did I learn?

Last year, I had a fairly stale, flat, uninspiring NaNoWriMo flop. And despite the fact that I think talking about failure in the context of creative endeavours is dumb and bad, falling so far short of my planned word count stung. But this year, I rocked it. I’m a NaNoWriMo 2019 winner, and it feels pretty good.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner - completed project
Got all the words I needed, and then some!

I had an experience this year that I wasn’t really expecting. Other than a couple of days of weak output in the final week (thanks to a cold), I killed it. It was – dare I say – easy.

I wrote for two days in a row. Then three. Then a week. Then two. Three. I wrote for thirty straight days. Then I took a day off. Then I wrote for the next two days. I just maybe might not stop.

NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner badges - all earned
And I got the NaNo badges to prove it.

In fact, I managed to stay ahead of the target word count, mostly just writing for a bit in the evenings every day.

NaNoWriMo2019 Winner - graph of progress from Nov 1 2019 to Nov 30

So – what was different from last year? What changed? What did I learn over and above my old listicle of things I learned way back in 2016? (Those things still all hold true, by the way.)

Five More Things I Learned That Helped Me Be a NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner

It helps to outline.

I thought I was a pantser. I’m not. I mean, I am. I still like to do discovery writing. I still learn things about the story and what the story is supposed to be in my first draft. But I cannot overstate the value I found in having an outline in advance. It wasn’t a big outline. I think there’s a fallacy that writers either know nothing going in or everything going in. Nah. I knew just enough to keep me on track but not so much that it stifled the joy of discovery writing. I really encourage pantsers to find their prep sweet-spots. I accidentally found mine while choosing my project, and it made a huge difference.

Brainstorm with someone who’s invested in your project.

Writing is the act of taking a perfect idea from its warm, safe, unseen spot in your brain and forcing it out onto the cold, unforgiving page. Ideas are weak on the page. If not properly exercised, they may die there. So do the work.

This year, I was writing a story that the kids and I have been telling each other for years. That means many of the ideas were well-exercised before they landed on the page, and they landed gracefully. But I did more work talking through some ideas with the kids. In the car, we ended up just goofing around, playing with ideas until one stuck. I found stand-up-and-cheer moments because we happened on ideas that made the kids actually cheer. It really helped to have those other perspectives. Not to challenge my ideas, but to reinforce and help refine them.

It’s important to have a partner in crime.

This can be anyone who’s either your biggest cheerleader or someone else doing NaNoWriMo. I had a few people who I was texting with intermittently or who I checked in on periodically and having that little bit of positive peer pressure was really motivating.

I’m not going to say “I couldn’t have done it without my wife” because that’s cliché, and because I like to think that I’m capable of doing things irrespective of my marital status. BUT. I had so much reinforcement and encouragement and motivation and accountability from my favourite person in the whole wide world, and I’m so grateful to her for it. She may not have been writing, but she’s a NaNoWriMo 2019 winner in my books.

Local in-person NaNo events are great.

Can’t believe I’ve never done write-ins before this year. I loved every one. I liked hearing about peoples’ projects, I liked the quiet togetherness, I liked being impressed by peoples’ word counts. I think writers are generally weird and great and I was not disappointed. I’m grateful for the MLs for organizing great events and I’m going to try and get to more next year.

When in doubt, let random chance take the wheel.

This should maybe be higher in the list but injecting a little randomness to take care of small things I might otherwise get hung up on made it easier to keep up the pace. Using a random name generator inspired characters who I didn’t know I needed (lookin’ at you, Hades-lookin’ bully fairy named Lapis) and made it more efficient to name side characters. As a general rule I am very bad at naming characters, so this specific usage was handy.

But there are a bunch of ways to add randomness to your work. A quick google to find a piece of information can lead you in cool directions. A dice roll to determine whether a character’s action is successful or not can upset things a lot (as anyone who’s ever played a tabletop game can attest). There are chatbots and websites for random writing prompts that can get you past writer’s block. Doing the brainstorming I mentioned with someone else can introduce elements that you might never have thought of. There is a whole romantic subplot because the kids demanded one. I was absolutely not going to go there because, meh, whatever – but they were right. And it came about randomly, not part of my plan at all.

If you’re interested in following along with my progress, you can check out my NaNoWriMo 2019 page here, add me as a friend on the NaNo website, or follow along with all our makes on Instagram!

Did you do NaNoWriMo 2019? How did you do? Tell me about what you learned in the comments!

Annette and the Broken Shroud is complete at 40 866 words and I am so happy with it.

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