Three Things NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me: Guest Post by Emily Selleck

Last month, I asked a few of the peopole in my writing group for a guest post, and Emily Selleck was one of those who was kind enough to oblige. She’s a riot – fun, happy, and full of great ideas. This is her take on that most hectic and brilliant of adventures: NaNoWriMo.

Why NaNoWriMo

I have been singing the praises of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) since 2009. The writing challenge (to write 50,000 words of a novel in the thirty days of November) has given me a lot more than just words on a hard drive. It’s given me hope when I felt useless, friends that understand my struggles and encourage me, and an enthusiasm for the written word that I once thought to be, if not dead then at least dying.

gif of Mushu from Mulan saying "I live!"
I have learned so much through NaNoWriMo: about myself, about writing, about how my brain works. I’m still learning, and I’m sure I will continue to learn. But here are three little tidbits that I have collected in the past seven years.

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

1. If at first you don’t succeed, try something new.
That first NaNoWriMo in 2009, I only wrote 12,000 words. I started with an opening scene and expected the story to just… flow from the ether, like a river from the muses.

gif of Sherlock saying "Um, no"
It didn’t work out that way. The second year I did a bit better with 15,000 words, but still nowhere near the 50k goal.

gif of Dobby from Harry Potter beating his head
The third year, instead of slamming myself up against the same brick wall for the third time, I decided to try something I had never done before: I decided to plot. Not outline, per se (I despise that word) but I did write out a basic summary, where I was planning to go, what I was trying to say, who I was hoping to write about, that kind of thing.

I did this with no small amount of trepidation. I was scared that doing this would somehow snuff out the magic of the writing process, that the joy of discovery would be diminished somehow. But as it turned out, having a map (even a rough map, drawn in metaphorical crayon) was exactly the thing I needed to get through the rough patches when it felt like I had lost my way. That third year was my first official NaNoWriMo win and I’ve never looked back.

2. Sometimes, it really is about the journey, not the destination.

The NaNo of 2010 was different from anything else I had written before, or since. It was a modern… romance I guess, but more like a drama.

gif of Harry from Potter Pals that says "Angst"
Yeah, that too 🙂 I didn’t know why I was writing it, but the idea wouldn’t leave me alone, so I ran with it.

Looking back, I realize I was writing that story to work through issues in my own life. I was telling the story to myself, rather than telling the story to others. It’s a deeply personal piece that I’m still not sure will ever see the light of day, but I learned from it that sometimes I’m not writing for other people. Sometimes I’m just writing for me. And that’s okay too.

Writing doesn’t always have to be about giving to others, sometimes it can be a gift to yourself. Because you deserve the gift of your own writing.

3. The first win is the hardest.

I want to preface this lesson by saying this: I love the concept of National Novel Writing Month. Set a stupid-crazy goal. Set a time limit bordering on the unreasonable. Do everything in your power to reach that goal.

gif of Magneto from X-Men saying "Perfection"
Those three things combined do so much for my motivation, tricking my brain into working harder than it would normally. But it can get frustrating, especially if you miss the mark more than once, like I did those first two NaNos. But once I had my first win… I can honestly say that it gets easier. If you can reach that goal, it’s like this mental wall that you hadn’t even realized you’d built crumbles away. You begin to wonder why you ever thought this was difficult.

gif of Elle from Legally Blonde saying, "What, like it's hard?"
Basically, this point is here to say, keep trying. See Lesson #1. And it gets better. Trust me.

gif of Amy Poehler saying "You got this"

Your Mileage May Vary

The things I’ve listed here really are just a fraction of what I’ve learned by participating in National Novel Writing Month. But the lessons learned are different for everyone! Because everyone comes to NaNoWriMo at a different point in their lives, and for different reasons. ‘Your Mileage May Vary’ is most appropriately attributed to the NaNo experience, but I can guarantee you one thing: if you attempt it, you will learn something.

Even if you fail, even if you never participate again, even if you hate everything about it, you will have learned something: about yourself, about how your brain works, about how you write best. And that, I think, is the most important lesson, and well worth the price of admission (did I mention it’s free?).

gif of Simon Pegg

About Emily Selleck

image of author Emily Selleck in a hot air balloon

Emily Selleck (more commonly known on the internet as “fogisbeautiful”) lives in Southeast Texas. She has a boyfriend (who she swears is not imaginary, despite lacking concrete evidence of his existence), a cat who might possibly be of demonic origins, and two dogs with polar opposite personalities. Sometimes, she writes.

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