What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo 2015


After any huge undertaking, I always think it’s a good idea to sit back and reflect on the ups and downs, make a mental note of what worked and what didn’t, and assimilate that into your approach for the next project. I always used to sniff at ‘evaluations’ when I had to do them as part of my academic career, but now I really see the value in it. And with NaNoWriMo 2015 complete, here are my thoughts on the process this year.

morning-time-alarm-bell-large1. On Finishing Early

I’ve never finished more than two or three days early before. This year, I was early by 10 days. Over a week. It wasn’t because my project was planned, or because I had more time. I ‘planned’ the day before and I’ve been doing loads of overtime at work, so it’s not been a case of hours on end to write.

So why? My best guess is that it’s because I was writing at least 1000 words a day, often more, for six weeks before NaNoWriMo. Granted, on a different project and with much more flexibility in terms of deadline, but it was still a habit. Sitting down at my desk and writing for an hour or two every day was a habit and I’d got good at powering through the ‘writer’s block’ and the desire to be watching Youtube videos. My brain was primed and ready to write.

When I started, I was worried that the intensive writing of the previous weeks would leave me burned out, struggling to even get going. Writing 7003 words on my first NaNo day did go some way to quell that fear. Keeping a good pace – consistently hitting above par – for the next week, banished the fear completely.

‘Write every day’ is one of those bits of advice that is bandied around – lauded by some people and shot down by others. I’m not going to tell anyone about how they should 100% do their writing process, but for me writing regularly is definitely the way to go.

There were days during NaNo when writing felt like pulling teeth. There always are days like that, whatever project you are doing. But this NaNo has been the easiest I’ve done so far, and I’m inclined to believe the pre-NaNo brain training played a large part in that.

2. Writing Out of Order pen-writing-notes-studying-medium

On my last day of NaNoWriMo 2015, I wrote over 7000 words on a section of the novel that I really should have written on day 1. It’s backstory, the sort that will probably be hacked to pieces and threaded throughout the novel. Or maybe cut completely. But I needed to write it to understand where the main character was coming from. Writing it introduce a new character, who I will have to reference throughout, and it changed my perspective on how the novel should end.

I have found this is the way with my writing before, but nothing crystallised it quite like writing that scene. I often start projects with an idea of who the characters are and what the story is – in the broadest of strokes, nothing detailed. Then I start muddling my way through, and the more I write, the clearer it becomes in my mind.

Which means, of course, that I then have to go back to the beginning and change it all, because who I realise the characters really are halfway through the project is often quite different to who they are in the opening pages.

It’s making me think that maybe I ought to do more ‘pre-writing’ activities, writing that back story first, completing character profiles, that sort of thing. But I think I’ll always make ‘discoveries’ as I write, changing the shape of the story as I go.

pexels-photo-large3. I’m a Visual Writer

This ought to have been obvious to me years ago. I’ve always seen stories more as movies in my mind than as words. I focus on set piece scenes, think a lot about how things look. I like to match actors to my characters and mock up book covers.

Recently at work, I’ve had to create a ‘sequence of events’ presentation. The lady training me how to do it passed on the tip she’d found most useful when she was learning – use lots of pictures. People don’t pay attention to text, it’s off putting. I sort of already knew this. My step-father, a marketing manager, has always said that powerpoint slides shouldn’t have more than five or six words on.

Another old teacher (a creative writing teacher from when I was at Uni) used to say that his eureka moments were the confluence of two disparate bits of knowledge. What my step-father said about powerpoint was in relation to delivering presentations for academia. The work presentation tells a story. Hearing the same piece of advice in those slightly different contexts made it stick in my mind, and when I got stuck in NaNo, I started putting together a ‘sequence of events’ for the story. I spent a few hours finding pictures of celebrities to act as my characters, then started using those pictures in conjunction with description of events to string together the plot.

The resulting powerpoint presentation is nowhere near finished. I kept going until I got unstuck, then started writing again. But I think it’s a technique I’ll be using in the future. Apart from anything, you can see in a glance where certain characters feature in the story. If I was writing from multiple points of view, it would be a great way to see the balance of character participation in the plot.


I know NaNoWriMo gets a lot of stick from some professional writers, who say that it produces lots of rubbish. They’re probably right about the rubbish part – my own manuscript is a mess, and I don’t think anyone writing a NaNo novel would be telling the truth if they said it was a masterpiece on November 30th. But what NaNo does do is gives you incentive and motivation to write when you might not otherwise have it. The final thing I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo 2015 is that I don’t think I need it anymore.

Which is not to say that I won’t be participating in future, and don’t think it’s valuable. NaNo got me through the years when I was teaching – barely having the time or energy to function, let alone write a novel’s worth of words. It inspired me to keep going when nothing else would have, and for that I will always love and value it. But I think (I hope!) I’ve reached a stage in my writing where I can motivate myself, form habits and write for the love of it.

(Images taken from Pexels, an excellent resource for CC0 images)


One thought on “What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo 2015

  1. Writerly Dee says:

    I’m glad to hear that NaNo was so beneficial! I know that there are writers the yearly noveling frenzy, saying it only encourages people to turn out drivvel–you’ve shown that there is a lot to be learned when you just sit down and write.
    I’m going to try the picture version of plotting. It sounds like a great idea! (and maybe I can learn to do powerpoint at the same time…win!)


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