Monday, December 1, 2014

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

I was doing NaNo this last month, which left this blog very sparse for the few people still reading it. But today I wanted to kind of write about what me, someone you could call a "seasoned" author perhaps, learned from this experience.

This was my first official NaNo, actually, though I have written at "NaNo-esque" pace before in my lifetime (not recently though, not for years). I decided to do it because I've been in a very tough place mentally for me as writer. A scary place. Because I've found myself just…not caring about writing. Not sad over rejection. Not mad that I can't "break out." Just…numb. Truly numb. Not the I'm-telling-myself-to-be-numb thing, but actually, seriously, I'm-gonna-try-NaNo-just-to-see-if-I-can-FEEL numb.

I don't know what to make of this, honestly. I don't like it, but I can't seem to stop feeling that way. So I went into NaNo hoping it would give me some kind of revelation about my writing or place as an author or something. I'm not sure I found the answers I was looking for, but this is what I learned:

1. You have to believe in yourself and your story.
I struggled all month with this. Yes, this book was the 19th one I'd started, and I was still in that place of doubt. I might still be, but I had enough belief to get through the month by telling myself to just have fun and don't think about if this book will become real or not. As I saw other people work through it, I admired their tenacity and adored seeing first-time novelists find they could do it, find that belief. That is such a magical time. I find myself often getting nostalgic over my younger days as a writer. I hoped to recapture that, and I think I did at times. Other times I definitely did not.

2. I can still write on deadline.
I was surprised at how "well-trained" I have become as a writer. I hadn't written anything in a few months when I came into NaNo, nothing in earnest since the summer. I was so burnt out—I still am, I think—that I was worried that I'd just get behind and give up. But 1,667 words a day…I don't want to sound like a jerk, but for an author like me that is right in the pocket for a day of drafting. The hardest part was writing on the weekends, since I usually don't do that. Those were always my worst days, having to force a mediocre amount of words out and then make up the rest during the weekdays when I was used to writing.

It was oddly comforting to find that, even though I am really struggling with my lack of emotion, that I can still WRITE if I need/want to. My current feelings—or lack thereof—doesn't have to get in the way.

3. I still thrive without outlines.
It's funny how some things just don't change much in your process, and discovery drafting has always been productive for me. I didn't even write down notes on this project hardly, and I had stuff to write everyday. It's a mess, for sure, but nothing slows me down like an outline. Alas, I will always have to accept heavy editing of all my work.

4. You have to write for yourself.
I struggled all month with trying to forget about publishing. I really just wanted to write without any intention of publication, and that is so freaking hard to do once you've published. When I was able to do that, I found the words easy to get down. When I started to love the book some…then I'd want to publish it…then I'd think no one would want it…and then I got sad. It was very annoying. Trying to write for myself again after so long was a real challenge, and I don't think I completely mastered it again. But I really want to, because that was when I was the happiest during this project.

5. NaNo won't fix your problems. Probably.
I came to NaNo with a lot of hopes for some big, impossible things. I was hoping for some huge revelation that would make writing meaningful for me again. There were glimmers of that, but for the most part…NaNo was NaNo, and I am still me. Plus 50k words. I still don't know how to fix myself, how to get past the numbness. I still don't know if I'll continue publishing for the rest of my life. All I know is I'm an uncontracted writer who has no clue what's on the horizon. I've been through another full year of publishers passing on my manuscripts. And I'm still just really tired. NaNo was a good experience, a chance for me to grasp the writer I used to be. But I still lose her all the time, and I still don't know if I want to keep trying to find her. I just don't know a lot of things. I'm trying to be okay with that.

6. Treasure being in the zone.
Overall, I really do recommend NaNo for anyone who wants to give it a go. It's fun to have that sense of community as you write, and it's magical to see all these new writers fall in love with what they are creating. It must be really fun to be that author falling in love with your work, too. I remember those days. I crave them constantly. If you're in that state, treasure it. I know you probably want so much more—I did…and still do, honestly—but those moments where you are in the zone are the best part of this all. They are the moment jaded authors like me chase, hope to recreate, wish we could have way more often than we do. I envy you those moments. So hold on to them and savor them, even when you're looking forward to other exciting moments down the road.


  1. Are you thinking at all about self-publishing more novels?

    1. It really depends. Currently, I'm not making enough money to sustain indie publishing, and I can't afford to invest more past the 3rd I'm A Ninja novel. I am just not that well off. If things pick up and I'm actually making money, well, maybe.

  2. Natalie, I admire you so, so much. You are always so open with your struggles, and that's so helpful for me when I have some of my own. I'm happy that, even if it didn't fix your problems, NaNo helped you get little glimpses of the writer you used to be.

    I love your books - you already know that, but I just want to tell you again. Because they rock. :)


  3. "I just don't know a lot of things. I'm trying to be okay with that."

    The human experience in a nutshell. :)

    Thanks for sharing your lessons! Sounds like it was worthwhile, even if it wasn't the payday you were hoping for.

  4. "I really just wanted to write without any intention of publication, and that is so freaking hard to do once you've published. ... Trying to write for myself again after so long was a real challenge, and I don't think I completely mastered it again."

    This is so true for me. I can hardly remember what it's like to write 100% for the fun of it, without worrying about any audience outside of myself. It makes it so much more difficult not to second guess every word that goes on the page. I would love to be able unburden myself of that, at least during the act of first-drafting.

  5. I think you've accomplished a lot as a writer, not to mention you are a good writer and I feel confident that you'll publish again. And I admire anyone who does Nano. I wish I could do it, but November is always a busy month for me; it'd be easier for me to participate if it wasn't during the school year.

  6. It's something I've never been able to commit to- too many irons in the fire in November.

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  8. I just have to say, I absolutely love your work! You have an amazing talent for captivating the reader, and your books are seriously my favorites.
    I am not a writer, and I really have no idea what you have to deal with on the author's side of things. I can imagine, though, that it is really difficult when so much of the process depends on other people's opinions of your writing.
    For what it's worth, I will read/buy everything I can of yours!

  9. Thank you for this post. I have always wanted to do NaNoWriMo but I'm afraid of failure.

  10. NaNo is so much fun. I really recommend it to anyone, even if you don't finish. I've had a hard time getting back into writing, but I've started again on my blog. NaNo is a good way to jump-start the process, as well.