Writer’s Journal: Lessons from NaNoWriMo

Welcome back to Austen Promises and the Writer’s Journal!

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo! And, I did it Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday, to be specific. I’m pretty proud of me! 🙂 

I learned a few things this time around, and I thought I’d write them down here and share them, in case someone reading this post might find them helpful.

Lesson One: Rewards and a word tracker are highly motivating. The NaNo site has badges that a participant can earn, both for the number of days in a row you have updated, and for word count goals. The first day, as long as you have written at least 1,667 words, you get two badges: one for word count and one for posting your first update. As of the day of this writing, I have earned nine out of ten writing badges. I have earned all five available participation badges, and fifteen personal achievement badges. Most of those that I didn’t get were because they didn’t fit me (for example, I have had to do no secret novelling and am not a plotter) or they were for things I’d have attended if I didn’t live out in the middle of nowhere with no-one else around who was participating, but couldn’t attend because of time and/or distance. As I said, these badges motivate me. I have met the 50,000-word limit but am still writing and updating, partly because the story is not finished and partly because I want that last badge, the “updated for thirty days in a row” one.

The second part of this is the word count tracker. On the NaNo site, it’s a bar graph. As you can see from the screenshot, at the beginning of the month, I was behind. Then, about halfway through, I caught up. At that point, I was (please excuse the expression) balls to the wall and determined to finish early. You can see the results in the way my bars go over the line long about the 21st. The only thing about this is that, once you reach the 50,000 words, your lines are all the same length, they’re just above the line. 

So how did this motivate me? I have a huge competitive streak, though I generally keep it hidden. Situations and activities such as this bring it out in me, and I find myself unable to resist the pull of beating the line. That being said, I had begun keeping track of my words written (all of them, not just NaNo words) on a paper calendar. Then, I found, in a writer’s group, an Excel spreadsheet that goes from November 1, 2017 through the end of 2018 (pretty sure it goes all the way through). It adds up your words weekly and monthly. I love seeing those numbers, especially the weekly and monthly counts. I can probably turn that into a graph at some point, and I intend to try.

That being said, I did a search for word count trackers, and found several. Many are set up to share your progress on your website, but the one I found didn’t appear to be, which is fine. I have no pressing need to share that information with everyone. 😉

The one I went with was WriteTrack. You can create “challenges” there, and set the word counts and dates to what you want them to be. So, you can set it for 100,000 words and thirty days or 50,000 words and sixty days—or any other combination! You can also set it to use or not use NaNo word counts. You can make your challenges public or private, and can allow your friends to see or not see your progress. (I’m ZoeB there, in case you want to be my friend. 🙂 ) I have set a challenge for December. I’ll try to remember to update you all on my success. I’ll also look around and see if they have graph-making abilities in there.

This post is getting long, so I think I should move on to at least one other lesson I learned, and that is: writing sprints work! I had done sprints before, with mediocre results. I took a class last month (October) on how to write fast, and discovered that I already had most of the tools we learned about in place. Sprints, however, were not. When I began NaNo, I had a Christmas book to finish writing, and the NaNo one to write. I began to use sprints as a way to work on both books. I discovered right away that sprints are a fabulous tool! I mostly did 20-minute sprints the whole month of November, though to catch up, I did a few days of 30-minute sprints. Sprints help you focus, because you have only so much time to write and only a few minutes to do it in. I got variable results—depending on where I was in the story and how well I had visualized it in my mind, I wrote between 450 and 850 words per sprint—but I was able to schedule four to six of them per day, which landed me as many as 5,143 words in a single day. I didn’t get bogged down in “oh my word, I have two more hours to write!” and I could take time to do some quick research or jot down some story guidelines without guilt. I even got some social media time in there!

There were more things I learned from NaNo, probably enough for a whole second post, but I’m going to limit it to this for now. I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo as a way to jump-start a better method of managing my days, and it has worked wonders. My self-esteem is up, as well as my productivity, and it’s a good feeling.

Come back next Wednesday for another peek into my journal! <3

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