11 Years of #NaNoWriMo: Lessons I’ve Learned

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo eight times since 2004. Each novel has taught me about writing and what it means to be a writer. This November, I’m giving thanks for all I’ve learned.  Caveat: Lest you think these titles are oddly fragmented, know that I don’t release my actual titles online. These are just placeholders:)

2004: I can write 50,000 words in a month.

to live on

To Live On was YA at its sappiest. If anyone ever reads it, I will die of shame. It doesn’t deserve to even have been written, but it was. Anyone can be a writer, and they can write anything they want. The only requirement is that you write.

2005-2007: Just because you won’t win is no reason not to write.


I didn’t participate (barely wrote) for three years. I could attribute this gap to falling in love and beginning a career, but I think I was scared that if I tried NaNo again, I would “fail.” If I couldn’t make time for 50,000 words, I didn’t think I should start, but writing is a constant endeavor. If I didn’t hit 50,000 by November 30, I might have hit it by December 30. Since I didn’t start, however, I never had the opportunity to finish.

Lesson 2008: Write your life.


For Popsicles, whenever I couldn’t figure out what should happen next, I wrote a scene from my life. I stole whatever memories I could in order to win with this mainstream novel, and it worked. When you write, you have to give all you have, no matter how much (or how little) it is.

Lesson 2009: Write what you love.


Seed is my zombie novel, and I want extra credit, because I was writing zombie novels before zombies were cool (#zombiehipster). I got to 47,000 words with this one. Maybe I should feel bad about getting so close to winning without actually winning, but I don’t. This novel sat on my shelf until 2013, and now it’s close to 80,000 words. I’m pursuing publication with it, though I may have missed my window, depending on whether or not you think zombies are immortal;)

Lesson 2010: Life is busy.

2010Again, I stopped writing! See my comments for 2005-2007.

Lesson 2011: Write who you are.

book will title

When I wrote Seed, I considered it science fiction. It wasn’t until November 1, when I was nursing a Halloween hangover (figuratively more than literally), that I realized I was meant to write horror. I missed how I felt in October, so I began a horror novel. The Book Will Title Itself is so titled because I had absolutely no plan. I ended up with around 6,000 words. I still have no idea what the plot of that novel was going to be. Pantsing is not my thing.

Lessons 2012-2013: Writing daily is the real victory.


I worked on Colony for two years. Arrest me for breaking the NaNo rules! The first time, I only wrote 1,400 words. The next year, I won, updating my count from a beach in Mexico on November 30th. In spite of that tropical distraction, and all life threw at me that month, I finished. One day I only wrote 13 words. It is still the writing day in my life that I am most proud of, because it would have been so easy to skip.

Lesson 2014: There are no guarantees.


Going into November 2014, I was the readiest I’d ever been. I’d been waking up at 5:00 daily to write for over a year. I did prep sheets all October. I donated to NaNoWriMo (this is always a good thing, but people who donate are more likely to win; this did not prove to be accurate in my case). Then I fell hard off the daily writing wagon. I wrote 33,489 words of Jade. The novel still isn’t done.

Lesson 2015: Cheaters prosper.

I had no intention of doing NaNo this year. I have a ten week-old baby, for crying out loud! But then my friends started talking about NaNo. The emails arrived in my inbox. I signed up, but I’m not stupid. I don’t need another unfinished novel. I need something I can query, and I need to return to writing daily. I used to adhere to all the “rules” of NaNo, but now I’m a rebel. I’m revising Jade and Seed (still!). I enter the word count difference between the start and end of revision sessions. When this number is negative, I make it positive. I’m counting blog posts. I’m counting the readers’ theatre script I’m writing for my speech team. My goal is to write everyday, and so far, I’ve done it. My count won’t likely hit 50,000, but I should emerge with at least a manuscript ready for query and a better eye at finding writing time in my crazy life. If I can do these two things, I will win, no matter the count.

What are your goals for NaNo this year? What has NaNo taught you? How have you “broken” NaNo to suit your needs as a writer?


  • seebrianwrite
    November 15, 2015

    I love this! The writing daily thing is one of the reasons I love NaNo the most. It’s that extra push to prioritize writing and get into a good routine.

  • Amelinda Berube
    November 15, 2015

    I think finding writing time in one’s crazy life is the real win for NaNo! I threw the 50K goal out the window a couple years ago – I now sit down to write two pages a day in November, which works beautifully for me. Sometimes all you need is a little push to get over the inertia of not writing for a while, and the excitement and camaraderie of NaNo is perfect for that.

  • Jennifer Brinkmeyer
    November 16, 2015

    Exactly. That’s the spirit of NaNo!

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    November 16, 2015

    […] talked about what she’s learned by participating in 11 years of National Novel Writing Month. Here’s the link. I’ll be here when you get […]

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