3 Life Lessons from NaNoWriMo

transforming power of story

Besides a good story, what can you discover in a month-long Writing Marathon? During November, in between Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas baking, housecleaning and houseguests, speaking at a women’s retreat and hosting two parties–I wrote 50,289 words in 30 days. That’s around 200 pages, as part of Anchor at Alcázar Reef, my Work-in-Progress, which will soon evolve into a set of two novels.

For those of you who’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo is an annual November event in which writers from around the globe are challenged to write a novel (or part of one) consisting of 50,000 words. Most participants do this while keeping up their regular lives of work, studies, family, and other activities and responsibilities. If you’re a writer, I encourage you to consider taking part next year…and if you’re not, please inspire someone else to become a Wrimo, especially our younger Christian creatives out there. Besides, I’m betting it’s a healthier hit of dopamine than this month’s movies and screen games.

Along with how to auto-recover my document around 25 times (my laptop battery’s in its death throes), here’s what I learned from NaNoWriMo this second time around…

  1. It’s worth the planning. Believe me, if I hadn’t worked ahead–cleared my plate of as much extraneous stuff as possible and prepared for the month of writing fast and furious by having scene cards, an outline, and other prompts in place–I’d have sunk before barely starting. I enlisted the support of my husband. And I worked out a strategy for final-week panic ahead of time. Nothing–almost nothing, anyway–gets done unless you prepare for it. “To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail,” a wise man once said.
  2. It’s worth the doing. Despite the difficulty and the discipline, a completed project is a prize worth aiming for. Worth every drop of mental sweat, every tear and sigh. When nobody was cheering me on, I worked anyway. When I felt like whining, I still put forth my best effort. Did I print out my Winner’s Certificate at the finish line? You betcha. Even the smallest accomplishments, let alone the biggies, need to be savored and celebrated. While I haven’t written “The End” yet, I’ve arrived at a much more reachable range for finishing my 10th and 11th books soon. I can’t wait to share the final versions with you. Occasionally the hardest part is just to get started. Take a deep breath…and plunge in.
  3. But it’s not worth dying for. The last week of November, when I got pretty far behind in my goal (planned interruptions but nevertheless more than I’d anticipated), I relaxed and put Plan B into operation. I incorporated previously-written notes into the manuscript, I moved on to another scene when I got stuck, and I didn’t waste time fussing over the details. I didn’t write bad, but I didn’t demand perfection of myself either. I didn’t rise at the crack of dawn nor did I burn much midnight oil. I did what I needed to reach my goal, but I didn’t stress myself over it.

Passion–yes! Obsession–not so much. While creativity is wonderful, sleep is good too. So are my family and ministry.

Some things are worth dying for, of course. But the old adage, “Choose your battles,” applies here. Don’t get sidetracked when you’re on an important deadline for a vital cause. But normally, do give yourself a little grace. As well as food, water, exercise, and bathroom breaks.

Sometimes you run a marathon, and sometimes you just plod along. There’s room for both moments in our lives. I’m sure my next 50,000 words will take a bit longer to write between online shopping forages.

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