5 lessons to learn from NaNoWriMo

It's already November, which means NaNoWriMo - or National Novel Writing Month - is upon us. Worldwide, over 200,000 amateur novelists (and some professional) begin a race against the clock to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of November.  Having taken part three times, and now starting for a fourth time, these are some of the insights I've gained:

1. You can always find the time

Whether it's a leisurely Saturday afternoon at one's desk, or 20 minutes grabbed in a café on a laptop or iPad, everyone has spare time to think and jot down ideas, for a book or business plan or anything else. You can even dictate into your phone's voice recorder while driving (don't try this on public transport). 

2. Peer motivation is key

Having a "buddy" is always a huge motivator, as humans are naturally competitive. Whether it's diet, exercise or giving up smoking, pacing yourself against someone else's progress always helps, whether an individual or another team.

3. Writing is tiring

People think of physical exercise as tiring, but your mind gets exhausted too, and NaNoWriMo really shows you this.  You'll pump out 1,000 words in an hour, and struggle to write even half that in the following hour. Studies show that productivity in "white collar" jobs falls faster than in more physically arduous "blue collar" jobs. If you've been doing excessive overtime at work, you're probably wasting your time. Everyone needs breaks and sensible limits.

4. Breaking mental blocks

You can't afford to have writer's block when you're trying to write an entire novel in a month.  So you find strategies to get more inspiration. It might be taking a walk, having a coffee, doing some research, or even a Story Dice app. These strategies can be applied to your regular work. If you're sitting there, stuck, staring at your screen, try a change of scenery.

5. Hitting goals is a huge boost

Breaking up a goal into stages, with achievements along the way, is a great motivator. With NaNoWriMo, you generally aim to hit a daily total of slightly more words than you need (50,000 divided by 30), to keep your head above the progress line. That means every day is a battle and a potential win. And the final battle - to pass 50,000 - is a major achievement.  You've just written an entire book.

Even if you're not a wannabe novelist, why not use NaNoWriMo to make a commitment to your corporate blog, such as aiming for at least one new article every weekday? Or use it to write that eBook you've always planned to publish.


Lisa Creffield

Founder at 3things

I'm a business writer and videographer with over a decade of experience in online video. Originally from the UK, I first came to Australia in 1998 and also worked for several years in the Middle East.


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Bridget Holland

Bridget Holland , Director at Learnings for Success

Hi Lisa, I've known about NaNoWriMo for years and actually entered last year. I didn't complete my 50,000 words, but I did manage around 28,000. That was as much in one month as I'd managed in three years previously. And I had fun! So two more learnings base don that experience. 1. Nike have it right - just do it! Instead of worrying about perfection (final draft) just get started and get something down. The concept behind NaNoWriMo (first draft, rest, then review and edit) works equally well at the blog post level. 2. It's worth having goals even if you don't always hit them. Look how much more I wrote with a concrete goal than without one. ...now I just need to finish my second half-written novel before I can even think of starting another one in another NaNoWriMo...

Lisa Creffield

Lisa Creffield , Founder at 3things

Hi Bridget, 28k is still a huge achievement! I really enjoy the community aspect of NaNoWriMo. One year I used it as motivation to write another 50k on a novel I had already started, rather than an entire novel from scratch. Hope to see you doing it in 2014.