NaNoWriMo 2008 Post-Mortem

NaNoWriMo 2008 is – for all practical purposes – over, and I reached the goal: Write at least fifty thousand words by the end of November.

Back in September, when I first considered signing up for NaNoWriMo, I was really not sure whether I should. So was the effort worth it? Let’s review.

What went right

* I was able to stick to the schedule. I wrote the required average of 1667 words per day, every day, and exceeded it on almost all days. Consequently, I reached the target ahead of schedule. I proved that I can produce text, that I can force myself to write even when I really, really do not feel like it.
* I was able to shut off the “inner critic”. I did this by telling myself that editing comes later, and it worked. I edited the text a few times, once to remove a mistake I had made, and I back-tracked several times to add more text to support things I wrote about later in the story. I did not delete text, I did not get bogged down in permanent editing mode.
* I liked my basic premise and characters. While quality was not a goal of NaNoWriMo, and I will not claim that what I wrote is worth reading, I certainly enjoyed working out the problems my characters faced.
* I built the world. I created a map and various support material for the story. The map, especially, proved to be invaluable; without it I would never have noticed a show-stopped problem with my plot resolution.
* I had fun. Well, sort of – it got harder the further I progressed. But, yes, over all, it was fun.

What went wrong

* I did not outline enough. I had a rough plan and ideas for the novel, and a fairly detailed outline for the first third or so. Based on my experience I will say that complete, proper outlining is absolutely essential for smooth writing.
* I wrote too late at night. Sometimes this was by necessity, other times because I got distracted by other things. On some days I wrote until I literally fell asleep at the keyboard. Bad idea, don’t try this one kids.
* I did not complete the novel. I was not able to complete the novel to “The End” so far, and while I am determined to finish it, it is highly unlikely that I will manage this in November.

Lessons learned

* Build characters and the world. Have a sound design for your characters and world, including the overarching conflict, the themes, thematic subjects, premises, and so on. Without conflict, you have no story. Without interesting characters, nobody will care. Without a consistent world, things will fall apart and you will run into contradictions.
* Outline. Outline, outline, outline. “Just do it.” Writing a complete outline from start to finish needs to be done before you start on your first draft. The outline is not set in stone, but it needs to deal with all main questions, and, most importantly, bring the story to a resolution.
* Write consistently. The temptation to take time off must be resisted. I know from previous experience that, if I set something aside for n days, I will almost certainly set it aside for n+1 days. Ad infinitum. Distractions, such as competing hobbies, should be put aside until after the daily writing session – consider it a reward for hard work.
* I need sugar to work. This is an unfortunate discovery: I need sugar in some form, for example soda, or I will not be productive at all. I am not sure if anybody can relate to this, but when I had no sugar I was unable to write, or at least wrote very, very slowly. With enough “fuel”, I was able to write much faster. Part of this may be that the sugar offset my tiredness, but I am fairly convinced that this is also at least in part a body chemistry thing.
* I have more respect for professional writers than ever. I always knew writing was hard work, but I now know first hand!

So I learned a lot, and had some fun – the experience was totally worth it!

Will I do NaNoWriMo again, say, next year? I honestly can’t say – I rarely can plan a year ahead. I think it would be interesting to see how following the lessons from this year might change the experience. We’ll have to wait and see.

What did you guys learn from NaNoWriMo? Did I miss any lessons, what is the most important thing you take with you after NaNoWriMo? Will you go for it in ’09? And… “Was it good for you?”

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4 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo 2008 Post-Mortem


  1. Nils, congrats! Wow, I’m so impressed with your speed. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish, too. We’ll see.

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