9 Lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo 2018

Guess what: I won NaNoWriMo this year!

At the end of October, I did some research on the techniques other people use to survive Nano, so I thought I would also share some hard-learned lessons, although I’m by no means an expert. Everyone’s writing process is different; what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for you.

1. Start fresh (unless you have more than one project planned out)

When November began, I was already in the middle of my novel. Big mistake. Past experiences proved me that if I put a project down and work on another, I’ll never go back to it again. So I kept writing and finished my very rough draft (about forty thousand words—I am an extreme underwriter) around November 14th. After attempting to write a Middle Age novel about genocide (which was wayyyyyy too depressing), I decided to rewrite the first draft of my YA novel. Without a revision outline or even notes, I barely made any progress and was consistently reminded of how bad my writing was. The first draft is always crappy, but I could make so much more improvement if I let it sit for a month, take notes on the plot holes and character developmental problems, and fix them one by one.

2. Use a calendar 

My life got exponentially better after I started planning. Most of us don’t know our schedule ahead of time, but at the beginning of each week, we can approximate which days will be busier than the others and adjust our daily writing goals accordingly. Of course, unexpected incidents happened (and often at the least convenient times), but if you’re like me, simply knowing how much you are going to write each day eliminates the uncertain feeling.

3. If you’re a plotter/planner, make an outline.

A large part about Nano is self-discovery. Some people identify as pantsers for years, only to find out the number of writers’ blocks they have without an outline. So, do whatever you need to prepare for your novel (or whatever you write, go Nano rebels!). I’m a character-driven writer and I’ve always known everything about my characters: their flaws (problems), their wants, their needs……But this is the first year which I plotted out the whole book and I found myself much more motivated because when I sit down, I actually know what happens next. My definition of an outline is simply as a list of scenes, so I have lots of freedom to move around. But again, everyone’s has different processes, and do what’s right for you! There is no one way that is better than another. If you’re a pantser, don’t feel pressure to plan!

4. Get ahead 

Because of a school trip, I didn’t start writing until November 3rd, right after taking the SAT (I know, bad decision). My friends joked about how I wrote on my phone during the barn party while everyone else was dancing and socializing. Even so, with school and social activities, I stayed behind until Day 27. When my word count raised above the line where I should be if I want to reach 50k, the heavy rock on my chest is suddenly……gone. There are days when I have so much to do, get overwhelmed, and end up do nothing. Staying ahead prevents these days and largely reduced my stress and anxiety.

5. Make writing a routine 

As M.R. Graham said in one of the Nano prep talks, life can’t get in the way of writing if you make writing part of your life. If you don’t write professionally, it’s so easy to get caught up with other responsibilities in life and prioritize them above writing. Although I call myself a writer, I struggle to find the motivation to write after a long school day (and homework!), especially when my mental health isn’t that great either. My advice is to set aside a certain time or even place every day, so your brain will associate with the familiar feeling and it will take lesser time to get into the writing “mood”. After you do it once, it gets easier each time. Writing 1,667 words every day could be done when you make it a routine.

6. Try not to cut people off

During November, it might be tempting to tell your friends and family how important NaNoWriMo is for you so they won’t expect you to hang around. While I spent considerably less time in social situations, not talking to a single human being might not be a good idea. Sometimes chatting with friends can be stress-reliving. Also, completely cutting people off might leave you feeling guilty. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about putting others before yourself. If you plan to write on Saturday, politely letting down your friend’s invitation to the mall is totally valid. But isolation can be unhealthy and not necessarily beneficial to your overall productivity. Throughout the month my close friends greet me with “how’s Nano going?” instead of “what’s up”, and personally I find it hilarious and very encouraging.

7. Get involved in Nano Forums

Sure, writing is a solitary journey. Sometimes you feel lonely. But November is the time to change that! You can meet thousands of other like-minded writers who are just as crazy as you are to commit to writing a whole novel in a month. Befriend with fellow Wrimos, discuss writing technique (or just random stuff like what did you eat for breakfast), and share your experience! In the meanwhile, scrolling down the forums can be an excuse for procrastination, I’ll leave the judgment to individual Wrimo.

8. Attend local write-ins 

I know, real-world connections, unbelievable! Living in a small town, I sometimes feel like the only (teen) writer out here, but it’s time to refute that statement! I only attended two write-ins at the local library, but the sense of support and security I got from other writers in the group is unmeasurable. And I actually talked to people (maybe even made friends), which was a huge accomplishment for someone who is shy and anxious like me! The word spirits and fun games are just the cherries on the cake at this point.

9. Don’t forget how awesome you are!

When you’re swimming in your word count, it’s easy to dismiss how significantis what you are doing. Come on, you are writing a novel! You’re creating characters, telling stories, and building worlds! It’s awesome!

  For everyone who won Nano, CONGRATS! For those who didn’t finish, CONGRATS too! You now have something more than a blank page. Remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is your story. 

Happy writing!

Dear fourteen-year-old self

Dear fourteen-year-old self,

I get it. 

Trust me.

Please, listen.

In three years, you’ll be living in another country all the way across the world. You will go to a new school and start a new life. It won’t be easy at first, but you’ll make friends who not only accept your weirdness but embrace it. As Rebecca Stead said in one of the Nanowrimo prep talks, your weirdness is your strength. 

By the way, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Yes, you write a novel in your second language in a month.

Being terrified of what others might do to you, you never had the courage to say your writer dream out loud. You were right, people who surround you now will probably belittle you. Don’t give up. I know you won’t. During the darkest days, you hold on to the pen, never let go. You write what you need to read. You treat it as a free therapy. You escape from reality to the imaginary world. It’s beautiful, you think, if I die, maybe I’ll be there forever.

You are depressed and suicidal without knowing it.

You look at the cuts on your roommate, whose birth parents abandoned her simply because of her sex. You look at the bullies who won’t leave you alone, calling you ugly and degenerate. You look at your loveless home and your parents who never seem to care or understand. You look at your best friend……who you seem to be in love with.

The feeling isn’t gone.

Three years later, there are still days when you come home from school and lock yourself in the room. Days that you can’t breathe, sob all day, and wish to be dead. But you’re too obstinate. You can’t die happy until you finish this novel. You can’t die happy if you are going to bring sadness and guilt to those who are alive. You can’t die happy without fighting for those who suffer the cruelty of the society. You can’t die happy without telling your story, telling those who struggle with what you have gone through: you are not alone.

You might think: who do I care? I just want to escape. It’s too much. It’s too hard. But the truth is you care. You survive out of love. The love for justice. The love for others. The love that raises above the hopelessness in your heart and overpowers the hate and indifference in the world. 

Seriously, it’s not a phrase. 

You are stubborn. You think “what if I don’t give up? what will happen?” and this is what happens. Three years later, you have family, friends, and a pen in your hand. You are loved.

I know you’re not okay, and it’s okay to not be okay. 

You didn’t do anything, and not doing anything is a huge victory.

You won the battle. You’re a true warrior.

Thank you.

I can’t imagine life without you. I can’t imagine not being able to see the beautiful things and beautiful people in the world.

You’re my hero.


Seventeen-year-old you