Friday 2 December 2016

NaNo Lessons

So what makes the first of December special? For some it’s time to put up the tree with less than four weeks to Christmas. For some it’s the start of school holidays (at least in Australia). For others, it signals time has run out to validate one’s NaNoWriMo total or to celebrate a win.

Whether you’ve ever done NaNo or not, I think it can teach lessons we can all benefit from:

1.  It pays to make concrete goals with build-in rewards.

I work well to deadlines. I like a challenge – it gives me something solid to work towards. Of course, I can set myself private challenges – and I do – but there is extra motivation with an external challenge with outside accountability. I can’t move the goal posts without someone else knowing I’ve done so.  There are other people cheering me on (and I them), other people ready to celebrate my wins, commiserate my losses.

Whether they are external or private, it’s good to set achievable and challenging goals. Just speaking something aloud can make it more real.  Could be looking yourself in the mirror and say ‘I’m a writer’ or writing down concrete goals for 2017. Perhaps, it’s allotting yourself a treat when you reach certain milestones – like finishing a chapter or plotting an outline.

2. Regular writing discipline helps with flow.

Maybe it’s something of a cliché to say that writers write every day – after all, sometimes life makes other demands, or maybe we need to edit, submit manuscripts and/or market published works – or do the accounts.   Still, what I’ve discovered with NaNoWriMo is that when I do write every day or close to it, after the first few days my writing generally comes easier, I get a bitter grip on my story, I begin to experience ‘flow’ (being in the creative writing zone).

If we only sit down and write when the muse strikes, our output can be irregular and patchy, our muse can be skittish. If we sit down and write anyway, we often pique her curiosity and after a while, somewhat sheepishly, she peeks over our shoulder and joins in the fun. And even if what we wrote initially is chaff (it often isn’t), we can always edit it later – but we can’t edit a blank page.

3. Remember which hat you are wearing.

As writers, we have a writerly and readerly self – or to put it in less academic terms – there is our creative internal writer and our more critical internal editor. If you are anything like me, your internal editor tends to correct and delete as you are writing – and sometimes it might take hours to write a single perfect sentence. It’s good to strive for perfection but the trouble is that your internal editor’s steely eyes can crush creativity or the intuitive leaps needed for great writing. Sometimes it's better to write first, edit later.

NaNo has given me wonderful practice of giving my internal editor a well-deserved holiday, leaving every word on the page (they all count towards the total, right) and coming back later (in December) with the red pen and delete button.  This helps with both creatively and productivity – after all, that one perfect sentence may grace an unnecessary scene and end up in the outtake bucket.

4. Starting is more important than finishing.

Fifty thousand words can seem daunting and not everyone makes goal (perhaps that’s one of the reasons I like CampNaNo as the goal is more flexible). What if I ‘only’ make 40,000 or 30,000 or even 10,000?  I’ve still got way more words than I might have written. But more than that, I’ve found that NaNo has made me more productive in non-NaNoWriMo months as well because it encourages practices like goal setting, discipline and giving my internal editor a temporary holiday.

5. The first draft is just the beginning.

And the last thing is to remember that a NaNoWriMo draft is a first draft.

As Shannon Hale said ‘I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.'

If you haven’t tried NaNoWriMo before – may I suggest you join in one of the Camps next year in April or July.  And here are some other fun ways to add external accountability:
  • Month of Poetry – the last few Januarys, I’ve joined with a group of other poetic types to write a poem a day for a month - originally convened by Kat Apel, now a Facebook group.
  • The Picture Book Challenge like PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month)
  • Monday Writing Sprint – a smallish Facebook group that set aside Monday mornings (about 9am) to sprint (could be stories, poems, blogs, even marketing copy).
  • Chorewars – Order of the Traveling Pen –allows you to record 'chores' (like brainstorming, outlining, writing, revising, marketing etc) for experience points, virtual gold & virtual goodies, compete with your fellow travelers and defeat the occasional head-hopping or plot hole monsters.
  • Write Every Day Over a Year challenge – a Facebook group committing to write something (even if it’s a paragraph) every day in 2017 

And there are challenges for Readers -  like the Popsugar Reading Challenge

Wishing you the best on your writing and reading journeys. This is the last official NaNo post for me. Over and out.

P.S. What challenges and groups have you found useful to keep you on track?

For more on NaNoWriMo check out NaNo Rerun.
Image courtesy of tratong at
Jeanette O’Hagan first started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of nine. She enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing.

Jeanette is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. She recently launched Heart of the Mountain: a short novella and The Herbalist's Daughter: a short story. Other short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of LightAnother Time Another Place and Like a Girl.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on Amazon or on her websites or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes . 


  1. Great learnings, Jeanette. I'm constantly amazed how simply turning up to the keyboard and writing produces results. Sometimes even scenes that surprise yourself: "Did I write that?"


    1. Thanks Ian. Yes, turning up is half the battle. I'm often surpised that even when writing feels like pulling teeth, it can still have amazing results :)

  2. Deadlines...goals work for me as well. Seriously thinking of taking on the everyday for a year to get me there everyday.

    1. I've signed up to the everyday a year challenge - with some trepidation. But surely I can find 5 or more minutes in my day to write (and often much more). Love to have you on board Jo :)

  3. Thanks Jeanette. I'm still considering the every day of the year writing challenge. Goals are a great idea. I like NaNoWriMo because it gives focus but this year life got in the way. Nano did give me another plot point I can follow which is great :)..

    1. Great that you got a plot point out of NaNo, even when life got in the way. Doing the Every Day of the Year challenge is going to be interesting. I figure I can give it a go, even if I don't make the challenge, I'm sure to have more focus and words as a result.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.