10 Lessons on Nano, from a Non-Winner

So, I didn't manage to 'win', which is the official parlance for reaching the designated 50,000 words that comprise the completion of the Nanowrimo challenge. My score comes in at a respectable (to me, anyway) but unfortunately not winning, 30,031. I'm actually quite proud of that, and intrigued that, weirdly, that works out as 1,001 words per day. Maybe that's my 42?

Anyway, I think, as a loser, I might be able to point out the good behaviours that might get you to the end. 

Here we go: 

1) Go hard at the beginning of the month, and write early in the morning. If you leave it til late in the day and/or month, you'll leave it so late that before you know it it will be over and you'll have just about reached the 9,000 mark.  There is always something else to prioritise, so say to hell with it! and do this first.

2) Write at your best time, which for me, luckily, is the morning. I found that the best way to pack the maximum number of words into the day was to start with Nano fiction, pre-breakfast and with a vat of coffee, then go to work, and then come home and either collapse, red-eyed and weary, or write the remaining words for the day, or anything else I needed to write. 

3) Don't plan anything at the weekends. 2,000 words is doable before work, in around 60-90 minutes, but if you start missing days, you up that daily requirement. I personally upped it to a point that demoralised me enormously: one weekend of wedding, another of parents, two days in Nottingham, and a day or two of 'God no, no more!' meant that my daily requirement by the last 10 days was much higher than the buzz from actually getting the work done each day. I will definitely be taking my own advice on the next year - I might go as far as to forcibly remove the November pages of my diary for 2012. 

4) Stream of consciousness work adds words at a very pleasing rate. More focused third person text takes much longer, I find. 

5) Being a Nano Rebel - that is, not starting a novel from scratch - works absolutely fine. In a Pre-Nano post, I stated that I wouldn't be officially enrolling at all. After finding out that others 'rebel', I enrolled and it's not come up since. Actually, Nano seems perfect for finishing a project that's stalled or is being suffocated by procrastination and over-thought. 

6) Don't expect to get any reading done during the Nano month - by the end of the day, when I normally pick that book up before bed, the last thing I wanted to engage with were further instances of the written word. This means that I did not finish an entire book during November, which is a bit of a bummer for a general reader, but a major bummer when I have no books to blog about when the month is done. I did however seek out lighter, shorter bursts of writing, and somehow developed a bit of a Tatler habit, which reads like Nancy Mitford spawned a tribe of similarly catty writers who then designed a magazine aimed squarely at their 30 or so grandest friends. They all talk about each other like butter wouldn't melt, but you know if you crossed them, they would shred you to ribbons with their perfectly manicured claws. Wonderful stuff. Other than that, I read the odd passage from David Lodge's 'Art of Fiction' for inspiration (which worked) and also the odd page from the books that I feel are the influences on my WIP (which worked very well too). 

7) Along this same theme, one major thing is to write all blog posts for November ahead of the Nano start - the thought of writing something, anything, else, will make you want to cry. I'm not sure November's posts were my best, for that reason, but logging in, picking a pre-saved post and being able to mindlessly publish it took a great weight off. Otherwise, you could take a blog holiday, but then, Christmas comes up so soon behind... 

8) Read all the pep talks as they are sent to you. They are wonderful. 

9) Try a Nano write-in in your area, but leave after an hour or two if you don't feel you can actually write there. The one I went to was me and three 18 year olds, one of whom was a boy in a metal t-shirt who ignored my questions like Raj in the Big Bang Theory. They sat and chatted (the two girls, not Raj) and played music in between word sprints, which was fine, but I wasn't convinced it was entirely my crowd. Another conclusion to draw from this is that Nano is best done in a more active city with more than four active Nano-ers. 

10) Try it. Seriously, do Nano next year. It's like awesome writing crack that drives you into the same exhausted but elated headspace as univeristy finals or being a tourist in a really unfriendly country - you're hating it but damn it you're there now so you might as well make something of it and have fun. Ah, the buzz of a challenge. And I got sooo much writing done; thinking that I might have an almost complete first draft makes me feel all woozy and excited. It's a wonderful tool. Do it next year, and let me know how it goes.


  1. Hooray! I'm so proud of you! You got a lot done :D And these are great tips! you should repost next November or point to this link when the time comes

  2. Thanks Nicole! I will; maybe I'll make a note in my diary for next year, when, of course, you will be doing Nano too :)

  3. I really enjoyed reading your lessons learned and ABSOLUTELY agree with all the points. I didn't manage to read much (making up for that now!) and was able to keep some weekends relatively free and I think that was key.

    Well done on all you acheived and here is to next year!!

  4. Thanks Em, and well done us!!

    You finished, right? You are some kind of crazy writing jedi :D


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