Training for NaNoWriMo: lessons learned

Lots of friends have been taking up sports or have made life-altering decisions. Since I am past the reading/writing fatigue of college, I decided to do something for myself by upping my writing output. A legit attempt at NaNoWriMo would do me lots of good, I thought. My previous attempt didn’t benefit from a strong enough commitment and social pressures. It failed at about 15’000 words. Hence, I decided to do a mock run in August first this time.

To cement my commitment, I bought the second edition of Chris Baty’s book on the Kindle app. It’s a quick and delightful read. The book has a first part that is general and then, it has a chapter for each week of the challenge. It was on August 5th that I first wrote 1700 words.

My challenge was to write 1700 words each day for 31 days and have, at least, 50’000 words by the end. If I could do that in August, I would have a shot at NaNoWriMo in November.

mock-nanowrimo-run-2015-09-05On the one hand, in actual fact, I failed to reach my goal. At the end of day 31, a little more than 48’000 words had been written. On the other hand, it is a huge victory and a source of pride. I haven’t quit. I have a draft novel today that I didn’t have 32 days and one hour ago. It is 50’010 words long. It can be done faster if I am even more rigorous and reduce social obligations further.

Screenshot-2015-09-06-01hPictured above is the finish photo with the word count of 50’010 words.

Lessons learned

Here are the lessons I need to remember for November…

Get in a rhythm and stay in it. We all have periods where we’re more productive. Me, it’s before breakfast so when I have time and energy I can make up to 60% of my daily goal then. Those days tend to be the ones where I can reach 100% with ease and go to sleep early enough to repeat the performance early the next day.

Authors will start following you and you’ll get into lists when you use the #amwriting hashtag. That’s nice and OK. Self-publishing gurus and book tour bookers will also follow you and talk about marketing your best-seller. Ignore them. You’re not writing a best seller. You’re writing draft 0 in a long series that might become decent prose one day.

Don’t count on bountiful days to repay word debt. The second wind of week #3 is less impressive than advertised. I haven’t caught it and therefore had trouble remaining steady. 3000 words days have yet to happen to me. My record is 163% on the last ditch effort. Therefore…

Don’t accumulate word debt. One thousand six hundred and sixty seven words per day is a tall order (for me, at least).

This is silly. Forget all the life altering potential of the exercise. It won’t redeem all this time you’ve been writing slowly or not at all. It won’t make you sexier. Beginner’s mind is important. Even more for the last 10 than the beginning 20 days.

Try and surprise yourself. Keep things unbalanced and moving forward. It’s the best thing about being a write-by-the-seat-of-the-pants person. Don’t resist the climax. Shit is going to happen to characters. At some point, it felt like I wanted to protect them from harm which stalled me.

A task does take as much space as it is given. If I have a whole day to write, I struggle to get to 100% just as much as if I have only a few hours.

Close your browser or, better yet, disconnect. That means you can’t rely on YouTube for music but it’s still worth it most of the time.

Don’t mix languages. If you write in English-as-a-second-language, don’t use music with French lyrics. It is exhausting. The more languages are mixed the more words I have to look up.

Hone your capacity for concentration. I have to keep working on that. I mean, who doesn’t?

Changing register and jotting down something else to clear the pipeline can be helpful. It doesn’t count in your word count but a quick blog post can help clear your mind. Projects with a nano scope can replenish your energy.

Put several reminders for the recycling and garbage collection days. Forgetting sucks. Also dishes, cleaning the toilet and the bathroom sink are sacred chores that can’t be passed.

Get people around you excited. Little gold stars, likes, comments and encouragements are tremendously helpful. Don’t hesitate to tell people when you’re struggling too as 140 characters pep-talks can save your bacon. You can use this Jaime Murray gif.


You may also be interested in the first lessons I wrote about earlier and How to Establish a Writing Habit which I wrote for more than two years ago (Gee! I do evergreen content well).


Thanks to for her kind words on Twitter and her podcast.

Thanks tofor his very useful and motivating book and kind words on Twitter.

Thanks to , , , , Benoît Perrier, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and the ones I might have forgotten for their gold stars and encouraging words on Twitter.

Thanks, in no particular order, to Julien, Jérémie, Darja, Kelly, Clément, Brigitte, Renee, Errol, Sophie, Yann, Rukkmini, Resshmini, Christina, Jeremy, Pilar, Marisa, Nicolas, Hania, Patricia, Kiara, and Fredrik for their Facebook “likes” and benevolent comments.

I feel indebted to you all because you kept me moving on the path. Thanks to everybody.