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Three Lessons NaNoWriMo Taught Me About Life and Writing

Ever since I first heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer’s Month) I had wanted to enter. There was just something about making the commitment to telling a story that drew me in. 

I had always wanted to write. 

At school I had a notebook full of half baked story ideas, maps, and drawings. None ever saw the light. There were always too many more exciting kid things to do.  As an adult work, life, and love often got in the road.

2016 was the year I finally put pen to paper, or more accurately fingers to keyboard. For a whole month I tapped the latent creative centres of my brain and started to create a story.

I did it. I turned my dream to a reality, created a world of my very own.

Will my final NaNoWriMo creation ever be loosed on the public? I don’t know. It’s a first work and it shows.  The prose is rough and the dialog stilited.

Regardless of whether I publish or not, NaNoWriMo  taught me three important lessons that have carried over into every day life.

90% of success comes from just showing up but showing up is harder than you think.

Writing 50000 words seemed like such a mountain. 1700 words a day seemed acheivable. Showing up every day for 1700 words allowed me to scale the mountain.

To make sure I showed up I scheduled daily writing time into my diary. A guranteed time no-one was allowed to touch. A non-negotiable promise I made to myself and my goal.

I have since applied this principle to other projects. Committing blocks of non-negotiable time in my diary. Turning my day from crisis driven to adopting better planning and scheduling to acheive the things that matter.

Always operate to a plan. Everything starts with a plan, even when it’s something creative.  Inspiration is a result of a process not luck.

I knew in October I was going to be able to do NaNoWriMo this year. I wanted to just dive in and make a head start ,  but the rules are clear – no writing to November 1. But you can plan.

So plan I did. 

I researched my settings. I researched my characters possible backgrounds and I read as much related fiction as I could.

All the planning made a difference. By the time I hit November 1 I had my plot line straight in my head. I had my characters developed and their motivations and I knew my setting well.

In my day job I’m a freelance developer and designer. Planning is always an important part of the software development process but something I’ve always found hard to justify to clients for pure design related services. A difficulty caused by the perception by many clients that creativity is a gift or talent.

NaNoWriMo showed me first hand that creativity is the result of a process. I feel it’s odd to say inspiration strikes, it’s a saying that makes inspiration sound like a lucky break. I found that inspiration rather occurs as a result of following a process.

Procrastination manifests in some of the most well intentioned places and thoughts.

The best way to tell if you have a procrastination problem is to start a new project outside your comfort zone. 

If you always work in oil try pastels. If you use acrylics try water colour. 

I’m a software developer. I have been for years. I know my preferred development stack, my preferred IDE, and my preferred frameworks. Ramping up a new project is simple, quick, and habitual.

When the clock ticked over on November 1, I had a million questions that suddenly seemed urgent. Questions like should I use Scrivener, Ulysses, or Sublime Text? Should my novel be one document or multiple? What font would be easier on my eyes?

I hadn’t even written a word and found myself researching publishing options and distribution platforms.

In software development I’ve answered all these questions long before. Habit beats the procrastination monkey every time. Throwing me a new project in a different field gives the procrastination money full reign.

The NaNoWriMo showed me the importance of constantly guarding against the procrastination monkey. Capturs each thought and question that the procrastination monkey throws, write it down and schedule a time to think about it. I found when I finally got to the scheduled time the thought was far less significant ,  important,  or urgent than I had previously thought.

In summary: everyone should do NaNoWriMo at least one. Whether or not you end up publishing the process provides valuable insights that are enormously beneficial in every day life.

Published inNanoWriMoWriting

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