Q4U: What We Learn From Writing

So NaNoWriMo is over, and all of you who participated are 50,000 words closer to a finished book, right?

I’m interested in what you learned through this process. What did you learn about yourself? About writing?

If you didn’t do NaNo, you can join in too. Tell us what you’ve learned about yourself through your recent writing journey.

How are all those hours “in the chair” changing you?

Join in the conversation… and have a terrific weekend!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Matthew C. Kriner on March 25, 2012 at 12:41 PM

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  2. MisterChris on December 28, 2009 at 4:19 PM

    >Hey Rachelle,

    I'm late coming to this post but wanted to chime in, if you don't mind.

    This was my second year at NaNo, and I loved it. Last year I struggled like mad to get to the 50k mark, and finished it on 11/29.

    This year, I did a great deal of research, came at it seriously, plotted the entire book out chapter by chapter, and got to 50k in 15 days. Finished the rest of this 98k pilot for a new series around 12/10.

    What did I learn?

    Well, I've learned that my writing has improved DRAMATICALLY over the last year. All of your blog posts, registering with ACFW, buddying up with friends on ChristianWriters.com, all helped make me a better novelist.

    I've learned I'm a plotter (or plodder). I did so much better with a solid plot, knowing where everything was going. I felt a bit constricted, but the story did a few unexpected and beneficial side trips and a very surprising variation at the end. πŸ™‚

    The characters WILL have their own way.

    I learned that having deadlines and goals to achieve is a very good thing, and keeps me going when things start to drag.

    I would highly recommend Nano for any writer that wanted to improve their output. This past year I've written 4 full-length novels, when before Nano, the furthest I got writing a book was about 100 pages.

    I'm excited about what I'll be writing next year, both BEFORE and DURING nano!

  3. Ruth on December 11, 2009 at 11:50 PM

    >I learned that writing about time travel is really hard.

  4. tekchic on December 8, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    >A few weeks ago I wrote down the Eight Things I Learned from NaNo on my own blog.

    Participating in NaNo revealed my weaknesses–especially pacing and plot. I finished this year and last with 50K+, but this year's novel needs to thicken up to 90K before I do a major hack and slash edit. It's great to learn what your shortcomings are as a novelist so you where you can improve.

  5. emilymurdoch on December 7, 2009 at 8:49 PM

    >I did NaNoWriMo for my second year in a row and second win at 50,410 words in 19 days, adding 50 thou to my 20 thou YA WIP. I take it seriously, using NaNo to write a real novel (after edits). I aimed for 2000 words a day on average.

    It's a magical experience. Before NaNo, I wouldn't have believed a draft in a month was possible, let alone that I, myself, could do it.

    There's also an amazing community energy, when writing with so many other writers at the same time with the same goal. It's just a phenomenal experience.

    I could gush forever!

    I think the magic is so simple, when broken down. Sit, write, believe the story knows where it's going even when you don't, because it does (once you get out of the way and let the words/magic take over).

    The hardest part is letting go — learning to let go and just write. Once mastered, it has to be one of the most valuable skills in a writer's repertoire.

    (I might even marry NaNoWriMo, if my husband will let me. : )

  6. Anonymous on December 6, 2009 at 11:10 PM

    >I learned that I love to write. That I can sit for hours and craft a story. That this is what has been missing from my life. Don't get me wrong, it's arduous, nerve wracking, and sometimes painful, but I love it!

  7. Need More Words on December 6, 2009 at 11:05 PM

    >I completed my second NaNo. I ended up with over 72,000 words but I haven't finished my novel yet. I so loved the discipline that the challenge of NaNo gives me. I can accomplish a lot of writing in a day if I don't let distractions pull me away. I like what I am writing this year and plan on finishing it and begining the long process of editing, it really, really will need a lot.

  8. abouttothunder on December 6, 2009 at 10:40 PM

    >This was my second year participating in NaNo. Still no win yet, but that's okay. I suffered from bad block for most of this year. Though I had planned to do NaNo, I didn't have an idea. I started and fizzled in the beginning of the month and went back to it on Thanksgiving. I cranked out 10K in the last 5.5 days of the month.

    I learned:

    1. I need to put my butt in the chair and write, whether it's going well or not. Sitting and mulling characters and plot can count too. I must allow the characters to have enough space in my head.

    2. Blasting through part of a first draft in NaNo is freeing. My total rewrite on my first novel is going well, if a bit slowly.

    3. Writing is part of my identity, and I feel much better about it when I make space for it in my life.

    4. I must learn how to balance writing and my other responsiblities. It's an early New Year resolution.

    5. It is imperative that I find a critique partner or group. Time to start praying on that one.

  9. Christi on December 6, 2009 at 9:37 PM

    >This year was my second time doing NaNoWriMo. Last year I won; this year I made it a little more than halfway.

    This year I took more time to read others' blogs about their NaNoWriMo experiences, which inspired and helped my process.

    I learned that I like hard and fast deadlines. I don't think I could write a novel without giving myself a tight time-frame to finish a first draft.

    But, I also learned that any word count makes me a winner (even without the badge to prove it), since NaNoWriMo is about writing every day and finding the story within.

  10. Ceciel Ammons on December 6, 2009 at 9:25 PM

    >I signed up for NaNo and created my blog to track my progress (okay, okay, that was procrastination at its finest). Erm, I got a few words. But what I discovered/learned about me as a writer was alot.

    The alot: I am not a pantser. If I were dying and anyone were to have asked me, Pantser or Plotter? I would have died with Pant- on my lips. I realized that I do alot of plotting in my head before I can even put one word on the page.

    More alot: I need that first sentence. Otherwise, I don't have tone or setting or style (maybe this is where I got the idea that I am a pantser…maybe I'm a hybrid?)

    Alot more: Workspace does make a difference…I know all of those how to's say, just write, it doesn't matter where you write, just write. Not so for me. Right now, I am staring at a big monitor in front of a blank wall. My cats are not trying to bite my hair or claw at my computer screen because they are content to lay on the bed instead of fight me for my chair or my attention.

    Too much: I thought I was a competitive person and that NaNo would spark that streak in me. Hmmm. I froze like a deer in headlights.

    Thanks for the opportunity, I actually feel less like a NaNo failure now. I can post on my blog again! πŸ˜€

  11. Cynthia Schuerr on December 6, 2009 at 8:51 PM

    >I've been planning my novel for a good 40 or so years. LOL. Life kept me from it, but no more. About 6 months ago, I planted my butt in my chair and decided to call myself a writer and write. All of the ideas that have been swirling around, for years, in my head are now being penned on paper.
    What I've learned during my first nano experience is this:
    1. I have the discipline
    2. I have the desire
    3. I have the love, and
    4. I have the heart to write.
    I will do what is necessary to reach my dream.

  12. Indigo on December 6, 2009 at 8:44 PM

    >I wasn't a participant in NaNo.

    I can however answer the question: What have I learned as a writer.

    1) First and foremost is confidence. Not the gloating 'I'm better than the rest' confidence either. It's a more subtle, more lasting impression…

    2)I've learned to look at it as a career. In other words, I have to make an effort to sit down and type (x) amount of words each day. You wouldn't be able to call in to work on a whim, just because you didn't feel like it. So why would you stockpile excuses to get out of writing.

    3)I'm one of those writers who believes in letting the book write itself. You can't force your book into existence, it needs to flow, create and have substance. I love watching whatever I'm writing, take on a life of its own.

    4)Learn to walk away and return after a few days to recheck your work. Let your mind have time to see what you've written in a new light.

    5)Write no matter what as if your life depended on it. Writing has become an extension of me. I live, breath, and work the storyline. I can't imagine enjoying anything else half as much as I enjoy writing.

    6)Patience – With the publishing industry and not rushing a book. Then again, I haven't had to worry about deadlines.(winks)

    7) Finally: Definitely not the last learning curve but the end for me here – Just write.


  13. Simon Hay Soul Healer on December 6, 2009 at 8:42 PM

    >NaNo has taught me that I'm a 800 words/day writer. I like revising as I write. The mad scramble doesn't work for me. I need time to think, and half of everything I write is deleted/improved. I love writing, but I also have to enjoy the journey.

  14. Julie Weathers on December 6, 2009 at 8:20 PM

    >I didn't do NaNo. I'm trying to get the final revisions done on Far Rider.

    I got the revisions done and I'm polishing, again, and cutting words. I learned I really do need to write every day whether it's new or revisions. It has to be a habit not a hobby with me.

    Another story rattled around in the back of my mind while I was doing revisions. So, when FR goes out on submission I have another project all simmered out.

  15. Lilly Cain on December 6, 2009 at 7:37 PM

    >This was my 5th attempt at Nano. Every year something happens that makes it impossible to finish. Sure enough this year at the half way mark I received my revision letter for my first novel, Dark Harmony, coming out in January from Red Sage.

    I had just hit the 18,000 wrods mark when this happened. I was slightly behind but revisions come with a deadline. A friend said – it's okay to quit the rehersal so you can go on with the performance. πŸ™‚

    SO what I learned – I still hit 25,000. Around here that is "Nano Lite" and I got my revisions mostly done as well. So my lesson was perseverence (will try once again next year) and prioritization!


  16. Louis Edwards on December 6, 2009 at 3:29 PM


    Well, I started NaNo and only got approx 15k words. This was my first year and I am a new writer. I enjoy writing and sharing with others.

    During NaNo I learned that one must be prepared. You CAN NOT go in writing blind. I had no outline, plot idea or any of the other preliminary work that was needed for a successful 50k work. This helped me to realize that I needed to be prepared.

    I will! Lord Willing? Try again next year and come typing better prepared.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment.

  17. Anonymous on December 6, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >Everything comes if a man will only wait........................................

  18. Bailish on December 6, 2009 at 12:09 AM

    >I started NaNo, but one day during the contest, I read a blog post that mentioned the importance of theme. As I analyzed my own story, the theme started to come through, but I had drifted from my purpose. I stopped my writing and went back to my outline, mercilessly killing my babies.

  19. Kelly Combs on December 5, 2009 at 5:02 PM

    >What I've learned…I'm not ready for the big leagues yet. And that's okay! I love writing, and if I write for a small crowd (blog) and they enjoy it and I enjoy it, well that is just awesome! Would I love to write a book that earns publication? You bet. But for now, I'm okay with where I am. And "one day" is still out there waiting.

  20. Joy on December 5, 2009 at 2:45 PM

    >I have never written anything this long before. So I learned just how much work goes into writing a book-length piece, and how difficult it is to keep everything straight (e.g. What day are we on? What time of day is it? What did I name that character again?). It gave me a great appreciation for those who do it well.

  21. Kathleen L. on December 5, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    >I learned that I am a true panster, as long as I have a general outline in my head. I learned that I can do 8,600 words in one day, my personal best. (Novemeber 30th) LOL
    and I learned that mugging my muse and throttling her until words spill is painful to me and to her. Hoping she will forgive me. πŸ™‚

  22. Angie Handley on December 5, 2009 at 5:02 AM

    >I learned that for yet another NaNo, I am a failure, and I still can't finish anything, and that none of my plots have resolutions no matter how vivid the characters and concept seem to be at the beginning πŸ™

    Honestly, ever year I think to myself 'I'm not going to do this again, it only discourages me'.

  23. London Mabel on December 5, 2009 at 1:38 AM

    >I completed Nano this year, and learned a similar thing as when I did Nano last year — there are some plot points I just can't work out when plotting, I need to write them. The need to keep writing really helps me push through plotting blocks and come up with great ideas.

    And it's starting to really work for me, to write the first 50 000 words of a book, and then to stop and see where I am–especially with characters. I have a really clear idea of who needs to go, who needs to be reworked.

  24. Meghan Ward on December 5, 2009 at 12:43 AM

    >I didn't do NaNoWriMo this year, but I did back in 2001 and found at the end that I had 45,000 words (I didn't finish) of crap. I'm a slow writer, so for me to get 1666 words a day on paper, I wrote whatever came to mind, more like a long journal entry than a novel. It was a waste of time for me.

  25. Natasha Fondren on December 5, 2009 at 12:07 AM

    >50K+ a month is the norm for me, but with NaNoWriMo, I try to write something outside my comfort zone. This year, I learned that I'm better at discovering my story by letting it simmer in the back of my mind, than by shoving the words out. I feel like I've wasted 40K, lol…

    But that's not NaNo's fault. I just wasn't ready to write that particular story yet.

  26. Renee on December 4, 2009 at 11:49 PM

    >I learned I am a plotter, this whole time I thought I was a pantser. And I learned I could write even when life tried to get in the way.

  27. Russell Brooks on December 4, 2009 at 11:46 PM

    >I didn't do NaNo because I'm focusing on editing my second novel while doing pre-publishing promotion for my first. After having written my second novel, I realized that writing becomes easier the more you do it. My author's voice has developed more also.

  28. teacherwriter on December 4, 2009 at 11:17 PM

    >Persistence, and more persistence, and even MORE persistence. That's what it took. As many have commented, the idea of writing without editing along the way keeps the story moving. I learned to like this because I was never away from the story long enough to forget what I had already written. I have more comments on this same topic on my latest blog posting, if anyone wants to stop by. πŸ™‚
    All in all, I'm glad I did it.

  29. Kaye Dacus on December 4, 2009 at 5:28 PM

    >I didn't participate in NaNo this year (my local writing group does a "writing marathon month" in October, instead)—because I was focused on getting a book finished for a Dec. 1 deadline. But I wanted to stop by and applaud everyone who's done this. Writing a novel (or half of a novel if yours are the length of mine) in a month is great practice. Because you never know when you'll find yourself with a publisher who wants a book from you quickly—meaning you have only a month or two to get it written from scratch (like the situation I'm in right now). NaNo is great practice!

  30. Tamika: on December 4, 2009 at 3:55 PM

    >So many lightbulbs flickered on from participating in NaNo. The motivation to commit to something grand and seemingly impossible; the call to structure and planning. Huge plateaus of writing and wandering valleys of uncertainty.

    It was a blast! I did come up short of the 50k, but I love my story and I plan to make all the way to 70k and beyond!

  31. violet on December 4, 2009 at 3:39 PM

    >Hi, Rachelle, I love your blog.

    Here are some of the things I learned from NaNo:

    1. Writing a novel is a lot harder than it looks (I do lots of book reviews – maybe I'll be kinder now – maybe not.)

    2.I learned a fast way to write a first draft. I normally – write, edit, rewrite, edit. Very slow. This time I wrote the first draft FAST. No looking back, no editing along the way. l didn't even reread what I'd written each day as I was afraid I'd be so discouraged by the dreck I was producing, I'd give up.

    3.There were lots of surprises. Though I had snowflaked my idea before NaNo, I was surprised by how my plot took different directions than I thought it would. Sometimes the things that happened seemed arbitrary, but later they advanced the plot in ways I had never envisioned. I also realized that I compose best longhand. Then I read my story into my mini-cassette and transcribed it. Composing at the keyboard, though it chalked up the words faster, felt like creating with gloves on.

    4. My story is far from done. Eg. Even as I was writing, I realized I was leaving out things that seemed important during the imagination stage.

    5. NaNo is great because of the feeling of camaraderie and the motivational emails from the NaNo team.

  32. E.D. Lindquist on December 4, 2009 at 2:52 PM

    >I actually learned that there's very little difference in the quality of my writing between when I'm "inspired" and when I simply make myself work.
    NaNoWriMo was great shock-training to get my word count up. I finished all 50,000 words in less than 30 days! I was amazed and it felt good!
    Like many others, the writing I did during November will undergo a great deal of editing and cutting, but no more than the writing I usually do. A first draft is a first draft, even when written under duress.

  33. DCS on December 4, 2009 at 1:57 PM

    >I've done NaNoWriMo officially in 2007-08 but this year I already had 25K+ on a WIP and dovetailed it into the program. Sort of kind of cheating but I enjoy the spirit and comradery of the event. What I've learned is that writing first drafts is easy and improving them is where the rubber meets the road. I'm at 60K now, looking to finish the rough draft by New Years and then take 6 months to edit, polish, revise, respond to critiques etc. With luck I'll have a product I will be proud to market by July. I'm not sure it fits into your area of interest (it's a mystery/suspense/noire genre) but I'll probably query you because I like your blog so much and I bet you're a terrific agent.

  34. sexualchivalry on December 4, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    >I just started seriously pursuing writing in the last year. I had never even heard of NaNo till Rachelle's post!

    Some of my recent thinking about being a writer is the subject of my own blog post today:

    For me the act of writing comes very easily, except for all of the times that it comes very hard. It's dealing with everything about being a writer EXCEPT the writing that's been a pain in the tush.

  35. Jessica H on December 4, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    >I didn't participate in Nano, but I have recently learned a lot about myself as a writer. For the longest time, I went back and forth on where to start my current manuscript. Just this past month I really solidified where I want it to go, and once I had the right start the novel really seemed to take off. Now it's almost complete and I'm looking forward to polishing it and getting it ready for submission in the upcoming months!

  36. Dara on December 4, 2009 at 1:30 PM

    >I learned that my first drafts are REALLY in need of a great deal of editing πŸ˜› And that sometimes, the story itself changes mid-stream. I've also learned that writing first person may not always be so bad…in fact I initially started the book off in third person and about 30K into it decided to switch it to first πŸ˜› Stuff that'll all need changed of course, but I think it made it flow a little easier from that point.

    Now I have to finish the draft…I've got probably another 30-40K to go πŸ™‚ Trying to get it done by the first of the new year but for some reason I'm finding it really hard to focus.

  37. Laura Miller Edwards on December 4, 2009 at 1:15 PM

    >I participated in NaNo, but only reached 13,000 words. Lesson? Don't try to write an entire novel when you're an English teacher whose composition courses finish up just before Thanksgiving. BUT. I'm so glad I got those 13,000 out.

    I really like the direction the story is taking. What I learned about myself? As a person, I'm not very patient, and I'm afraid to take the leap if I can't be sure of the landing. As a writer? That it's okay to read back through and edit a little, despite what everyone says. It helps me get started for the day to read over what I've already written and tweak it a bit.

  38. Carol J. Garvin on December 4, 2009 at 1:08 PM

    >My daughter and I both write and she inveigled me into joining her NaNo'ing effort a few years ago. This was my third year but only my first "win".

    I used it as a quick way to create the bare bones first draft of a new novel that has been trying to battle its way out of my head for several months. It's a dreadful draft but I'm excited at the potential and eager to continue with revisions.

    Even before NaNoWriMo my early noveling tended to be a headlong dash because I found an outline too stifling. What NaNo'ing taught me is that I waste too much time wandering down dead-ends unless I give it some initial basic thought. I did a couple guest blogs on my adaptation of planning as a not-quite-plotting, not-quite-pantsing compromise. Everyone seems to have an opinion on plotting versus pantsing. Thanks to NaNo I've learned planning is what works best for me.

  39. REG on December 4, 2009 at 12:46 PM

    >50K worth of uncensored drama intruded into the dialog. Surprises leaped into every other chapter. Turning off the inner editor allowed undiscovered characters to emerge.
    Now what to do with these characters I've been playing with for the last thirty days? They are so out of control, but I like them.
    Carpal Tunnel syndrome aside. I'd do NaNoWriMo again.

  40. Roxane B. Salonen on December 4, 2009 at 12:28 PM

    >I aspire someday to join the NaNoWriMo crowd, though I wish it could be during the summer months instead. Yes, my summers tend to be more productive writing-wise than during the school year, which is filled with kid activities and needs. Perhaps I need to start a SuNaNoWriMo movement! (Hey, I like the way that sounds.) The BIC (Butt In Chair) life can be taxing, but so very fulfilling.

  41. Anthony on December 4, 2009 at 11:45 AM

    >"How are all those hours "in the chair" changing you?"

    Eating breakfast at Cinnabon every day would have a less dramatic change on my body. Oh my Gosh.

  42. james on December 4, 2009 at 11:40 AM

    >I didnt do NaNo, dont even know what it is.
    I have through the process of writing my first book learned a ton about how the industry works, how to adapt my writing into the proper format, but most importantly, I have reminded myself that the very techniques of leadership work if you use them. ANd i relaized that I was not using them as I should. All and all the experience has been awesome.

  43. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on December 4, 2009 at 11:29 AM

    >Good morning, Rachelle;

    I didn't do NaNo because I write nonfiction.

    I did learn a lot this year and wrote "7 Things I've Learned So Far" for Chuck Sambuchino's blog, Guide to Literary Agents.

    This is the first three items:
    1. I don’t know what I don’t know. Since I read voraciously and can write a technical report clearly, I thought I could learn everything I needed from books on writing and the Internet. Wrong! That method left holes in my education. I decided that The Christian Writers’ Guild had the program that best fit my needs. Working on the lessons and getting feedback from a seasoned professional have been pure joy.

    2. Writing in my head is easier than turning my thoughts into written words. Ideas for books and articles are always swimming in my mind. I try to write down the thoughts and the words that flew so easily over the express lane of my mind slow down to a crawl in the congestion of exiting the mental expressway and traveling down the lane that merges onto the page. Idea gridlock then meets instant editor. It’s a wonder I get anything finished.

    3. My writing should be so good that readers see how smart they are, not how smart I am. When this light went on over my head, everyone could see me blushing. I spent almost twenty years using my skills in a demanding profession. In all that time, my writing showed how smart I could be, so I was embarrassed to learn that I had gotten that basic idea completely wrong. My readers want to feel smart by understanding what I have to say. Back to the drawing board…

    You can read the other four on Chuck's blog if you're interested.

    Have a great weekend.

    Be blessed,


  44. T. Anne on December 4, 2009 at 10:59 AM

    >I pushed through and finished my NaNo manuscript into the 70K mark. I'm editing it right now. I'm surprised its not the mess I thought it would be. I guess I can take away from this the fact I really can push myself to complete a large workable word count in just one month. Next time I sit down to write a first draft I'll push myself to the NaNo limits. I know I'm capable.

  45. Jen on December 4, 2009 at 10:52 AM

    >I've been writing for about the last 13 years or so–since I was about 15. And in that time, the most important lesson I've learned is perseverance. I'm stubborn by nature, but rejection (and criticism) is never easy to stomach. However, when it's constructive, you can walk away with some incredibly helpful and insightful advice.

    I've also learned how to criticize without being mean-spirited. I tend to be blunt and to the point–especially when I'm pointing out errors–but bluntness doesn't have to come across as mean-spirited. I can tone down my comments now so the other person doesn't feel she is being attacked. Instead, I'm only commenting on the writing.

    This writing journey has also taught me to never give up on dreams. If you have one, you should pursue it with everything your heart can manage. As a result of this attitude, I've accomplished other goals in my life I never would have pursued.

  46. Niki Turner on December 4, 2009 at 10:47 AM

    >This was my 2nd year of NaNoWriMo.
    What I learned:
    – I am not, not, not a plot-driven writer. I love characters. Creating them, describing them, getting in their heads and experiencing life through their eyes.
    – I need to have an outline for a plot from start to finish so my characters will quit eating together and driving together and DO something.
    – I fully understand the need for a novel map, with character sketches and setting details to refer back to.
    – My first completed manuscript was a challenge to get to 50K. This one is only about halfway done at 50K. Difference in story, maybe. Difference in storyteller, definitely.

  47. school_of_tyrannus on December 4, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >I gave up reading everything but my Bible. This is not a long-term decision, but it helped me focus on my own writing instead of others.
    I started praying "God, be glorified in my writing today," before I ever typed anything. That prayer let the Spirit flow through me and I believe God spoke.
    I'm writing a YA fantasy that's an analogy of how useless living by Law is. If God isn't glorified through it- I hope it never gets published.

  48. Catherine Gayle on December 4, 2009 at 10:33 AM

    >I learned through my first NaNo experience that NaNo is probably not for me. I was so focused on getting those words out each day that I lost focus on making the words matter.

    No, I don't expect to write a perfect first draft–far from it. But I do expect to write a first draft that can eventually be molded and shaped into something usable. Right now, I believe that most of the partial draft I wrote during NaNo is going to be thoroughly scrapped. I'm letting it sit for a while, so I can focus on the editing/revising of a different manuscript.

  49. Cindy on December 4, 2009 at 10:27 AM

    >I did NaNo for the first time this year and prepared in a way I never have for writing this manuscript. This included studying writing books and plotting out the story chapter by chapter, scene by scene, to the end of the book.

    Not only did this afford me the chance to make it to 50K but I got to finish my manuscript and I'm totally in love with it. I learned that a detailed outline works really well for me and that writing new, fresh characters that are nothing like the ones I've written in the past was a great idea.

  50. Rachelle on December 4, 2009 at 10:25 AM

    >I love everyone's answers! Thanks for chiming in.

    I didn't do NaNo but obviously I blog a few times a week, and I find the thing that keeps me coming back is the community. Also, the external structure – the expectation I've created by blogging five days a week – is a huge motivator for those times when I just don't "feel" like writing.

  51. LynnRush on December 4, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    >This year was my first year doing NaNo. What I liked best was the community! Yep, met lots of people, got to talk daily with those participating and we encouraged each other. I LOVE that part.

    Writing can be lonely, if you let it, but with NaNo. . . NO CHANCE to be lonely knowing tons are going through what I was going through. It ROCKED!

  52. Erica Vetsch on December 4, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    >I completed NaNo again this year, and I learned again that I love writing, and that it is okay to write a stinkin' first draft.

    You can't edit the blank page, so get something on it so you can fix it.

  53. Debbie Maxwell Allen on December 4, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    >For my first Nano, I was so excited. I had a great idea, the outline was solid, had completed detailed character sketches, research, and a chapter layout.

    But, during the first week of Nano, I had to force myself to write this story, and I couldn't find my excitement for it.

    So, I canned the story, which was in third-person, past tense, and tried something else. I had written a short story in first person that sounded interesting–almost like someone else wrote it.

    I began a completely new story in first-person, present tense, and it's pouring out. So much more fun!

    The other thing I learned is that getting excited about writing is contagious. All four of my children (including my two non-writer, middle school boys) joined me in Nanowrimo, and caught on to how much fun it is to write when you're part of a community.

  54. Shmologna on December 4, 2009 at 10:06 AM

    >I have OCD and I have a hard time just letting the words flow before I go back and start editing. I have the potential to write thousands of words in one sitting but tend to go back after a few hundred to second guess myself or do some minor editing that could wait until the story is on paper/screen/buckskin…what have you.

    NaNoWriMo helped me with that a bit.

    On the bad side, while participating in NaNoWriMo, I had a bad habit of updating my wordcount every fifty words! Ha ha! With NaNo over, I don't WC as often.

  55. Cassandra on December 4, 2009 at 10:05 AM

    >I participated in Nano for the third time this year. I wrote 51,000 words in 29 days, even with a couple days off in the middle (I was sick).

    I learned that I can write an entire novel in 30 days, from start to finish. I can write an entire not so good novel in 30 days without having the inner editor kill me. I'm proud of the commitment I made and that I was able to finish strong. 1,667 words a day is not that much. Because I missed a few days, most days were over 2,000 words.

    I also learned that my weakest area in writing is developing characters. I had a decent plot and the novel was written okay (though it needs a couple major rewrites) but my characters are flat. I have no idea how to develop real characters so that's my goal before next year's Nano. I also learned that outlines are my best friend. That was part of the reason I was able to do so well this year – I wrote a full outline before I started.

  56. CKHB on December 4, 2009 at 10:04 AM

    >Ha! I posted earlier this week about "winning" NaNo with fewer than 50K words and linking to the posts where I talk about the things I've learned this past month about WHY I write, and how I write best.

  57. Mira on December 4, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    >Thanks for asking this question. It's fun to think about and answer. πŸ™‚

    I didn't do NaNo, but I am writing papers for school. Which means there's a deadline, a page count, etc. This has been wonderful for me as a writer.

    I tend to get blocked at the drop of a hat. My voices of self-doubt are very loud, and they tend to win, unfortunately. So, being forced to write, no matter what, has been a great lesson for me. I didn't think I could write this last paper. I almost quite school over that darn thing! But I did write. I wrote it, and it's done. It's not great, but it's not bad, and the important thing is a. it's done and b. it's certainly not as bad as my voices would have led me to believe.

    So, there really is something to be said for external structure and writing no matter what.

  58. Nicole Amsler on December 4, 2009 at 9:27 AM

    >I have won NaNo four times including this year. I always learn something new every time I begin.

    This year, I learned I need a complete but general outline so I know what direction I am heading. My 2007 NaNo had a beginning but I left the ending open for a surprise. But there was no surprise (or ending, for that matter.) I am still revising that one.

    I also learned I am much better at fixing than I am at writing. So I wrote fast and sloppy. In January when I begin revisions, I will take each scene and edit it so severely there might not be original three words left together. But I will have the general taste and flavor of the scene ready as raw material.

    One of the biggest advantages of NaNo is the interaction. I have six close friends who participated this year because I introduced them to the idea. It was wonderful to have company but it was even better to see them get excited over the process.

    I have said before NaNo will change the way you read. Several non-writer friends tried (and won) this year and wholeheartedly agree. It's like being unimpressed with the tightrope walker until you find yourself eight stories up, one foot on the wire.

  59. Kat Harris on December 4, 2009 at 9:17 AM

    >This was my first year doing NaNo.

    When I finished, I wrote about the pros and cons I found in participating.

    They were:


    1. My daughters and husband have developed a nervous tick whenever I mention frozen pizza.

    2. After pushing my internal editor aside to meet the deadline, I think she might assume she's on a permanent vacation.


    1. Although it's the worst writing in the history of mankind, Nano gave me the foundation for a strong story with interesting characters.

    2. I've learned that emotional attachments to new characters do not form immediately, but they do happen quickly when you open yourself up to the idea.

    3. I've learned than an 1,800-word-per-day goal isn't as daunting after you're 9,000 words into the story.

    4. I've learned to let go of the perfectionist inside me that said my words had to be flawless when they hit the page.

    5. Discipline isn't as scary as I once thought.

    6. While the self-doubt (about my ability to write a second mss) still creeps in, it's not as powerful as it once was.

    7. I now have something else over which to obsess while I send out queries for my first.

    All in all, I'd say NaNo was a good experience.

  60. Matilda McCloud on December 4, 2009 at 9:17 AM

    >I did NaNo and I learned that I can't free write and I can't silence my internal editor. I can have a dialogue and bargain with her though. A few days ago, I bought a cheap netbook so I can continue with daily writing. (I share the computer at home with others.) That was the best thing I got out of NaNo–getting into the habit of writing everyday.

  61. arlee bird on December 4, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    >I finished my first attempt at NaNo with over 50,000 of what seems to be the start of a pretty decent work, while at the same time posting nearly 1000 wds daily on my blog and actively commenting on others.
    I think more than having learned from the NaNo experience it's more a case of having proved to myself that I could do it if I just put my mind to it. Now after I finish up my NaNo product maybe I can go back to all of the other novel projects and follow through with those.

    Where I've learned the most is through writing my blog, especially while doing NaNo at the same time. I'm learning to organize my writing time better and to fit that writing into the other parts of my life.

  62. Cheryl Barker on December 4, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >I didn't do Nano, but I've learned that to get started on a new project I sometimes need a few Peanut M&Ms handy to get the creative juices flowing. Any excuse for a little chocolate, huh? πŸ™‚

    On a more serious note, I've learned that accountability helps keep me working as I should — even if it's just accountability to myself through notes jotted on my calendar about what I've worked on that day. I like to feel I've checked things off my list. Guess I'm just one of those goal-driven types πŸ™‚

  63. Anonymous on December 4, 2009 at 9:09 AM

    >I'm still trying to learn two things.

    1. How to merge writing with the rest of my life. It seems I have to ignore one in order to take care of the other, and that leads usually to not writing much, or to huge fights with my spouse. There doesn't seem to be a good way to balance the creativity that wakes me up in the night and makes me perpetually distracted. I did a lot of writing this past month, but it all blew up in my face at home and now I'm trying to put all the pieces back together and take care of all the laundry, bills, etc. that seemed to pile up when I wasn't looking.

    2. How to gain any confidence about my writing. I've been working on this novel for a couple of years, and keep going back and editing and questioning myself about the characters, the plot, point of view, everything. I read on agent blogs how it has to be perfect and I just don't know if it will ever be good enough. But then I see the examples of bad writing, and think, "No way! They must be joking." So I don't know if I'm bad or good or what.

    So I'm just constantly torn between guilt for writing, guilt for not writing, and fear that I'm just wasting my time.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  64. Marla Taviano on December 4, 2009 at 8:57 AM

    >Is it cheeky (and/or lame) to say that I LOVE being on the same page as my agent??

    I just blogged about my NaNo experience today at MarlaTaviano.com. It was my first NaNo, and I loved it!

  65. Jami on December 4, 2009 at 8:47 AM

    >I've done Nano at this point… 7 times. 3 wins, now 4 losses counting this year. But I think the biggest key is picking the right story. Of the wins, I've only actually been satisfied enough with 2 to edit them, and one needs a complete overhaul. I look at Nano as a chance to get the story onto the page, so I can look at it and figure out what I really need to do with it. It's basically just massive prewriting for me. πŸ™‚

  66. Shelby on December 4, 2009 at 8:39 AM

    >I learned that many words and thoughts exist in my being.. and some of them made it to the page. It was a great awakening.

  67. Alexa on December 4, 2009 at 8:21 AM

    >I didn't finish this year. I found that having baby means I have to treat novel writing as a marathon now not a sprint!

    I also found having a detailed outline doesn't work for me.

  68. Scott on December 4, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    >I didn't do NaNo this year, but I did a few years ago. The main thing I learned . . . I am capable of completing a rough draft in 30 days.

    In the days/years before NaNo, a rough draft could take me forever. Since NaNo, the main goal I set for myself when beginning a new project is: rough draft, 30 days, minimum 50,000 words.

    You know what? I suceed at that goal every single time, and during one strange, obsessive period, I finished a rough in 15 days. I also lost about 5 pounds, so I'm not sure if that was a good or bad thing. : )


  69. Anonymous on December 4, 2009 at 8:12 AM

    >I didn't do NaNo. But what I learned from NOT doing it was how committed I really am to writing as a career. I'm in it for the long haul and I'm truly unconcerned with instant gratification. If I don't complete (or nearly) a manuscript a month, that's okay. I'll do it in my own time.

    I guess I've shed a bit of my desperation and I didn't quite realize it until I watched all my friends go through NaNo and never once felt competitive. I was able to be fully supportive without having those "omg, I'll never catch up with them!" thoughts.

  70. Timothy Fish on December 4, 2009 at 8:05 AM

    >No NaNoWriMo for me. I spent the month working on drafts 2, 3, 4 and 5 of And Thy House. It’s about a man who gets saved after he convinces his daughters that Christianity is bad. I didn’t like it all that much at the end of the first draft, but it turned out great, though I didn’t reach my word count goal. My goal was 90,000 and it came in at a little less than 86,000.

  71. Amanda Acton on December 4, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    >That "1,667" words a day is really not a lot. I believe the one day I sprinted 5,000 words in a Word War and was done in an hour and a half. πŸ˜›

    I am back to a book I wrote earlier this year and am editing. I've learnt that taking time off and focusing on something completely different is AMAZINGLY helpful. I have a new set of eyes for my previous draft. πŸ™‚

  72. Sarah on December 4, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    >I'd just blogged about that!

    This was my first NaNo, and the most important thing I learned was to experiment – embrace my crazy, so to speak. I can smooth things out later. : )

  73. Lisa Jordan on December 4, 2009 at 7:26 AM

    >I started Nano with the second book in my series, but decided to use Nano time to work on my current WIP.

    I learned it's okay to write a crappy first draft. Get the story down and go back to fill in the details later. Sometimes I had scenes that were only dialogue.

    I've also learned having strong writing partners to help brainstorm and pray for you is one of the best tools a writer can have.

  74. Sharon A. Lavy on December 4, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    >Nano comes at a bad month I think. But I have joined the BIAM Yahoo loop and I am working through it. I am looking for a mini outline process that works for me. The story comes to me as I write, but I would love to have the ability to outline a bit.

    As a panster, rewriting is where the story really begins to flow for me so I agree with others that prefer having a crit partner.

  75. Jeannette Towey on December 4, 2009 at 7:25 AM

    >I completed a YA novel of 55,000 words for Nanowrimo and absolutely loved it. Wrote on average between about 2.5k and 3.5k a day and had a few days off. The plot was constantly buzzing around my head and my limbs went all tingly on writing the last couple of thousand as if something really momentous was happening.

    I shall definitely do it again next year and I can't recommend it enough. Wow!

  76. Emily Ashton on December 4, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    >I did NaNO!!! I finished with 50,360 words in 25 days. I learned that I could do it. Even with all the excuses I have to not do it. I work full time, have two elementary school age kids, and don't happen to have a chef or maid on staff, but I still did it!

    The best part was that I really like what I wrote. It needs serious revision. I am fully aware it will be a LONG time before it is ready for submission, but I still wrote it!

    I also learned that sometimes, you just have to start writing and see what the characters want to happen that day. There were several times I just started to get my word count going and was completely surprised by where I ended up.

  77. Jason on December 4, 2009 at 7:16 AM

    >I didn't do it either, but NaNo sounds like a great idea. I think I'll use some of the principles with my next novel…don't think, just type.

    As far as my writing journey is concerned, I'm learning that writing fiction is just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get…

  78. Tracey on December 4, 2009 at 7:15 AM

    >"If you didn't do NaNo, you can join in too. Tell us what you've learned about yourself through your recent writing journey."

    I learned that I have a very hard time writing when I'm worried about finances. I can't seem to focus on anything but being broke. And none of the characters' problems seem even marginally important compared to mine.

  79. Krista Phillips on December 4, 2009 at 7:03 AM

    >I didn't do NANO (November is a crazy busy month at work and I'd be out of my mind to try and do both) but my local writer's group does an October Marathon where we try to write as much as we can.

    I learned:

    I write much better, faster and more efficient when I have to "report" in to someone. Since I'm not on a contract, my deadlines are self-made. But when I had to report to everyone at the end of the month how I did… it gave me a MUCH bigger incentive to do well.

    When I get stuck… reread. The word count was coming in small, disappointing spurts at first… so I stopped, went back to the beginning, and reread my book so far. I found a few major issues, fixed them, and it put me on a new path to finish. The last week of the month is I'd finally finished my reread edit, and I got over 13k done just that week.

    And I'm proud to say… I FINISHED my book the first week of November! WOOHOO! Now on to editing!

  80. Ellen B on December 4, 2009 at 6:28 AM

    >Funny, I just posted something similar over on my own blog πŸ™‚

    I didn't do Nano, but my current WIP has taught me that too much outlining and knowing too much detail ahead of time aparlyses me a bit, and that I need lots of discovery in the process. Also, that I need to write faster!

    Wow, it took me way longer to say that in my own blog. Maybe I learned from this comment that I need to be less wordy πŸ˜‰

  81. Lydia Sharp on December 4, 2009 at 5:09 AM

    >I didn't participate in NaNo, but I think this is a great question.

    With every project I complete, I see my writing improve, and I try to stretch my skills just a little further with the next thing. The comfort zone is nice, but it can be dull at times.

    I recently started my third novel, and it has not just one new thing for me, but several. I'm enjoying the challenge, and it is turning out to be, what I feel is, one of my best projects so far. You never know what you're capable of until you try!

  82. Sandy Williams on December 4, 2009 at 3:48 AM

    >"How are all those hours 'in the chair' changing you?"

    Answer: My butt is bigger.

    Just kidding. Mostly. πŸ™‚

    I didn't do NaNo. I finished up my last WIP mid-November and was stalled for two weeks trying to decide what project to work on next. I did learn something this week, though. I'm much more productive when I have a crit partner to exchange chapters with. I think I'm a writer who has to have encouragement during the process. Otherwise, I doubt myself and freeze up with indecision. My crit partner loves my current WIP. Even if she didn't, I think I'd still be more productive than if I didn't have anyone reading my work. It's kind of an accountability thing.

  83. Rissa Watkins on December 4, 2009 at 3:35 AM

    >I did not do NaNo but I did push to finish my novel at the beginning of October. November was editing time, and so is December and probably January. sigh.

    I learned it is better for me if I slow down and edit more when I write, rather than try to get words on the page- then edit later.

  84. Lost Wanderer on December 4, 2009 at 3:31 AM

    >I learned that my experiments with outlining methods paid off, and I have finally found the perfect one for me, which is flexible enough to let me be creative, but focused enough so that I don't get lost half-way through the draft.

  85. Aimee LS on December 4, 2009 at 3:11 AM

    >At the end of October I received two full-manuscript critiques back from a published author and an agented writer. Talk about an eye-opener!

    No NaNoWriMo – November for me has been yet another revision, this time working on suggestions and changes from outside eyes. It's been daunting and hard to get momentum going, but boy, worth it!

    I think the thing I've learned most in the last few weeks would have to be that taking the hard shots from practiced eyes is the VERY BEST way to make my work better.