What WE learned from NaNoWriMo 2012

This year was Sooz’s third NaNoWriMo and Sarah’s first—needless to say, we learned a LOT about our writing processes. It doesn’t matter how many books you write, you always learn something new by the end of the ordeal (and trust us: writing is an ordeal. An amazing, fulfilling one, but an ordeal nonetheless).

We thought we’d compile a few things WE learned along with some lessons from the other Pub(lishing) Crawl gals who participated. We also want to hear what YOU learned if you participated in NaNoWriMo!

Oh, and stay tuned because we announce the winners of our NaNoWriMo critique giveaway at the bottom of this post! 😉

We Have to Know What We’re Writing

Sooz: For me, when I sit down at the computer, I HAVE to have at least a vague idea of what my next scene must accomplish. I tried—and failed—to write a few scenes without knowing the basics of the scene, and this led to rambling, pointless passages that I will inevitably get cut during revisions.

That said, the scenes I stepped into with a clear plan turned out pretty darn good. Even if I didn’t know the WHOLE story yet, I at least knew what was needed for that particular scene. Sure, those scenes will still need massive revising, but at least the bones are there. 🙂

Group Sprints Are a Great Writing Tool

Sarah: So, pretty early into NaNo Sooz and I got the idea that it’d be  fun to host a few writing sprints on twitter to get ourselves motivated each day. We were delighted (and a bit shocked) when our #NaNoWriMoBattles really took off and we found ourselves battling it out every day with a wonderful group of writers (both published and aspiring).

Honestly, these Battles are probably the main reason I “won” NaNo this year. Not only did participating in daily battles give me ZERO excuses not to write, but it also got me into the writing groove/mood hours earlier than I usually start every day. Even when I had NO idea what to write, I was forced to type SOMETHING—and often just writing pure garbage triggered ideas for what I *really* needed to be writing. The friendly competition was a huge motivator—not to mention, a great way to make new friends. Even though NaNo is over, I totally want to keep participating in group sprints whenever I can (though…maybe not every day, hehe).

 Keep Going Forward (And Don’t Look Back)

Sarah: So, even though I already knew this, participating in NaNo really reminded me of two things: One, I am ALLOWED to write first drafts that are pure crap; And Two, when I’m drafting, my main goal is to just FINISH THE MANUSCRIPT and not look back until I’m done. Yes, I make a few notes here and there about stuff to fix during my major first round of edits, but if I start obsessing about what’s already wrong with the manuscript (or stop to edit everything), I’ll never finish the first draft. Every writer’s creative process is different, but for ME, I can’t allow myself to look back at what I’ve written (unless it’s just to remind myself of what happened in the last scene). I just have to push aside the doubt and stress and all those negative voices and focus on telling the story and moving ahead. Revisions will come later.

Sooz: I am totally the same as Sarah, and I feel like all the published authors in the NaNoWriMo forum said something similar. You have to just keep pushing forward with a first draft. Even people who like to go back and edit some know that you can’t edit TOO much. You’ll never move forward if you obsess over what’s written. Worse, you might wind up cutting all those scenes during revisions, so you obsesesed for naught!

Everyone’s Creative Process is Different—Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

Sarah: This is a pretty obvious one, but it was just SO FUN to see so many different creative processes (especially during our #NaNoWriMoBattles). The world is chock-full of advice about the “right” way to write a book—but one of the things that NaNo reminded me about was that there’s no right or wrong way to go about drafting. If you write scenes out of order, if you have to write linearly (like me), if you write standing on your head… There’s no wrong way to do it, just as long as you finish that first draft.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. With my NaNo project, I actually changed up my typical writing process a bit, and it really helped me keep going. Part of the reason why I even had the courage to do that (believe me, I was freaked out the first time I switched it up a bit) was because I was witnessing so many different creative processes all at once, and figured if *they* could write in such a different manner, then I could, too. I’ll probably stick with my usual writing habits, BUT changing it up a little really helped me get through some trickier scenes/sections of the story.

Sooz: I too changed my process—this was the first time ever that I didn’t write in chronological order! I left huge gaps in my story that I know need filling…but if my Muse was going to be cooperative on X-scene, then alrighty! I just gave into what my Muse was telling me, and with the #NaNoWriMoBattles, it was really the only way I could keep on sprinting.

Every writer has a different process, and I truly every book has a different process. Like Sarah says, the important thing is to just finish a first draft. 🙂

We CAN Do It!

Sooz: I honestly wasn’t so sure I’d reach the end of NaNo. Not because I didn’t think I could write 50K—I know I can—but because I was definitely losing my mojo after 2/3rds of November. I didn’t feel like working at the same breakneck pace…but thanks to NaNo and ALL OF YOU, I kept going. Susan, FIGHTING!

Sarah: I don’t have much to add to what Sooz said, but NaNo REALLY reminded me of how much we can accomplish TOGETHER—when we encourage and push and challenge each other, when we celebrate each other’s successes. Being positive—about our own work, about each other—has a HUGE impact. It’s something I’d really like to carry with me always (and not just during NaNo)!

Lessons learned by other Pub(lishing) Crawlers

Leigh Bardugo

I didn’t officially participate in Nano this year, but I did dip my toe in. I learned I’m not quite as solitary as I thought. I really like joining in the sprints/battles, even when progress was sluggish.

Erin Bowman

I know the write-write-write and don’t-even-think-about-revising-until-later mentalities works for lots of people, but after completing two NaNos, I’m starting to realize I have much more success drafting in a 2-3 month window. I need to step back, re-read, edit lightly as I go, etc, and with NaNo, I forge ahead when I’m simply not ready. That being said, NaNo sprint battles were amazing. So much energy and friendly competition!

Julie Eshbaugh

My advice would be not to worry too much about writing your scenes in order. Feel free to skip some scenes and work on the scene that’s brewing in you at whatever time you happen to be at the computer.

Marie Lu

I personally hate writing the very first draft of a manuscript, and I much prefer revising to drafting. So I found it enormously helpful to force most of a draft out in such a short time, because I need to have something on the page to work with in order to feel comfortable. NaNo sprints were especially useful! I did have to stop and plan along the way, though; sometimes I had to pause for days at a time in order to outline, and I couldn’t help but edit along the way. This was my very first official NaNo. I think I’ll participate again next year!

Also, NaNo helped force me out of some old writing habits (i.e. only writing in the mornings). I found that I could step out of my comfort zone and adapt to new work environments.

You tell us: did you learn anything from NaNoWriMo 2012?

Oh, and to finally announce the winners of our Epic NaNoWriMo 2012 giveaway…these two writers win 5-page critiques from Sarah and Sooz:

Angelica Barone!


Alexa Y!

Woohoo!! Thank you SO much to everyone who participated in our giveaway—and to everyone who sprinted with us each day in the #NaNoWriMoBattle…and to everyone who dropped by our Pinterest board or NaNoWriMo forum. We could never have had such a successful NaNo 2012 without all of YOU. ♥


24 Responses to What WE learned from NaNoWriMo 2012

  1. Alexa Y. Dec 4 2012 at 9:52 am #

    So, I learned the following from NaNo this year:

    – I can write scenes out of order. I used to only be able to write linearly, but I tried writing out of order this time around and it actually really worked for me. Though I’m back to work filling in the gaps, I think it’s a lot easier for me to sense the general direction of a character’s story arc now…

    – Having a solid support community rocks, enough said. I think, for me, one of the best things about being a part of NaNoWriMo this year was the interaction I had with authors (published/aspiring) and bloggers. It was definitely, essentially, one of the reasons that I made it all the way to 50K – I had an incredibly supportive set of friends and fellow writers, and I continually felt encouraged to go on (especially on days when I got stuck).

    – Competition (the friendly kind) can be effective! #NaNoWriMoBattle was also an effective tool in getting me to write more! I wrote thousands of words just because of those 1-2 hours we spent “battling”, and I am going to be forever grateful for that. It was a great, playful way to challenge myself alongside other people. Plus, it was just plain fun and really, really cool to see that I was “battling” alongside some of my favorite authors!

    – The first draft may be mostly crap, but it’s still a FIRST DRAFT. Even just looking at the pages I managed to produce makes me smile. (The thought of edits though, not so much…)

    – I apparently write best late at night or in the late afternoon. NO morning writing (at least at this point in my life). I have also realized it is possible to be at a full-time job and still write, which I always thought would be impossible for me, personally.

    – I have realized I have a tendency to overuse certain words after I use them once in my manuscript. One of my apparent favorites this time around was “perhaps”.

    (Whew, this comment is getting LONG.)

    But you guys should have seen my face when I reached the end of the post and realized that I was one of the winners – it must have been priceless. I am SO EXCITED, and SO HONORED that two amazing authors, who I absolutely love and admire, will be reading something I’ve written. Can’t wait!

    • Sooz Dec 4 2012 at 10:32 am #

      AHHHHH! YAAAAAY!! I have to say, when the little Rafflecopter widget picked your name, I was super excited!! 😀

      Also: I definitely overuse the same words and action tags…and dialogue tags. But that’s what revisions are for–at least for me. 🙂 Oh, and I am a late afternoon or very early morning writer–also a lesson I learned this NaNo!

      • Alexa Y. Dec 4 2012 at 1:13 pm #

        I keep reading my stuff and it kind of makes me laugh because I notice how many times I use words/phrases in my story! Haha, good job on being able to write in the morning – I can barely make myself get out of bed!

    • Steph Dec 4 2012 at 10:55 am #

      Congrats!! Looks like we about learned the same things. 🙂 I saw you on some of the wordsprints. It’s very cool you won!

    • Sarah J. Maas Dec 4 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      YAYYYYY! I am so, so happy you won, Alexa! I can’t wait to read your stuff!!!! And I’m in the same boat as you and Sooz–I TOTALLY over-use certain words/tags. I totally ignore it when I’m drafting, but it becomes a giant pain (and embarrassment) when I’m revising. 😉

  2. Steph Dec 4 2012 at 10:52 am #

    This was my second nanowrimo. Second win. 🙂 However, this years experience was VASTLY different than last year’s, and it’s all thanks to both of you.

    Here is what I learned:

    – Last time I had an outline…this time, I kept changing my mind so much, I basically didn’t. For me to finish a draft, I NEED an outline at the very latest a few pages in. I have to know where I’m going, because I can’t write like mad if I don’t.

    – I really love YA Fantasy, last year I deliberately wrote my story without any fantasy aspects in it. After reading my draft in October, I decided I wanted to take those characters and their story, and give it the fantasy element I always wanted it to have. What did I learn? World building is NO joke. Seriously, I’ve always, always, always (can’t stress it enough) have had huge respect/admiration for authors who built worlds really well, but DUDE, that respect just quazillioned (official term). Seriously, that shit is HARD. I struggle with it still, but it’s cool, it’s something to work on and flesh out. 🙂

    – Twitter is cool. I only just really started using it during November for the sprints. Your wordsprints were SO fun. I cheated a couple of times and wrote along without even though I shouldn’t have (because umm… I was at work, I made up for it though, promise). I did join when I could, and it was the major thing that helped me get caught up and then some after a really slow start at the beginning of the month due to lack of outline.

    – So, I went into November with the goal of publishing my story (after heavy revisions of course). It never ever occurred to me that I could query my book to agents one day. However after finding your nanoforum and all the other authors on there, and getting some exposure to the fantastic community you guys belong to, I realized “why the hell wouldn’t I try to be published? Isn’t that really the dream? “. So…I’ve put my self-publishing thoughts away (not dissing it, just to be clear!), because I am so super inspired by you guys and others to go ahead and at least give getting published a shot. I’ve spent HOURS scouring with all this new found information/frame of mind, and I know it’s a long and trying road, but I think I can, so I will. 🙂 Fighting!

    The community of awesome is definitely one of the main things I learned about this time. 🙂

    Anyway, it’s corny, but thank you guys, Sooz & Susan, and also the rest of the pubcrawl peeps for what you do, because it’s so inspiring and cool to people like me. 🙂

    Congrats to the winners. 🙂 I saw alexa a lot during the nanosprints, so cool! Also, if you guys do more sprints, let me know what they are called, I loved them and will definitely participate as much as I can!

    • Sooz Dec 4 2012 at 11:10 am #

      Awww. This is…awesome. Just awesome. I starting clapping when I read the bit about trying to query and get published–DUDE, HELL YES. You CAN do it, so why not try? I am so freaking thrilled you made that decision after the sprints and NaNo forum–like, wow…O_O We had an impact! That is SO COOL. And inspiring. And heartwarming.

      And duuuuude, I feel you with the world-building. Even just enhancing the Real World with magic or creatures or what-have-you requires so much thought and logic and more thought. But it can also be so much fun. And when I read well-built worlds–GAH, I just want to crawl in the book and live there. Interestingly enough, Sarah and I had a long talk about that last week–about which books had worlds we so desperately wish were real. (Hmmm…maybe we should make that a PC post!)

      Anyway, your comment is awesome and has totally made my day. <3 Also, CONGRATS on winning!!

    • Alexa Y. Dec 4 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      I totally believe you can get published Steph! It is SO POSSIBLE, and I will definitely be rooting for you all the way. I’m a little intimidated by the idea of querying and publishing, but at the same time, that’s always been my dream. And hopefully it will happen for us both!

      And world-building is SO HARD. I started out writing this novel thinking I could make it dystopian or contemporary (which is, to me, slightly easier since I’m basing things off the real world), but it has morphed into a dystopian/fantasy mix. I’m still working on crafting the world and its rules, but it is very, very hard.

      Thank you for your sweet congratulations! <3

    • Sarah J. Maas Dec 4 2012 at 4:31 pm #

      You can TOTALLY get published, Steph! I am BEYOND thrilled to hear that you made the decision to try to get traditionally published! YAY!!!! 🙂 🙂

  3. Sorcha Dec 4 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    I definitely learned that it’s an amazing feeling to have a completed first draft, even if it’s a terrible one, rather than a half-finished MS!

    Also, that writing even when I didn’t feel like it could bring out really great scenes. For most of NaNo the ONLY writing I did was during the #NaNoWriMoBattles on Twitter and I still finished well before the deadline because of them, and had a lot more fun doing it than I would have alone.

    Now I’m terrified, but excited, to start revisions on the two first drafts I have in my back pocket! 😀

    • Sooz Dec 4 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      I was the same, Sorcha! I only worked on book 3 during the #NaNoWriMoBattles, and I still managed to hit 50K. It’s AMAZING how much you can accomplish in 1.5 hours of intense writing!

      And dude, doesn’t it feel AWESOME to type the end? Even if a book is a disaster, I always feel so proud when I hit the last scene. 😀

    • Sarah J. Maas Dec 4 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      “…writing even when I didn’t feel like it could bring out really great scenes.” YES! I totally realized that, too!!!! (Though it didn’t happen as often as I would have liked, lol.)

      GOOD LUCK with revisions!

  4. Kacey Dec 4 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    So I didn’t actually finish this year’s NaNo. I’ve won three times in the past, but this year as a freshman in college with all of the end-of-term work approaching, it just wasn’t happening. At least, that’s what I decided on the second day, and then a week and half later I changed my mind and decided to go for it anyways. But by that point I was just so far behind that I never caught up. I finished with just 20k, but it’s a story I already had 15k written of, so I’m pretty happy anyway.

    Things I learned: I definitely have to write linearly. In the past I was vehemently against this, but I always ended up with a graveyard of ideas where I had just written the scene(s) that initially inspired me and then completely lost interest. If I have a scene I’m really looking forward to up ahead, it makes ‘getting there’ much easier for me.

    I also definitely write best at night time. I already knew this, but the one thing that I *did* learn recently is that it’s a terrible idea when I have to up early for something (i.e. class). I had terrible insomnia for most of the month and couldn’t figure out why until I realized it happened on the nights I kicked out 2k right before trying to go to sleep. My mind is waaayy to busy after that to fall asleep for a couple hours, which is definitely a problem when it’s already 3 am when I go to bed!

    I also loved watching you girls’ #NaNoWriMoBattles on Twitter. Totally inspiring. I’m already looking forward to next November!

    • Sarah J. Maas Dec 4 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      Kacey, I’m usually a linear writer for EXACTLY the same reason! I use the scenes I’m excited to write as bait/reward for getting through the tougher parts! I changed it up a bit in NaNo just because I decided to trust myself to go back and later fill in some gaps, but I’m still a little nervous how this ms will turn out now… 😉

      I’m a total afternoon/night writer, too… I can barely function as a human being before noon most days. 😛

    • Sooz Dec 5 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Dude, I know the “graveyard of ideas”–I have SO MANY of those. I find that the only time I can work non-linearly is if it’s a book under contract–meaning I have a vague outline I have to adhere to, but I don’t always know how points will connect until I write the Big Cookie Scenes. 😉

      And also, I SO know the insomnia of which you speak. I suffer from that so badly (i.e. right now, for example, when I’m neck-deep in revision mode) and cannot turn my brain off. I have had to make it a rule that I don’t work past 10 o’clock. Otherwise I stay up all night in stress mode…

  5. Julie Dec 4 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I had so much fun participating in the #NaNoWriMoBattles! Even though, I didn’t cross the finish line with 50K…I at least feel good about what I accomplished. I wrote a little over 20K and I’m extremely happy with that. It’s given me a good start and to know where I’m heading with my story. Without the sprints…I would have had absolutely ZILCH! Thank you to Sooz and Sarah for giving us confidence and aspiring us to continue writing.

    It was exciting to know that I was writing a book along with the PubCrawl ladies — who have written books I LOVE. Your writing and advice inspire me every day! As Sarah mentioned, I would (once in a while) like to participate in battles again 🙂

    • Sarah J. Maas Dec 4 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      Hey, 20k is still AWESOME!!! GO YOU!

      And it was SO FUN battling with you! We will DEFINITELY try to do some Sprints at some point soon!!! 🙂

      • Sooz Dec 5 2012 at 11:50 am #

        WOOHOO for writing something! 20K is still freaking AWESOME, and I am so pleased to know me and Sarah helped motivate you. <3

        We will definitely do more battles in the future...maybe after I get these d*** novella revisions turned in and can work solely on book 3 again! 😀

  6. JQ Trotter Dec 4 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    This was my first year doing NaNoWriMo, and it was a great experience.

    I discovered that it helps me A LOT to have an outline for my writing. I can’t write without knowing what the next scene should accomplish, like Sooz said. I just go adrift if that happens and then the scene will be completely off point and deletable. So once I got an outline, with bullet points of what needs to happen and what should be accomplished to aid the overall plot, I did really well. I think it only took me a little over a week to hit the 50,000 word mark.

    It was the first time I wrote a manuscript through without stopping to revise as I go. Even though it was really rough when I finished it, at least I got a feel for the characters so that when I started to go back through to revise I knew who and what I was dealing with. Though, I did miss revising while I was writing…

    • Sooz Dec 5 2012 at 11:51 am #

      A WEEK?! O_O That is insanity! And awesome–totally AWESOME. I am so impressed.

      And yeah, I…can’t revise while I work. Mostly because even with a vague outline, I don’t know all the subplots or threads until I reach the very end. Then I have to go weave everything back in during revisions. But writers like you (and Erin Bowman) who can revise as you go make me SO JEALOUS. It must save so much time in the end… 😛

  7. Lori T. Dec 4 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    I learned a lot of things, like writing 50K in a month is daunting, exciting, and possibly one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. I didn’t have a lot of my novel outlined before Nov. 1, which scared me because I like to be more organized, but it worked out for me. I hit that 50K before the end of Nov. and I really, REALLY like what I’ve written. Sure, it needs tons of revising (and another thing I learned: one of my characters needs to be totally rewritten. The other day at work, I had different ideas for her, which requires a total rehaul of her character. It’s cool, though!)

    Another thing I learned a little more: writing can be an intimidating process. It’s a lot of work, a lot of effort, and you only want the best for it. Since I’ve had less-than-hopeful prospects from my first novel, I sometimes look at this new one and imagine going through the same journey of rejections. But, I’ll just have to get over that.

    I loved hearing about all the great NaNo Battles. Honestly, I was too chicken to join in. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with things like that, pressures and all, because if I set a goal for myself and can’t reach it, I get very depressed. So, I just hid away from Twitter then and read cool stuff later 😛

    One last thing I learned during NaNo: I really like when you post pictures of Norman Reedus on your blog, Susan. It totally makes my day!

    • Sooz Dec 5 2012 at 11:55 am #

      Dude. Norman Reedus is my celebrity crush right now. I even got Sarah into him. >)

      And yes, writing can be so intimidating. I TOTALLY know what you mean about looking at the newest MS and knowing you have to go through the same process all over again. That never changes. I look at every new book now and think, “Oh god, I have to draft it…then revise it for months…and then send it out to editors and feel the bitter sting of rejection for a few months (OR YEARS). Then if I ever do sell the book, I get to spend 2 years revising it some more.” That is, I’m afraid, just part of this whole publishing world–rejection and perseverance. You gotta just keep on FIGHTING even when there’s no end in sight.

      But I know you can do it, Lori. If I can–and if all these other pubbed authors out there can–then I have absolute faith you can too.

      Also, I know what you mean about getting depressed. I am totally the same, but eventually I stopped being *quite* so hard on myself… But some self-cruelty is good since it keeps you motivated and disciplined. 😉 Maybe you’ll participate in future battles–or not. It’s all about what’s comfortable for you. <3

      • Lori T. Dec 5 2012 at 8:42 pm #

        Thanks Susan! I really think you have more faith in me than I ever could have myself, which makes me feel the need to work harder, to write the absolute best work I can possibly write. And it definitely helps to hear when other authors, published ones, have the same fears and anxieties that I have when it comes to writing. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in getting depressed over my writing or the anxieties that come along with the unknown. I know many would say not to be too hard on yourself, but like you said, it can be helpful sometimes. And I guess, someday, it’ll all feel completely worth it!

        Oh Norman…I could go on all day about him. How bad does it suck that The Walking Dead won’t be back until Feb. 10? *Sighs* Way to go with getting Sarah on board with the Norman Love! I still kick myself over not going to that convention back in the summer that he was at…I could’ve met him!! Dang! *hangs head in shame*

  8. Maddie Marie Dec 15 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    I, sadly, did not win NaNo. This was my first attempt at writing a full book (I’m more of a short story kinda person), but I’m still pretty proud of myself for getting as far as I did! I am still working on my story, and I don’t think I would have gotten as far as I have without NaNo.

    I learned, I get easily distracted. Like, super easily. I will be writing and then I- Oh look, a butterfly…

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