Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Life Lessons from NaNoWriMo

I realize that most people have posted about the end of NaNoWriMo already and I am a little bit behind, but I think it took a few extra days for me to process the things that I learned this year.


To get the official report behind us, I won – 50152 words officially counted by the Office of Letters and Light, and I passed 53358 before I took a much needed break from my characters. The story is not over, but I really needed to step away for a bit and let it simmer in a drawer before tackling the ending and the edits.

Now on to the things I learned this year in NaNo — lessons that can not only be applied to trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but also to life.

1) It is easier with friends. The first two NaNos I participated in were a lone venture. My husband knew what I was doing but that was about it. I was afraid that too much talking about my story on the forums would ruin it and I knew my capacity for slacking off was most obvious when I started to poke around on the internet, so I avoided the site completely except to update my word count. Last year, my faithful husband participated with me and we both won. It was easier because I wasn’t going through it alone, and I enjoyed it more because I could talk about the plot challenges and how much my characters were driving me up a wall and he understood. This year I could not convince him to sign up, so I reached out to some fellow bloggers and the folks on the Facebook NaNo page and made some buddies. They gave me encouragement when I needed it most! (Thanks Morgaine!!)

2) It is possible to do something just for the fun of it. I did not go into this year’s NaNo with any ideas. I had no plot, no character, nothing. I did not expect or plan on publishing this one and if it ever sees the light of day again remains to be seen. And that is okay. I enjoyed it. I embraced the challenge. I didn’t do it for glory or money (HaHa!). I did it just because. And sometimes that is a darn good reason.

3) I realized this year after deleting over 19,000 words on day 11 that I have more tenacity and fight in me than I ever thought. It never occurred to me to throw in the towel. I just started over and kept writing. I think all of us have hidden strengths and inherent pluckiness that we are unaware of. It will pour out of you when you least expect it. And it is wonderful.

4) You truly do have enough time and energy to do something you love. Everyone always seems to complain about not having enough hours in the day, days in the week, to get things done. I know I am guilty of this. It seems you run from day job to errands to chores to the couch to watch some mindless TV and then repeat the whole thing again the next day. You don’t feel like you have the time or energy to do anything fun. Well, I am here to tell you that you do. It may be an hour here, fifteen minutes there, but if the project matters enough, if it speaks to your soul, you will grab those minutes and use them up.

5) Not reading saps my creativity. I always worry that if I read during NaNo I will not only not have time to write, but I will inadvertently steal ideas from the books I am reading. This month I found that after two weeks of not reading and only trying to write in my spare minutes, my creative juices were drying up, and I couldn’t think of a single thing to write. I was dragging my characters along kicking and screaming and they were hating it as much as I was. I think we need to fill the well, feed the muse and just allow ourselves to relax sometimes with a good book – even in the midst of a crazy month and a looming deadline.

6) I am a better planner than a pantser. While sometimes writing by the seat of your pants will cause the most unexpected things to fly out the tips of your fingers onto the screen, I think I will plan and outline the next novel. I am not a hard-core planner and will definitely leave wiggle room for my muses to whisper ideas. But I know now that having no idea of where I am going and who I am on the journey with is much more difficult for me than to sit down ahead of time and flesh some characters out and outline some basic plot points. 🙂

7) You do not have to be an expert. Truly. You do not need to be a published author to write a book, and you do not need to be an expert on anything to write about it. First drafts are always bad! And it helps to remind yourself of this as you write. Perfection is highly over-rated and is probably responsible for more unfulfilled dreams than fear.

8) As E.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t always have to know what is around the corner or where your journey will take you. Sometimes you have to take it one step at a time and have faith that you will find your way.

Also, deep breathing and wine helps… in all things. 🙂


  1. I struggle with #4, but after doing NaNoWriMo where I’m forced to write every day, I realize I have more than enough time to get my writing in.

    • I used to love the “busy” drug! Oh, I was busy busy busy! It made me feel important. Now I much prefer leaving the busy-ness to others and spending any free time pursuing something I am passionate about! 🙂



  3. On planning vs pantsing – I find that when it comes to tackling my novel-sized writing ideas, it is a tremendous help (and also fun) to have an outline and character bios; but it still leaves room for spontaneous discoveries along the way. Like your quote says, it’s like driving at night in the fog. With a plan in place, at least I know where the road ultimately ends up.

    • Yes, that quote really struck a chord with me. 🙂 Even with outlines and bios, you can still only see one scene at a time. If I focus on the scene before me, and not worry about what may be up ahead -beyond the glare of my headlight – it all seems to fall into place. 🙂

  4. phoenixrisesagain

    You are very welcome ~ and mind you I would not have made that last week without you! Thanks! You have learned an awful lot :-). But funny that I have realised I am more a pantster than a planner even though I think I am a kind of bit of both. It’s important to have most of the information about the characters and a line along the plot goes. But I suppose mine will always go its own ways. That is just how my creativity works. Great post!

    • Thank you!! 🙂 every time I do NaNo I learn something new about myself and my muse.

      • phoenixrisesagain

        🙂 that’s the spirit ~ have a great day!

  5. Great reminders here, Cheryl. I love that you say it’s possible to do something for the fun of it. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves with writing in general and with NaNo specifically. 50,000 words is just a suggested goal. Even if you don’t meet that goal there’s no rule that says you can’t keep writing. I can understand ditching the effort if you didn’t like your story, but if you love it? Just keep writing.

    • I agree. While cruising the NaNo forums in October, it always amazes me how many people are already planning how to publish their 50,000 words. I think the draft you end up with at the end of November is so far from a draft that is ready for the world to see… To put that kind of pressure on your fledgling story idea is almost setting people up to fail. Maybe that is why so many people drop out? They are. So caught up in creating a publishable manuscript in thirty days that they forget to enjoy the ride. That is what NaNo is for me – a wild ride, and one that I have taken on just for the pure joy of putting words on paper.


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