Winning at NaNoWriMo

It’s official: I’ve won!

Here are some things that I’ve learned from setting out to partake in NaNoWriMo…

Don’t muck around with the goal settings on your NaNoWriMo profile!

I got fancy with changing my goal from the NaNoWriMo standard of 50,000 words to 80,000 words, then 75,000 words. Then, through frantic clicking, because I didn’t get the “Congratulations, you won!” auto response I was expecting, I ended up with “0” words, from 75,238 words. Not a great feeling! I confessed it all to the NaNo support team but didn’t hear back, so today I re-entered the final word count and ended up with the Winner badge. I hope it doesn’t look like I cheated just to win. If I get flagged for investigation, I can prove I legitimately wrote that many words in 19 days.

I can write way more than I ever thought I could.

Which means I’ve been living with limited expectations of myself. Having said that, in writing my first novel I had a lot to learn, so it took a long time. Writing a 20,000-word novella in two months was challenging, but easier. This is my second full-length novel, so it should theoretically take me less time than the first novel. I wonder how quickly I’ll be able to draft my sixth or tenth novel. Of course, there’ll be times when it’ll be a lot harder to get a story down, but the expectation is that writing books should get “easier” with more experience.

Trying out new things is important.

Life is challenging, so we develop routines to make it easier and more predictable. But beware of the routine trap because you simply won’t evolve if you’re operating at a comfortable level all the time. I thought writing a thousand words a day was hard enough, but I made it harder for myself by believing that. Now it’ll be hard not to write at least a thousand words a day when I’m drafting a story.

I’ve discovered a new writing process.

Writing the first draft isn’t about writing something great or perfect; it’s about getting all those ideas—that would have otherwise been chaotically floating about in your head and in your notes—into the framework of a story.

Writing in a rapid, focused manner in word sprints really works.

I didn’t write off the top of my head just to get the words out. There was a lot of intent that went before each sprint. I found the more notes I had on the scene before writing it, the easier the sprint went. I’m so happy that I’ve picked up a new skill in focus and productivity.

Make time to write and write whenever you can.

I had this idea going in that I would have a routine schedule every day for my word sprints and that I wouldn’t have to deviate that much from it, but that wasn’t the case at all. The only time my word sprints routinely happened was when I woke up early. For all the other times, I wrote whenever I had a chance. Even if I didn’t feel like it, I forced myself to take any opportunity that was there, or else I’d be stuck trying to squeeze in three or four sprints in the evening. Nope! That would feel like homework, which I’ve always hated.

It’s okay to have lofty goals.

I wouldn’t think to do something crazy like lose twenty pounds in a week because that would be setting myself up for failure. So I’m not quite sure what made me think I could write 80,000 words in a month. It was just an idea at first, and I worked out that it’s doable if I could write 2667 words each day. I wasn’t sure if I could, but I had to try.

I was up against a lot because I TYPE MEGA SLOWLY. I can’t type more than 59 words per minute (I seem to have a psychological barrier to “60 WPM”). I seriously didn’t think I could do this 50K word thing but that maybe I could if I permitted myself to write imperfectly with typos and plot flaws. The fact that I wrote a 75,000-word draft in three weeks is proof that it’s not about speed, it’s about daily consistency, persistence, and writing whenever the chance arises. I managed to average 3500 words a day, something I never thought I could do. EVER. Now I hope to one day be able to write 10,000 words a day.

It’s not about the word count. It’s about the words.

While this whole practice has been centered around counting your words written each day, it ultimately is about writing because you love it enough to do it with commitment. I know I didn’t write quality words and that I have my work cut out for me in my revisions, but at no point was I stressed out over hitting my daily goal. I knew that even if I only ended up writing 25,000 words, the whole point was to get my book started and to work on it every single day.


If life permits, I hope to do NaNo again next year. This was a really fun and life-changing experience for me, and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to give it a try!

Author: Donna Fernandez

Author of contemporary fiction.