What I learned from Nanowrimo 2017


Nanowrimo. When writers around the globe battle to finish a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. 

Have you finished your novel? How was Nano for you this year?

I've only joined Nano three times, the first in 2013, then 2015 and now 2017. All have been successful attempts, only because I'm a terribly competitive person and hate to lose any challenge.

While I think it's great to write a novel in a month and all, unless you do it with a goal in mind, Nano can be a pointless exercise.

I learn something new about my writing process each time I do Nano because I set out to test out new techniques or spot weaknesses in my writing than I need to improve on. Whether I "win" or "fail", Nano will always be a learning experience for me:


I wanted to see if I could write a 50k novel. I found out I could but it was an incoherent mess of a draft. Although it formed the basis of my space opera series, I ended up not using what I wrote in 2013 and started from scratch instead. (However, I carved bits of that manuscript into short stories and novellas, so all is not lost!)


I was intrigued with the idea of being a Nano Rebel. I realised I enjoyed switching from project to project and that's probably my natural writing style and process. As a result, I had no trouble at all hitting 50k words.


This year I wanted to see if a) my writing speed has improved b) I could write a workable draft c) I could finish the novel e) spot any weaknesses in my writing I can improve on.

The first few days of Nano was a breeze as you can see from the graph below. I easily wrote 3000-4000 words in two hours. (Deep Work techniques helped me immensely!) However, I was hit by a cold in the middle of the month, and had a couple of personal matters I had to deal with, and as a result didn't write for almost a week. By Day 25, I was pretty sure I would fail this Nanowrimo, but something in me spurred me on and I ended up writing 7,000 words in a day. I was exhausted the day after and instead decided to switch projects to the memoir I was working on. This gave me a third burst of enthusiasm to finally finish writing 50,000 words.

All in all this was a very challenging Nanowrimo, though it gave me hope that I truly can complete my novel in a month if I fine tune certain things.

Nanowrimo stats

This year, I learned that:

If I have an outline, I can write a lot faster

I spent the whole of October writing an outline for the third novel of my space opera series, tentatively named Blood Cenotaph. In 2013, it was a struggle to produce even 2000 words after hours and hours of writing in one day. This year, I can write 3,000-5,000 words in two to three hours.

Still, I probably need more time to percolate the novel 

Act I and part of Act II was very detailed, and I could picture the events in my head. The words just flew off the keyboard. But the rest of Act II was a blur.  I analysed what went wrong and realised crucial things about the plot wasn't properly fleshed out and that there were logical problems.

Solution: Start writing the outline months before, perhaps in August. Have a set of questions to ensure that the world building is solid, and maybe use mind-mapping to brainstorm ideas for the novel.

I need to strengthen my Act II plotting skills

This has been consistent all my writing years, and I realise I need to improve on this or else I'll have this problem over and over again.

Solution: I plan to read books in my genre and plot it out to see what the authors did, and I'm also reading books on story structure such as Story Grid and Story Engineering.

I need to improve my description

I realised that I slow down quite a bit when I write descriptions.

Solution: Read books whose authors excel in description, practice writing description as often as I can.

I should not push myself beyond my limits

Anne R Allen wrote an interesting post on how Nanowrimo isn't for everyone. She urged writers to take care of their health and well-being first and foremost. I have a tendency to push myself beyond my limits; I often put my health a distant second last or something. After completing Nanowrimo 2013, I promptly fell ill. The late nights struggling to produce the words really did a number on me.

This year, when I had that bad cold in the middle of November, I was tempted to do what I used to do: Soldier on and write. This time, I said no. I rested, I read, I took naps. To hell with the writing. And I still finished anyway.

* * * 

All in all, Nanowrimo 2017 was a satisfying effort. I managed to finish a workable novel draft albeit with big holes in Act II, but I'm confident that I can build on this draft rather than chuck it away and start anew like I did with the 2013 draft. I have also finished my memoir on my time in Australia, but I forsee a lot of work ahead of me as it's an emotionally challening topic for me and I'm holding back a lot. As a result, the memoir isn't as effective as I want it to be.

In 2018, I hope to improve enough to complete a workable draft with less holes in the middle and, of course, speed up my word output.

How did your Nano go?