What NaNoWriMo Taught Me About Writing

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me About Writing

It’s December 1. National Novel Writing Month is over. But before we get back to business as usual and forget about that time a law blog focused on fiction for a month, here’s a look back at the month and what it taught me about writing, and the importance of building a strong writer’s community.

This post is part of a month-long social media takeover by writer and owner Lisa Schmidt in honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In addition to writing blogs, web content and legal briefs, Lisa is a fiction writer. During the month of November, she is taking a break from legal writing to focus on the more creative side of the craft. Learn more about NaNoWriMo and follow Lisa’s 30-day writing journey on Your Law Geek’s Facebook or Instagram pages.

And the Winner Is…

I have been writing in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) since 2012. The goal of the project is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. If you do that you “win”. Before 2020, I had won exactly once. In 2014 I snuck over the finish line on November 30 with a non-fiction work about student’s rights in school. (Hey, what can I say, I am Your Law Geek after all). Other years I might get 15,000 to 20,000 words sprinkled into all my other obligations.

So How Did NaNoWriMo 2020 Go?

What NaNoWriMo Taught Me About Writing

In a word, I smashed it. (Okay three words.) I hit the 50,000 word mark on November 15 and just kept writing. By midnight on November 30 I had over 110,000 words and only one more chapter before I can type “The End.”

I also got to know several fellow writers within the NaNo Los Angeles community, and hosted write-ins through The SheHive in Ferndale, Michigan where writers from Michigan, California, and even Canada could come together and write. I provided prompts, structure, and friendly motivation to help them meet their personal writing goals. The writers were each working on their own projects, from screenplays to Young Adult novels, to memoirs, but we all found inspiration and motivation from working alongside other writers working toward the same goal.

Looking Back at a Month of Successful Writing

Any time a project or challenge comes to a close, it can be tempting to simply pack it up and move on to the next thing. Especially in the legal world, we are often pressured to make the next deadline and never take time to look back at what we have accomplished. So before NaNoWriMo goes riding into the sunset, I’d like to take a moment to share what I learned.

Hi My Name is Lisa, and I’m a Plotter

In the world of NaNoWriMo, you’re either a “Plotter” or an “Pantser”. Plotters spend the month of October carefully planning out what they will write, who their characters are, and what their plot will be. Pantsers start on November 1 with a situation and maybe a character or two and explore as they go. People who take a little from Column A and a little from Column B are called “Plantsers”.

This year, starting in August, I hosted Chasing Your Tale: Building Your Writer’s Toolkit at The SheHive. This workshop is all about strategies to help you build a strong writing habit, and overcome writer’s block. The process of working through world building, character development, and story arcs ahead of time set me up for success. By the time I hit November 1 I knew where I was going and who (my characters) I was taking along for the journey. The story basically wrote itself.

Plotting isn’t the right strategy for every writer. Steven King is a notoriously successful Pantser. But if November left you feeling like you kept hitting dead ends and having to climb over walls of writing block, maybe you should consider building a toolkit for your next project. Chasing Your Tale is returning in January. It is a 6-week virtual class for women writers that takes you from idea generation to defeating writer’s block while writing your draft. You can get your tickets here:

My Professor was Right: Write Every Day

When I was a young rebellious college student, my fiction writing professor said that to be a successful writer you must write every day. I was full of objections:

  • What about weekends?
  • Certainly not on holidays!
  • What am I supposed to do when I’m not inspired, or my muse is silent?

Well, my professor is right (don’t tell him I said that). In previous years I would let a day or two or maybe even three slide by without a writing session, counting on the fact that I’d make it up on the weekends. I didn’t. When I finally did open the project again, I had forgotten what was going on and what I wanted to do next. That meant getting started again was slow.

This year I committed to writing every day. I put write-ins into my calendar and turned down projects to make space for my own writing. That meant I never fell behind, and my word count just kept growing.

Don’t Write Alone

The hardest days for my writing were the ones without a formal event or meetup. They were the days when I was writing alone. One thing NaNoWriMo excels at is partnering writers with “Municipal Liaisons” (MLs) to motivate them and drive them to success. The MLs I met this year were amazing. They were up at the crack of dawn with 7am Facebook write-ins. They stayed up all night with the night owls in a “Blanket Fort” marathon session. They were there until the very end, encouraging people to push past the finish line at 11:00 on the 30th.

NaNoWriMo may be over, but that doesn’t mean writers don’t still need support. One way to do that is through a read-and-critique group. These writer support groups meet regularly to share their work, get feedback, and work through tricky situations that come up while writing. A good critique group will give you helpful advice and help you close plot holes that may have made perfect sense in your own head.

In the interest of writing together, I am also launching the Word Crafters’ Workshop. This is a read-and-critique support group for women writers who want to commit to finishing and polishing their projects. Our first session is December 21, so get your tickets now:

Every Experience is a Learning Experience

Just like it is important to acknowledge what went well, even a successful writing experience has things it can teach us for next time. NaNoWriMo 2021 may feel far away, but writing opportunities abound. So what can you learn from what you did this year?

For me, I learned that I am a better writer in the morning, before the business of the day catches up with me. I rarely regret dragging myself out of bed to write (even when it means I accidentally skip breakfast). I also learned that I need to be intentional about building in action scenes or my natural tendencies will make my writing overly introspective and plodding.

So What’s My Plan for Next Year?

  • Take pre-writing seriously and do the plotting work ahead of time
  • Keep my writing friends close and encourage them along the way
  • Build in accountability to stay on course
  • Start early and write every day, at least for a little while

The fiction writing journey doesn’t end on December 1. While this blog will be returning to its regularly scheduled law-writing content, my fiction writing and workshops continue. Thank you to all who came along with me on this journey, and to all my fellow Wrimos, I say, “Happy Writing!”

Lisa J. Schmidt is a writer, owner of Your Law Geek, and facilitator of Chasing Your Tale: Building Your Writer’s Toolkit hosted by the SheHive in Ferndale, Michigan. If you want to write along with Lisa, sign up for the Word Crafters’ Workshop or contact Lisa directly here.


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