5 Things to take away from your Nanowrimo experience

Whether or not you’ve actually finished your novel–and I certainly haven’t–Nanowrimo is now officially over. Hopefully you spent yesterday basking in your Nanowrimo glory(I personally spent it sick as a dog), because now it’s time to think about December and 2014.

The best way to figure out what you should be doing over the next few weeks and into the new year is to start by looking at where you are now. Take a look at your experience last month and figure out the following things:

1. How much you can write in a day with focus– this helps you set realistic goals. During Nanowrimo odds are you really pushed yourself. What’s the most you can write in a day you’ve set aside on the weekend? What’s the most you can accomplish on a day when you have your regular work or school? You can aim to increase this, or you can make your focus on optimizing your environment and schedule to maximize your writing output. Or maybe you just want to devote one full day a week to writing and do a minimum amount on the rest. Take a look at what you can realistically accomplish and set it up in the way that works best for you.

2. What distracts you from writing most often– what were your biggest distractions during Nanowrimo? Odds are, apart from maybe getting your Christmas shopping done before the crowds get too bad, those are your biggest distractions the rest of the year too. Now that you’re aware of them, you can create a strategy to avoid them. Of course writing all day every day is usually a good strategy for burnout, so the ideal way to deal with these is more to pick and choose the distractions you’ll actually allow to get in the way of your writing time. Most of those things are a valuable part of the human experience too, but the key is to balance them with your writing so you never stop working on your goals.

3. Whether you prefer plotting or pantsing– even if this was your first Nanowrimo and the first novel you’ve ever written, you certainly know how it went for you this time. Whichever route you took, if you struggled hard to keep your novel going throughout the month that means it’s time to try the other method. Of course, for some people writing a novel is always a struggle, but everybody prefers to work differently, and knowing how you work best means you can work with maximum efficiency all the time. Make sure that whatever you’re working on in the coming months, you take the approach you know works best for you.

4. What you want to do with your novel– you might not even want to finish it, or you might want to commit to editing it and someday publishing it. If you came out the other end of your novel hating every word of it, you probably won’t want to commit to the long editing process, though it’s important to save these novels because you might just change your mind about it in ten years. If you still love your novel, commit to editing it, but wait a few weeks before you start. You need a break from it and time to work on something else so that when you return to it you can see it more clearly.

5. What you can accomplish in a month– you may nove have won, but either way now you know how much writing you can realistically accomplish in a month. You can use this information to set goals for the future. Do you want to commit to writing that much every month for a few months? Is your goal to finish your novel–and writing the most you can drag out of yourself, how long will that take? If you turn the word count goal into blog posts, how many posts is that in a month? By focusing on page count instead of word count, you can figure out what you can accomplish on any project.

Of course, if you’ve ignored all your other responsibilities–like sleep–to write, you will want to make your goals smaller. You can’t ignore life outside writing all year, so figure out how much time you’ll have to devote to those responsibilities now that Nanowrimo’s over, and how much you can accomplish in the time you’ll have left. This is really easy if you recorded the amount of hours you spent writing, because then you can figure out how much you can write in an hour and go from there.

There are many other lessons that can be learned from Nanowrimo–what’s hardest for you to write, how to push past writer’s block, how it feels to be part of a writing community–but these five things are essential to know to move forward in your writing career.

On Friday we’ll be talking about organizing your writing life to maximize the potential of your writing time in the coming month and the new year, and what systems you can put in place to keep yourself focused.