How NaNoWriMo Shaped My Writing Process

One of the most common questions I receive from readers and at events is about my writing process.

I don’t remember exactly when I started writing my first middle grade book, only that I started querying it in 2011. It could have been 2009 or even 2008. The reason I don’t know is that it took me FOREVER to write a first draft (and that the laptop I had back then crashed, so all files have the same date from the reboot). Aaaanyway, I couldn’t stop myself from revising while drafting, so I’d spend weeks on each chapter before moving on to the next. Somehow I finally got to the end of that book, but it was TORTURE.

Then, I learned about National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write a novel during the month of November–or at least 50,000 words of a novel. There’s a whole community of writers encouraging each other through the month (you can learn more about it here if you’re interested: That year, 2011, the timing worked out quite well for me to start my next project, which was another middle grade. I completed a full draft of the book during the month of November, and my life was forever changed. Here’s why:

By setting a goal of 50,000 words within a set amount of time, I could not waste time revising while I drafted.

So, basically, NaNoWriMo revolutionized drafting for me. It forced me to keep moving forward until I reached the end of the story.

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo since 2011, but it’s only because the timing has never worked out where I’ve been ready to draft a new project in November. I definitely would if I were at the drafting stage (currently doing research for a new project so not there yet).

However, as I stated at the beginning, I utilize the lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo. Here’s how:

  1. Set a word count goal. As I write YA, I usually start with around 75,000 words and adjust if it looks like I’m running long.
  2. Set an end date. I only write on weekdays, and I aim for about 2,000 per day, so that usually ends up being about two months out.

Those are the two main lessons. Everything else is details. For me, I use Scrivener, which allows me to set a goal, end date, and writing days within the program, so it notifies me when I’ve met my word count each day. I stop when I reach the goal, even if I’m in the middle of a scene, because I like to start a new day with momentum. I also don’t start drafting until I have a decent outline, which puts me in the plotter camp of the pantser/plotter question. I definitely have to know where I’m going to reach the end!

Every writer has to find their own process. This is the process that works for me, and I’m so grateful I participated in NaNoWriMo in 2011. Best of luck to everyone participating this year! If you are and willing to share what you’re working on, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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