Pub(lishing) Crawl: What WE learned from NaNoWriMo 2012

This year was Sooz’s third NaNoWriMo and Sarah’s first–needless to say, we learned a LOT about our writing processes. It doesn’t matter how many books you write, you always learn something new by the end of the ordeal (and trust us: writing is an ordeal. An amazing, fulfilling one, but an ordeal nonetheless).

We thought we’d compile a few things WE learned along with some lessons from the other Pub(lishing) Crawl gals who participated. We also want to hear what YOU learned if you participated in NaNoWriMo!

Oh, and stay tuned because we announce the winners of our NaNoWriMo critique giveaway at the bottom of this post! 😉

We Have to Know What We’re Writing

Sooz: For me, when I sit down at the computer, I HAVE to have at least a vague idea of what my next scene must accomplish. I tried–and failed–to write a few scenes without knowing the basics of the scene, and this led to rambling, pointless passages that I will inevitably get cut during revisions.

That said, the scenes I stepped into with a clear plan turned out pretty darn good. Even if I didn’t know the WHOLE story yet, I at least knew what was needed for that particular scene. Sure, those scenes will still need massive revising, but at least the bones are there. 🙂

Group Sprints Are a Great Writing Tool

Sarah: So, pretty early into NaNo Sooz and I got the idea that it’d be  fun to host a few writing sprints on twitter to get ourselves motivated each day. We were delighted (and a bit shocked) when our #NaNoWriMoBattles really took off and we found ourselves battling it out every day with a wonderful group of writers (both published and aspiring).

Honestly, these Battles are probably the main reason I “won” NaNo this year. Not only did participating in daily battles give me ZERO excuses not to write, but it also got me into the writing groove/mood hours earlier than I usually start every day. Even when I had NO idea what to write, I was forced to type SOMETHING–and often just writing pure garbage triggered ideas for what I *really* needed to be writing. The friendly competition was a huge motivator–not to mention, a great way to make new friends. Even though NaNo is over, I totally want to keep participating in group sprints whenever I can (though…maybe not every day, hehe).

 Keep Going Forward (And Don’t Look Back)

Sarah: So, even though I already knew this, participating in NaNo really reminded me of two things: One, I am ALLOWED to write first drafts that are pure crap; And Two, when I’m drafting, my main goal is to just FINISH THE MANUSCRIPT and not look back until I’m done. Yes, I make a few notes here and there about stuff to fix during my major first round of edits, but if I start obsessing about what’s already wrong with the manuscript (or stop to edit everything), I’ll never finish the first draft. Every writer’s creative process is different, but for ME, I can’t allow myself to look back at what I’ve written (unless it’s just to remind myself of what happened in the last scene). I just have to push aside the doubt and stress and all those negative voices and focus on telling the story and moving ahead. Revisions will come later.

Sooz: I am totally the same as Sarah, and I feel like all the published authors in the NaNoWriMo forum said something similar. You have to just keep pushing forward with a first draft. Even people who like to go back and edit some know that you can’t edit TOO much. You’ll never move forward if you obsess over what’s written. Worse, you might wind up cutting all those scenes during revisions, so you obsesesed for naught!

Everyone’s Creative Process is Different–Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

Sarah: This is a pretty obvious one, but it was just SO FUN to see so many different creative processes (especially during our #NaNoWriMoBattles). The world is chock-full of advice about the “right” way to write a book–but one of the things that NaNo reminded me about was that there’s no right or wrong way to go about drafting. If you write scenes out of order, if you have to write linearly (like me), if you write standing on your head… There’s no wrong way to do it, just as long as you finish that first draft.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. With my NaNo project, I actually changed up my typical writing process a bit, and it *really* helped me keep going. Part of the reason why I even had the courage to do that (believe me, I was freaked out the first time I switched it up a bit) was because I was witnessing so many different creative processes all at once, and figured if *they* could write in such a different manner, then I could, too. I’ll probably stick with my usual writing habits, BUT changing it up a little really helped me get through some trickier scenes/sections of the story.

Sooz: I too changed my process–this was the first time ever that I didn’t write in chronological order! I left huge gaps in my story that I know need filling…but if my Muse was going to be cooperative on X-scene, then alrighty! I just gave into what my Muse was telling me, and with the #NaNoWriMoBattles, it was really the only way I could keep on sprinting.

Every writer has a different process, and I truly every book has a different process. Like Sarah says, the important thing is to just finish a first draft. 🙂

We CAN Do It!

Sooz: I honestly wasn’t so sure I’d reach the end of NaNo. Not because I didn’t think I could write 50K–I know I can–but because I was definitely losing my mojo after 2/3rds of November. I didn’t feel like working at the same breakneck pace…but thanks to NaNo and ALL OF YOU, I kept going. Susan, FIGHTING!

Sarah: I don’t have much to add to what Sooz said, but NaNo REALLY reminded me of how much we can accomplish TOGETHER–when we encourage and push and challenge each other, when we celebrate each other’s successes. Being positive–about our own work, about each other–has a HUGE impact. It’s something I’d really like to carry with me always (and not just during NaNo)!

Lessons learned by other Pub(lishing) Crawlers

“I didn’t officially participate in Nano this year, but I did dip my toe in. I learned I’m not quite as solitary as I thought. I really like joining in the sprints/battles, even when progress was sluggish.”

–Leigh Bardugo

“I know the write-write-write and don’t-even-think-about-revising-until-later mentalities works for lots of people, but after completing two NaNos, I’m starting to realize I have much more success drafting in a 2-3 month window. I need to step back, re-read, edit lightly as I go, etc, and with NaNo, I forge ahead when I’m simply not ready. That being said, NaNo sprint battles were amazing. So much energy and friendly competition!”

–Erin Bowman

“My advice would be not to worry too much about writing your scenes in order. Feel free to skip some scenes and work on the scene that’s brewing in you at whatever time you happen to be at the computer.”

–Julie Eshbaugh

“I personally hate writing the very first draft of a manuscript, and I much prefer revising to drafting. So I found it enormously helpful to force most of a draft out in such a short time, because I need to have something on the page to work with in order to feel comfortable. NaNo sprints were especially useful! I did have to stop and plan along the way, though; sometimes I had to pause for days at a time in order to outline, and I couldn’t help but edit along the way. This was my very first official NaNo. I think I’ll participate again next year!

Also, NaNo helped force me out of some old writing habits (i.e. only writing in the mornings). I found that I could step out of my comfort zone and adapt to new work environments.”

–Marie Lu

You tell us: did you learn anything from NaNoWriMo 2012?

Oh, and to finally announce the winners of our Epic NaNoWriMo 2012 giveaway…these two writers win 5-page critiques from Sarah and Sooz:

Angelica Barone!


Alexa Y!

Woohoo!! Thank you SO much to everyone who participated in our giveaway–and to everyone who sprinted with us each day in the #NaNoWriMoBattle…and to everyone who dropped by our Pinterest board or NaNoWriMo forum. We could never have had such a successful NaNo 2012 without all of YOU. ♥