How to Use NaNoWriMo to Improve as a Writer

Blair Hurley reposted her thoughts on why she said “no” to NaNoWriMo. I’ve read this article before, but I figured I would post my response to it this year. As I was writing my comment, I realized there are important steps one must take to use NaNoWriMo as a tool to improve one’s craft, instead of as a fun and crazy activity. So instead of leaving Blair a book-length comment, I decided to make a post about it. As always, your input is welcome.

  • Set goals for yourself, beyond word count. Keep your goals in mind when you write. Post-NaNoWriMo, you can look back at your manuscript and see how well you met your goals. These results will help show you your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Add writing to your schedule. During NaNoWriMo, figure out when, where, and how you write best. Maybe it’s curled up in bed with a notebook, or with tea and a laptop in a café. Find that sweet spot, and make it a habit to write. Keep that habit up even after November ends.
  • Try something new. All fiction, regardless of genre, has very similar traits, such as the basics of characters, plots, dialogues, etc. Writing in a different genre will help you improve these basics while bringing you into a new world you may actually like.
  • Converse with other writers. NaNo is in no way a substitute for conferences and workshops, but sometimes it’s all you have. I speak from experience when I say the support of such a community is invaluable.
  • Finish. Forget quality and just write your first draft from beginning to end. Once you do that, you can go back and edit for quality. You will never publish anything if you don’t write something first. You will never become good if you don’t start bad.
  • Continue writing (and reading). This is the big one. You will get nowhere if you only write during November. Keep up your habits of writing. Participate in NaNoFiMo and NaNoEdMo. Write, rewrite, revise, READ. This is vital if you want to improve your craft.
  • Have fun! Laugh, joke, wear silly hats, make mistakes (especially with grammar!). If you can’t enjoy writing, then don’t write as a hobby/career. NaNoWriMo is about having fun, and if you can’t enjoy it, don’t participate. (That sounded a tad more harsh than I meant it, it’s in good spirits, honest!)

Some people join NaNoWriMo because they like writing, but don’t care to improve or publish anything they write. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Even if you do nothing with the resulting MS, you’ve done something few people can say they have: you wrote a (short) novel. Congratulations and see you next year!

Other people, like myself, are serious about improving their writing ability. NaNoWriMo is great for me because I am terrific at applying myself until I finish a task. I can also continue my writing habits throughout the year, incorporating what I learned from my NaNoWriMo experience.

Still others who wish to improve don’t find NaNoWriMo helpful at all. That’s fine, too. Different people have different ways of learning. These are suggestions on how to use NaNoWriMo to improve your craft. Whether you follow them or not is up to you.

The fact remains that you will never improve without practice and without direction. Persevere through the struggles, and you’ll make it through, perhaps with your name on a book at Barnes & Noble.

What are your thoughts? Any additional suggestions to offer? Hate the ones I listed?


About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on October 25, 2010, in Ishy Writes! and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. You brought my attention to Blair’s post and gave me the chance to contribute a dissenting opinion. Thanks. My primary criticism was that she was judging the value of NaNo purely from her own experience with it. My experience has been very different from hers, and so has that of thousands of other people. If she had said “It sapped my creativity,” I would have no argument. But she said “It saps creativity.” That’s an unwarranted blanket condemnation. Etc.

    • I completely agree, Catana. The value of NaNoWriMo depends on the person and how you use the challenge. Surely over 82,000 writers participating in NaNo means something, yes?

  2. I followed your link from Blair’s post and appreciate the blog in response. Helped me get a little more excited about Nov. 1.

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