What NaNoWriMo Taught Me About Getting Things Done

May 8, 2012 — 7 Comments

I am in the middle of writing a novel.

In the summer of 2005, I began reading through the Harry Potter series. Like millions of others, I was captivated by the adventures of Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they resisted the dark lord’s followers.

As I consider that summer, I will never forget when I realized how powerful words can be. J. K. Rowling, like so many other great authors, was able to create a world for people with the use of her words. She could usher anything into reality as long as she was able to clearly articulate it with her words. This fascinated me.

A desire began to grow in me to create a world for people with words of my own. Surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, I wanted to bring something beautiful to life in the minds of people. So I began to work on my novel. I drew maps of a fictional world and dreamt up a history to the societies that inhabited it. I talked with friends and family about my ideas.

But I didn’t actually start writing it.

It wasn’t until about eighteen months later that I wrote my first words of the story. It was a thrilling experience. But life was busy and I didn’t really know where the story was going in various parts, so I stopped writing for a while. I had written about thirty pages over a nine month span.

Two more years passed while I thought about the characters of my novel frequently and imagined the world they inhabited. While traveling I would see snowy mountains that would remind me of various settings within my book. But I had completely stopped writing.

One of the last classes I took in seminary was a class where I could write fiction for my final project. I hoped that it would be a great opportunity to get more progress on my story. Unfortunately, the class was Pass/Fail and I was very busy, so I did not produce very much quality fiction as my final project.

Life got busier as I graduated from seminary and moved to Fort Dodge where I began full-time ministry. Adjusting to a new job, new house, new town, and still trying to figure out marriage were all valid excuses for my lack of writing.

In the middle of 2011, six years after I first had my idea to write, I still was sitting with about thirty pages. Life was just as busy as ever, if not busier, as we were weeks away from having Lylah. On the Twitter feeds I noticed something called #NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writers Month.

“How have I never heard of this?” I thought. Since 1999 people have banded together online to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I knew at that moment that this was something I had to do.

50,000 words in one month, though? How would I do anything close to that? In six years I had only written 13,000 words and I had a daughter on the way during one of the busiest parts of the year. It seemed impossible, but I decided to go for the challenge. I would need to write 1,667 words a day on my novel to add 50,000 words in a month. Here’s how I did.

Notice how I didn’t hit 50K?

Ok, so I technically “failed” NaNoWriMo. I didn’t write 50,000 words in a month.

But I did write 43,000 more words than I had written in the previous two years.

So really, I “won” NaNoWriMo.

This is what I learned from NaNoWriMo.

  1. Give your goals a deadline.
  2. Make progress toward your goal every day.
  3. It doesn’t matter how much progress you make each day.
  4. It doesn’t matter if you meet your deadline.
  5. When you mess up, pick it back up again.

What dream have you been neglecting? What would happen if you decided to take one step toward accomplishing that goal today? I dare you to find out.


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I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • Love it. Nanowrimo is pretty much my favorite time of year ever. Your list is spot on. Also, congrats on getting so far in the story!

    • Thanks! NaNoWriMo was crazy, but so rewarding. What have been writing during it?

  • Zen

    NaNoWriMo is perfect for getting things done. There’s something about it that really makes you want to write.

    • Yeah, I think there’s something to be said about having a deadline and knowing that you aren’t alone in striving for your goals. The trick is to keep it up for the rest of the year!

  • We began a journey to eat healthier 2 months ago. At times we mess up and eat foods that are bad for us, but I appreciate your words, “when you mess up, pick it back up again.” Every day is a new day to eat healthy. Even if it is 2 steps forward and one step back, you are still one step further along than when you began. Great post.

    • Good point. As long as we keep that forward momentum. That’s what counts.

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