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How Nanowrimo Changed my Writing Habits

Headshot of Kate Frost

Kate Frost, English indie author and advocate of NaNoWriMo

As it’s currently late April, and therefore about as far as it’s possible to be from NaNoWriMo’s November event, now’s a good time to consider whether to take part, rather than rushing in to meet the deadline or avoiding it because you’ve left it too late to decide.

Today we’ve asked British indie author Kate Frost to tell us why she believes taking part in a previous NaNoWriMo changed her writing habits for the better, and why she’d recommend it to other authors.

How NaNoWriMo Changed the Way I Write

It took me nine years to write and publish my first novel, The Butterfly Storm. Okay, so I didn’t actually spend nine solid years writing it but I did start it in 2004, finish the final draft in 2012 before publishing it in the summer of 2013. In contrast, it only took me nine months to finish the first draft of my latest women’s fiction novel, Beneath the Apple Blossom, and that was with an energetic toddler to look after.

What did I do differently?

Cover of The Butterfly Storm

Kate Frost’s debut novel

With The Butterfly Storm I rewrote the first chapter countless times before I was even halfway through the novel, and yet by the time I finished the book, I realised the original opening chapter no longer worked. So much time wasted editing and perfecting work that ended up being cut. Each time I sat down to write, I would go back and edit the chapter I’d worked on previously before writing anything new.

With Beneath the Apple Blossom, I started writing in February last year and didn’t stop until I’d written 90,000 words and reached the end in November. I didn’t look back on what I’d previously written, I didn’t stress over word choice, sentence structure or whether I’d accidently changed the hair colour of my main character. I didn’t worry if conversations between characters sounded a bit clunky or if the scene I’d written was absolute rubbish. I simply got the story down.

The Success of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMoThis way of writing was all thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). My first stab at NaNoWriMo was in November 2013 when I was pregnant. I’d already finished the first book of my children’s trilogy. It had been beta read, edited and proofread, and I had grand plans of publishing it before my son was due in February 2014 (yeah right, that didn’t happen). I’d written the first couple of pages of the second book and really wanted to crack on with it before lack of sleep, ten nappy changes a day and a screaming newborn took over.

I didn’t win NaNoWriMo by reaching 50,000 words, but I did manage to write 25,000 words in a month and it drastically changed how I write for the better. I’m far more productive and focused, and it’s incredibly satisfying seeing the results with the word count rising steadily on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis.

My latest novel is the first one I’ve completed using the NaNoWriMo technique of keeping on writing until reaching the end. What I achieved was a rough first draft that admittedly made me cringe when I read back through it, but there was a story, characters ready to be fleshed out, a plot to be refined, and words, sentences and chapters to be rewritten, edited and polished. That was when the hard work really began.

OVER TO YOU If you’ve done NaNoWriMo, did you find it a help or a hindrance to your productivity or writing habits? If you’ve rejected the idea, why? Do you have any NaNoWriMo-inspired success stories to share? We’d love to know!

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25 Responses to How Nanowrimo Changed my Writing Habits

  1. Linda Fox November 29, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

    This is my first NaNoWriMo (2016). I’m down to the last two days, with just over 4k left to go. I’m amazed just how well it worked to get me writing. I found it extremely difficult to crank out words at first. I barely made the first few days wordcount.
    However, when I fell behind, due to life events, I knew I had to write faster to catch up and make goal. That’s when I learned to put my sessions into turbo-mode.
    I also found that I’m a planner. Not obsessive, just needing a direction to write toward. I found that writing some one sentence reminders right in the text, at the end of the day, made the next day’s work so much easier.
    At this point, I know that I could do 4k words in a single day, if I space the sessions out a little. Too much sitting is NOT good for my back.

  2. Barbara J Duell July 14, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

    November of 2015 was the first time I joined NaNo. By the end of the month, I had reach the goal of 50,000 words, and then some. Before the end of this month, the book I started in November will be launched and I am so jazzed. This is my forth book, and probably my favorite, and like Kate, it took the less time.

    Writing my first book, I probably spent more time trying to get that first chapter perfect than I did raising my kids. I ended going back to the first draft, which said what I had originally wanted to say, and then never looked back.

  3. Debbie Young May 2, 2016 at 9:49 am #

    I am so encouraged by your experience, Kate, because I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice now and each time found it hard to force myself not to go back and edit what I’d written previously, and found that way of writing, to just keep going forward without looking back, very unnatural and uncomfortable – possibly partly because my background is in short-form writing (journalism, blogging, short stories, etc) and I’m used to being able to keep polishing what I’ve written and complete it within a relatively short time-frame. However, I’m now refining my November 2015 ms which I hope will emerge as my first published novel later this year – ready for me to take another crack at NaNo in 2016!

    • Kate Frost May 4, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

      It is a completely different mindset, however, wanting to write for a living (novels in particular), really does require being able to write and publish a book a lot quicker than taking nine years from start to finish! Very exciting to hear about your first novel being published later this year!

  4. Icy Sedgwick May 1, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    I wrote the first draft of my first novel for NaNoWriMo back in 2008 but it’s taken me until now to flesh it out into a full novel that’s actually worth reading. I’ve got different writing practices now so I do feel it’s good for first time writers, to help them to actually get the words down, but I don’t think it’s necessary every year.

    • Kate Frost May 4, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      Often it’s the editing process that takes the time. Congrats on getting your novel into publication ready shape. 🙂

  5. clare weiner May 1, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    NaNoWriMo has always seemed to me a gimmick. That may be utterly wrong of me. Maybe I fear it – rushing through writing a story, I’ve always felt the plot would be destroyed into dull, boring, telling-type prose, and the characterisation lost. This may not be true: I’d love to read someone’s NaNo text and then the completed, edited version, and to chat about the process. Am open-minded despite the initial attitude!

    • Kate Frost May 4, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

      I’m not sure I could ever manage to write a whole 50,000 words in a month but I’ve found the idea of pushing forward with the story (however bad the writing may seem at the time) an invaluable way of getting stuff written. It’s not for everyone, but definitely worth a try!

  6. Robert April 30, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    It never hurts to learn new tricks. I’ve started reviewing what I wrote yesterday before I start writing today. It’s a good habit to get into as there will be fewer edits at the end and it sometimes help get the creative juices flowing 🙂

    • Kate Frost May 4, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      I agree with you there – sometimes you need to review what’s already been written to kickstart writing again. Far better than staring at a blank page. 🙂

  7. Debbie Young April 28, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Karl, no comments have been deleted. But an earlier one of yours was trapped by our spam detector (occasionally it stops a harmless comment – don’t know why!) so maybe that’s what happened.

  8. Debbie Young April 28, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    I’ve just approved it, Karl and Kate! The ALLi blog is actually set up NOT to require moderation of comments, but of course it has a spam filter, and occasionally the odd legitimate comment gets trapped in error. I guess it’s always best that these things err on the side of caution!

  9. Rose English April 28, 2016 at 1:13 am #

    Hi Kate and fellow NaNoWriMers

    I’ve been taking part in NaNoWriMo too and I am currently finishing the April Camp NaNo. It helps me so much I can set myself targets and stick to them so much easier than just trying to write day by day. Its good to know you are not alone and others are madly typing or scribbling away. I’ve published one short story and my second is almost complete thanks to NaNoWriMo. Today I managed 4,007 words taking me just over my 20k target. Will put in the final numbers on Saturday.

    Happy Writing everyone. 🙂

    This is my NaNoWriMo link if anyone wants to check my progress

    http://nanowrimo.org/participants/ss-rose-english

    • Kate Frost April 29, 2016 at 9:14 am #

      Wow, 4007 words in a day is impressive! Good luck with reaching your 20k target. By the way you have a lovely and appealing spring-like cover for your short story. Happy writing too!

  10. Claire Gillen April 27, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

    Thanks so much for this post Kate, I too have fallen into the re-write trap and have been writing my first book for longer than I had meant it to take! But as always I’m inspired to read about an author’s success in writing and publishing, no matter how long it took, and your book looks like one I’d like to read – I like your writing style.

    I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time last November and felt a sense of achievement even though I did not crack the word count.

    Also, I just hopped over to Cindy’s Rinaman Marsch’s site (who commented on your post) and that book sounds fascinating too – as the book I’m writing is also based on a diary!

    My current theory is that the more I talk about my book, the more accountable and committed I become – and the sooner I finish it! Kind of scary, but I feel I’m among friends 🙂

    • Kate Frost April 27, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

      What a lovely comment. I agree with you totally about feeling a sense of achievement participating in NaNo despite not cracking the word count. I took part the first November after my son was born (he was nine months old) and I managed just under 5000 words and was over the moon with that.

      Good luck finishing your book – keep talking about it and keep writing! 🙂

  11. Patsy Trench April 27, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

    I absolutely agree with all this. Like you with my first book I kept going back over stuff I’d already written. I’d always thought NaNoWriMo was a bit of a gimmick but then I tried it last November and while I also didn’t achieve the 50,000 words it didn’t half concentrate the mind, and it changed my way of writing definitely for the better. It’s amazing what the imagination can come up with under a certain amount of pressure!

    • Kate Frost April 27, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

      Yes, a healthy amount of pressure can sometimes be a very good thing!

  12. Cindy Rinaman Marsch April 27, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    And Kate, I was so caught up in telling my story I failed to say how much I appreciate your encouragement here. I never even tried to write* while raising my four kids! Bravo!

    *You know what I mean: fiction, for publication.

    • Kate Frost April 27, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

      Ha yes, I get what you mean, and thank you! Mind you, I don’t think I’d manage to write and publish if I had four children.

  13. Karl Drinkwater April 27, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    It was a maor help to me. I took part for the first time this year, and tracked my wordcounts. I got half of my next short story collection written, though seemed to spend the last week trying to catch up after falling behind whilst on an Arvon writing course! I wrote about NaNoWriMo at http://karldrinkwater.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/NaNoWriMo

  14. Cindy Rinaman Marsch April 27, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    I credit NaNoWriMo 2014 with the first full draft of my novel published in January 2016. I had done background research, then a solid outline (helped by the novel’s structure following a real journal, so the chronology was easy) in October 2014. I think the outline made NaNoWriMo possible, as I had a place to hang my thoughts, and the chapters could grow out of the things that had been incubating in my mind for a long time. I attended Saturday write-in sessions at a local coffee shop, and I tried to write for an hour or two most weekday mornings before my regular day started.

    Because I had a busy teaching schedule, I was not able to do anything with it again until several days of work in January and April 2015 (Camp NaNoWriMo for a first full edit). But in June 2015 I began a more writerly daily schedule, took a research trip, and had the novel out for editing in August, then submitted to Kindle Scout in early December. (I used NaNoWriMo 2015 to do a little copyediting but mostly to encourage my fellow coffee shop write-in folks.)

    NaNoWriMo was a “gimmick” that helped me establish good habits and momentum.

    I’m reading Flannery O’Connor’s THE HABIT OF BEING right now, and she advises a “stuck” novelist to give herself three hours a day set aside for JUST writing, no reading allowed. If nothing happened in that time, so be it, or if she wrote different things each day that were set aside, that was okay, too. But the point was to not get distracted by reading (or daydreaming, or, in our time, the internet).

    I’m unofficially in CampNaNoWriMo this April, too, and I’m drafting a short story (about 5k words thus far, expecting 8k – 10k).

    Give it a try!

    • Kate Frost April 27, 2016 at 10:04 pm #

      I think that’s exactly it, Cindy – NaNo really does help establish good habits and momentum. Being distracted by, well really anything other than writing, is my biggest downfall and I think participating in NaNo has helped me to focus and be more productive whatever time of the year. Good luck finishing drafting your short story. CampNaNoWriMo sounds like fun – I’ll have to give it a go one year!

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