NaNoWriMo: Writing 50,000 Words in 30 Days

Draft your book. In a month.

I’d been contemplating taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for years before finally giving it a shot for the first time in November 2021.

I had many doubts. The biggest one: where do I find the time? I was concerned before I even started writing my book. We all have things we must do and want to do during the day. But then, I thought, this year is as good as any other year. I won’t miraculously have more time next year…so I should instead give it a go now.

On average, writing 50,000 words in November equates to 1,667 words every day. Tracking your progress happens on NaNoWriMo’s platform, where you log an entry of your word count each day. Producing 1,667 words besides having a full-time job and life responsibilities required a priority shift because there is no perfect time to start writing.

I didn’t have time. I made time.

My process

My goal

Even though NaNoWriMo was created to write fiction. But I decided I write a non-fiction design book: Things I wish I knew before starting in UX product design (tentative title). It’s a tool to kickstart your design career and guide any designer through career challenges with many stories, examples, and a work booklet. It’s essentially an extension of my business.

Planning phase

It got real when I signed up in September. It was the time when I started brainstorming about ideas, what I wanted to include in the book. I looked at the market to see what other people produced, but I intentionally excluded design books. I wanted this to be me, and I didn’t want the book to be influenced by different design books. However, I read guides, articles, books directed to junior software engineers and business analysts. I also attended a couple of free seminars on how to write a book, self-publish and do marketing, what kind of cover image works, etc. By the end of October, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to write about with a clear table of content, sections, subsections, headings, quotes.

Writing phase

I spent about 3–4 hours working on my book every day. I was super pumped on the 1st of November, of course. It didn’t last long, maybe for five days.

I began the month with the most exciting topics. It was the fun part. After a while, I also had to work through the less interesting sections as they were crucial to the end goal. Now I wonder if my passion comes through when someone reads it? Will it be possible to tell which part I enjoyed the most writing?

I wrote nearly the entire book at home, before work, and during the evening.

About halfway through, I hit the point when I wanted to stop. I felt writing consumed me and my life entirely. Some challenging things were happening outside of my writing sessions, which affected my writing. I was grateful for my older articles, which allowed me to utilize my blog posts by refreshing their content.

It was crunch time when I hit a day I couldn’t write because I got sick. So I had to use some alternative method. I dictated over 2K words in, transferring it to my book the next day.

There were days when I couldn’t write more than a few hundred words. But, for the most part, I continued with my daily 1,667-word progress. There was one time when I was 6K behind the target word count, so I had to work even harder during the weekend to make up for it. I usually wrote for 6–7 hours a day during the weekends. I had an exceptionally high word count; it was worth four days of content.

I also kept a separate document for reference material and an asset list. It’ll be helpful when I get to the design and editing phase, and I could create visuals or provide more notes to sections that could use additional explanation and information.

I realized I missed a few things (about 50% of the content), and I needed to cover more topics to provide a comprehensive book. I didn’t fully finish every section. I still feel I could elaborate on some parts, but that’s what editing is about.

Most mornings, I didn’t have music or noise in the background. When I was writing about personal stuff, I had Nightwish playing in the background. Metal music gave me the extra I needed to flesh out specific topics. I was writing with Café del Mar music in the background in the evenings.

What I discovered and learned during NaNoWriMo

Some days are better than others. There were days when words came to me so easily, and my fingers couldn’t keep up with the speed of my thoughts.

I was not in the mood to write some days, but I pushed through.

There was a moment when I thought it was not worth it to sacrifice my whole month, sleep, and social life for a self-imposed goal. But then…aren’t all goals self-inflicted after all?

Habit building was challenging. I knew I had to stick with the new habit to make it stick. Writing consistently is like going to the gym. It’s frustrating initially, but it’s worth it when I start seeing some results.

Sometimes I ran out of things to say about topics, while I thought I had more in me. Forcing myself to expand on the subject doesn’t help. Letting go of it does.

I realized I have a lot of experience and uniques perspectives because of my background and journey to UX design to share with people.

One month in, and I felt participating in NaNoWriMo has already made me a better writer, but definitely a more consistent writer. I have kept writing every single day since I finished the challenge.

There were sections in the book that I felt intensely passionate about because things happened recently, or I had a strong emotional attachment to the past event. Keeping my tone of voice objective was challenging.

Not all of my writings were perfect, and some days I produced mediocre writing. And it’s ok.

Sometimes I had to improvise and pivot. Alternative ‘writing methods’ such as speech-to-text software could be utilized more often.

It was tough not to edit after writing a sentence. Learning to let go of a thought I just put on my computer screen became much easier after 14 days.

Having an initial, high-level plan is super essential for the success and completion of the book. I knew what I wanted to write about.

Showing up every day is the hard part, not the actual writing.

More than a couple of times, new ideas came to me during the night, and I couldn’t help myself; I had to get up and make a few notes about the topics so I wouldn’t forget them. I had to accept that my writing consumed the ‘whole me’. I barely had any other thoughts outside of my book. It’s great that I didn’t go anywhere. I wouldn’t have been fun at parties.

Making decisions on autopilot is super helpful. For instance, I decided writing in November was my highest priority, and this goal made my decision-making easier. For example, do I want to sleep in for half an hour or do I want to make progress on my book? Easy choice if you work on autopilot with a clear goal in mind. I prioritized my writing sessions over everything else.

I had to be honest about my days…during the weekdays, especially when I had a long day, I didn’t have the brainpower to write well. It’s not my first language, after all, so it still requires lots of effort from me to speak and write well.

Scheduling writing sprints in the calendar worked well for me. I put my writing slots in my calendar as they were meetings. Meetings with myself. My morning sessions: 6.30 to 8 am — evening sessions: 9 to 10.30 pm.

After 14 days, I had to remind myself daily why I set the goal in the first place. Why I wanted to do it, I needed this more than I anticipated. I made a sticky note and placed it on my monitor to see it when I needed it.

Online groups might be great, but they added little value to my experience. Perhaps if I didn’t feel such a newbie, I could have used my local support groups better.

The gamification part of the challenge was motivating to me. I love to see my stats. By the way, my highest word count was 7,626 words on 30 Nov. My lowest word count was 130 words on 16 Nov.

Done is better than perfect.

There is no writer’s block. Just sit down and write.

Next steps

November is over. NaNoWriMo for 2021 is over. But it doesn’t mean I’m finished with my writing. I decided to give myself a break — 6 weeks, to be exact. It’s a much shorter timeframe than Taika Waititi’s, who puts his draft screenwriting away for a whole year. I want to complete this book in the first half of next year. Editing, asset creation, and self-publishing are still on the to-do list. Then, I’d like to move on to the next one. I already have an idea…or two.

Final thoughts

In summary, I’m proud of myself and for being consistent.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Next time, I’d give myself a day off each week to recharge. Because as much as I like to write, this felt draining. I’d rather write 1,924 words a day and attend a couple of social events.

I also learned that I don’t need to wait until the next NaNoWriMo to write another book. I can start anytime again. All I need is to set a goal, sit down, and write.

We need to stop waiting for the ideal time because there is no perfect time.

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