NaNoWriMo–Finishing What We Start


Finally, I get a chance to blog about what it feels like to finish NaNoWriMo. It was great to make it through the first draft of my novel, and I realize I have A LOT more work to do. But, I am no fun to talk about because, frankly, when once you do land an agent and finally get the opportunity to write for a living, 2500 words a day should be very standard. In fact, between blogging and reviews and every shred of grunt work I can scrape together, 2500 words is a drop in the bucket.

Thus, for me, the word count was not the issue….turning off my inner editor was. I am really happy for two things. First, I had a detailed outline before I began. I believe an outline made all the difference in the world. When I was talking to one of my fellow writers, I said that writing a novel felt a lot like being stranded in the wilderness. Yet, with an outline, I had markers to strive for. Think of it like this. Years ago, as a pantser, it was like being stranded in a totally flat landscape for as far as the eye could see. No definitive landmarks. I would just write and write, with no clue if I was writing in a big fat circle. Yet, with an outline, I still felt as if I was slogging through the wilderness—because, let’s face it, your first draft is uncharted territory—but it was much easier because I could focus on the next goal on my outline.

Riley needs to make it to Cuidad Victorio, Mexico.

Now, she could take a plane, a train or ride there by burro…but at the end of the day, my protag needed to be in Mexico. It was like wandering in the wilderness, but I could focus on a mountain and just keep going until I got there. Mentally, that was far easier.

I believe that having boundaries actually made my subconscious much more creative, which brings up my second point. NaNoWriMo allowed me to feel free to turn off my inner editor. Because my subconscious was already very familiar with the story I wanted to tell (via my pre-planning), it was free to show off when it came to the first draft. I would write and all the sudden this odd sentence would come out. My fingers would hover above the keyboard, ready to delete. But, because I was determined to follow the “rules” of NaNoWriMo, I refused to hit delete. Boy am I glad I did. I actually got to the “end” of my novel, and found out that I had the wrong “bad guy” in my story. My subconscious spotted something I didn’t consciously “see.”

I am really happy I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge. I feel that NaNoWriMo represents the single largest barrier to publication…finishing. If I can give any advice to a new or aspiring author, it is that you MUST become a finisher.

Most writers will never get published, and it isn’t because of lack of talent. They will never be published because they don’t finish what they start. I had these types of writers in my critique group for years. They would bring in the same scenes over and over making them “perfect.” Yet, no writer to my knowledge has ever managed to find a publishing house willing to back half of the World’s Perfect Novel, whereas agents and editors have been known to back completed not-so-perfect novels.

Being a writer is a lot of hard work, and I believe NaNoWriMo offers those who want this career a taste of what to expect. Sometimes it is tough for a new writer to envision life once she has an agent. “Landing an agent” becomes the primary goal, when, in reality, that is just the very beginning. Once we have an agent, we are committed professionals beholden to deadlines. We have to write even when we don’t feel like it, and cannot wait on inspiration or the perfect confluence of events to work on our novels.

I always hear, “Oh, I just cannot find the time to write.” I am going to be blunt. We never will. Time isn’t just lying around like spare change in the couch cushions waiting to be found. We have to grab hold of time and wrestle it to the ground and show it who’s boss. Professional authors do not find time…we make it.

This can be a slippery pickle for those of you just starting out. If you don’t have a completed novel or an agent, expect the rest of the world to patronize you and treat your writing like a hobby. It will be up to you to show them differently. Professionals are committed and work five days a week, minimum. Your family will take you a lot more seriously when they see you acting like a professional. It will be up to you to train them. We cannot whine that our family isn’t supportive and doesn’t take us seriously if we only write when the “muse” comes to visit and start more projects than we ever finish.

NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to get into successful habits. It is also a great way to whip your family into shape and let them have a taste of what life will be like once you get the book deal. So for those of you who might not make your 50K, you can still scrape victory out of this month. It is a step in the right direction. Take another week to complete that crappy first draft, and you will enter the realm of the elite 5%. Of all those who aspire to write a novel, only 5% will finish the first draft. Of that 5%, only 5% will polish that into a complete draft. Only 5% from there will get an agent, and only 5% of that number will likely carve out a career as an author. In fact, it is shocking how much of our own success is in our control. We can control finishing what we start, and that is the largest part of the battle.

So ask yourself this. Are you a 5%er? Success begets success. Start with that first accomplishment. Be a finisher, and you will be amazed how that habit alone will change your life.

I wasn’t always a finisher, and in fact, it is a daily struggle. It is easy to let the family, the laundry, dust bunnies and goofing off get in the way. I use Post-It-Notes to make word goals. On the left side of my monitor I have my beginning word count. Then in the middle, I write the half-way point’s word count. On the far right, I put the finish line. I am not allowed a break until I make the half-way point. I am not allowed to get up from my desk until I make the final goal. No TV, no gym, no fun until I make that goal. I found that I needed to set solid goals and write them down or I would totally procrastinate and goof off.

What are some ways you guys make your goals? Where do you struggle? How did NaNoWriMo change your approach? Did you learn anything? How did success feel? What about failure? Did you learn anything? Please share!

Happy Writing!

Until next time…

If you want to build the kind of platform agents are looking for, then buy the book agents recommend. We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media is an essential for every writer who wants to succeed in the new paradigm of publishing. My book will show you how to build a platform designed to connect with READERS and still have time left over to write great books….oh, and sleep and bathe and have a life, .


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  1. Congratulations on winning NaNoWriMo!
    I liked reading your views on it, and I agree with you that NaNoWriMo is a great way to get to that finish line. I feel that November really is for writing, and so I don’t get sidetracked by a lot of “ought tos” and “shoulds”. There is suddenly a very tangible goal (the 50K, or a finished first draft) within a limited time frame, and it boosts my productivity immensely.

  2. You have hit the point I try to make to so many people who say, “I’ve often thought of writing a novel.” But I wonder has the person thought about finishing, revising, and polishing that novel? I’m on my second Nano. The first yielded a finished book that is being polished. The one I’m working on now will be next to revised and polish. What I’ve learned? Writing is like anything else that you want to excel in–you must be disciplined. To succeed as a writer I must write every day.

  3. Congratulations Kristen on making the NaNo goal! I did NaNo for the first time last year – and wrote 110K in 17 days and had a BLAST! Wrote another book this summer – 84K in 13 days. I finished this on in 22 (60K but it will get longer when I go back and add in extra missing details). I found out I love writing and love doing my re-writes too. My December goal is to work on the books that are in their various stages so I’m ready to query again in January. My kids are getting used to me being a writer and while my husband says “You’ll never make money at this” I remind him – it doesn’t cost me anything either (and then he brags about me to others!). Thanks for this post – it’s good to be honest about the process.

  4. Sneaking in as a non-novelist to agree wholeheartedly with you on what I see as your TWO crucial points here. Finishing is definitely tops, the best advice anyone can give. The second, which helps the first SOOOOO much, is your advice about outlines. I’m no good at them, keep leaving them too nebulous. As a result, my latest project is on it’s third rewrite and has just gone off the rails again. In fact, gone off the rails, ploughed into a village and spilled toxic waste into the duckpond. Today is my writing day (and my shopping day, washing day, hoovering day….It’s a busy day) so my first writing job is two brand new, exhaustive outlines from projects one and two. Thanks, as ever, for the weekly kick in the pants….

  5. The 5% rule doesn’t go over well in many places. It comes from the fact that only 5% of people are capable of sustaining internally motivated change. I developed it based on my experiences in the Green Berets. Many people wanted to wear a green beret, but not many wanted to be a Green Beret. Big difference. No one is going to force you to write. That has to come from within. The one common trait I see in successful writers is that they work hard. Damn hard.

  6. Good post…Great to get the feelings and lessons learned from one who actually goes through a competitive ordeal.

    Your blog continues to teach & relate “good stuff”

    Here’s to your continued success!

  7. Hi Kristen. Thanks for another great post. I find it helps me meet my goals if I leave my house to write. Showing up at my table in the coffee shop or the library is like clocking into work. Since I’m not allowed to leave for three hours or 2500 words, I might as well write while I’m sitting there. Congratulations on meeting your NaNoWriMo goal, and thanks so much for your encouragement and wise advice.

  8. I just finished my 3rd novel in my 3rd nanowrimo (well, this is the 1st DRAFT of my first novel). I love the timeline aspect of nano, and I write six to seven thousand words a day 🙂 I follow you on twitter, and so does my husband (@pameloth & @trimon29). I am not much of a commenter, and I rarely raised my hand in class at school either, but this blog resonated with me and my feelings about nanowrimo. Nice job capturing it.

  9. Thank you! That was the blog I most needed to read right now. I’ve been messing around with 45000 words of a chick lit novel and I just can’t seem to stay focused and finish. I start thinking about the hopeless task of finding an agent, how I don’t have any objective idea if I even have a snowball’s chance in hell, and pretty soon I decide to clean the kitchen and run errands-or play on Facebook. FB has become my new addiction. I can ‘play’ for hours ‘liking’, and ‘friending’, and posting witty qoutes.
    After reading your blog I’ve decided to do the ‘word goal’ and be in the 5% of finishers-And that’s a good start!

    1. Very cool, Glenda. You can do it. Slow and steady wins the race, 😀

  10. Congratulations on winning NaNo early with way more than 50 thousand words, as so many people seem to be doing.:) I will be dragging my butt across the finish line on November 30.

  11. Congratulations on NaNo! Anyway, about the 5% rule–it reminds me of the Pareto rule (80% of books is written by 20% of writers–applies to a lot of things and not just writers).

  12. Congratulations! I think having the outline is key to this process. I know I need tent poles for structure and I might do NaNo next year, but I can reach the word count so for me the key is to have words I can use when I revise.


  13. Congrats on finishing NaNoWriMo. It can be a grueling month, but in many cases well worth it. The biggest thing I took from my first experience with NaNo was pacing and letting my subconscious work. I’ve wanted to do NaNo since I wrote Rekindled, but timing has always been off with where I am in a current work in progress. However, seeing writers set their nano goal and sally forth is very inspiring. Good luck with polishing it up and submitting!

  14. Hi Kristen — Great post! I read this the other day, but didn’t want to comment until I finished NaNo, too. You are spot on about most writers not being published because they don’t finish what they start. For me, NaNoWrimo was about becoming a finisher of a large project. I’m a freelancer and short story writer by profession, and didn’t want to take the time away from paying projects to spend days/weeks/months on something that might yield $0 dollars in my pocket in the end. But, part of being a writer is being a dreamer, and I had been slowly working on a novel over the past couple of years. I decided to participate in NaNo this year ONLY if I finished my WIP first. So, on October 30th I finally finished that first book, and on November 27th I finished the 2nd. Yup, NaNo was the kick in the a%% I had been waiting for.

    Congratulations to you!

  15. Biggest lesson for me was how much slo-oower I am at writing than I was years ago, back when news seemed pressing and I prided myself on cranking content like there was no tomorrow. Now that there is less tomorrow, I seem to procrastinate with much better success. 2,500 words a day (or even 4,000) shouldn’t present such an obstacle — and it didn’t, for the first few days of NaNoWriMo. Then my thumbs actually got sore. Who knew? Cracking the spacebar way too hard, apparently. I rarely write a solid block of text for several days in a row. Even sitting for that long, day after day, seemed like a trial. Glad I finished, though. It’s no masterwork, but there’s a novel lurking inside my thumb drive now. Interesting feeling, that.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Roz Morris, Amanda Hoving. Amanda Hoving said: Great post on why (and how) writers keep on keeping on. NaNoWriMo–Finishing What We Start: @KristenLambTX […]

  2. […] Kristen Lamb had a great blog last week about finishing Nanowrimo. She writes that only 5% people who want to write a novel will actually finish it, and then only 5% of those who polish their rough draft, and 5% of those who get an agent, and 5% of those who actually end up with a career as a published author. That’s a lot of five percents, an impossibly small percentage of the original aspiring writers. That’s math that is completely beyond me! […]

  3. […] kayemarie in writing Tags: nanowrimo, writing Kristen Lamb had a great blog last week about finishing Nanowrimo. She writes that only 5% people who want […]

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