I Survived NaNoWrimo 2023, Didn’t Succeed – 3 Lessons Learned

I had a pretty good idea where my story was going to start. This is my second horror novel manuscript and is yet about another Panamanian girl. It’s funny how as a horror discovery writer, yes, you can have a plan, an outline, but then ‘discover’ that the horror itself will show itself as it pleases, when it pleases and not when you want it. That’s how it works for me, at least. I was a bit upset that nothing ‘horrific’ was happening right away. There is some suspense, but I’m not fond of long suspenseful scenes. I remove band-aids fast, that’s my explanation.

My primary motivation for doing NaNoWriMo this month, despite doubts about achieving my goal, was to regain my writing habit. Why would I take my writing so seriously? I mean, it’s not as if I’m making life or death decisions with my writing.

There is something funny about telling your goals out loud. The moment I proclaimed I was doing NaNoWriMo on my social media channels, I knew I had to go through with it. Even if I failed, which I did, at least several goals. Regardless, I had the chance to connect with some people in the online writing community, which made it worthwhile. Also, I feel more comfortable with the ‘need’ to write. Sometimes I feel guilty about if I should write or work out, or clean the house, or fix myself prettier, or work at my job even more. So, pushing my boundaries on writing this past November, I got a good idea of how to start shifting my priorities.

My writing productivity is high in both the morning and at night. Daytime feels odd, because I wired my brain for my full-time job. Solution: I plan to wake up earlier to exercise and write. I either get in better shape and stop writing or I write all the things I want and grow the belly and thighs of a giant because of my lack of activity. Balance, now that is a word that terrifies me.

In summary, yes I wrote every day. In the beginning, it was easier. I took a day off to write more, but it was only partially successful. When necessary, I continued writing on my phone using my tiny external keyboard. At the very least, the scenes that I intended to complete. I could get used to it, but I don’t enjoy writing on my phone.

While not included in my lessons learned, prepping a plan before NaNoWriMo is the way to go. Without a plan, things get more chaotic. I think having a established routine helps a lot too. It was difficult to create the habit of writing early in the morning during NaNoWriMo and until the end of the month is that I could write early in the morning before my work shift started.

There’s no point in listing my time-wasting activities during this NaNoWriMo. I need to improve how I handle my phone and manga habits. I could read manga and webtoons for hours without a care in the world.

My daily approach to NaNoWriMo was not successful because I wasn’t waking up on time or going to sleep late reading instead of writing or video gaming. I never even once set up the alarm. In the past, I relied on the heater schedule to wake me up in a warm house, making alarms unnecessary. That doesn’t work anymore. Despite waking up a bit before my work shift started, I just took the time to organised a few notes to then write during the night.

I tried to take notes during the day, but I can’t think about writing while I’m working. The last time I did that, it made my day even more difficult. I barely have time for household chores, cooking, my job, and my novel.

Knowing I would write a little each day, regardless of anything, kept me going. It made me feel less guilty about not hitting my word count daily goal. It was something that whether I wrote two thousand words or two hundred, I could tick the box. I think that little goal kept me motivated to not give up and drop from the NaNoWriMo challenge altogether.

Right now I’m in the middle of a gaming store. My husband is playing Warhammer and here I am writing this blog post. I don’t mind being around some people, but reading words and creating them; it makes my heart full. That and I don’t even know if anyone is reading my writing. Ok, back to NaNoWriMo.

The book I started on NaNoWriMo is a fantasy-horror novel with some touches of folklore. I don’t know if I can write horror without folklore notes; we shall see.

The main character is a girl from Chicá, a county in the district of Chame, Panama. That area will be the primary setting for the story. I remember my dad would work sometimes going to Cerro Campana. I think tagging along my dad’s telecommunication gigs ignited my love for mountains and the country. He would work in silence and sometimes someone would help him deal with towers and wires. You’ll hear a lot about trees and mountains in Panama.

Initially, I intended to feature a male character in this story, but it turned out to be another lady. I planned the characters’ fates before writing the novel, and I have no regrets about my decisions. I hope those who ever end up reading my novel appreciate my environment descriptions. It’s something I’m trying to get better at and more if it’s a story based in Panamá.

Something that I’m still lacking is spooking myself in real life. I’ve got afraid of some scenes I’ve written because I can’t help putting myself in the shoes of my characters, so the ones suffering I wish I could stop the suffering, but I can’t stop, I must see where this leads. Are all horror writers masochists?

The NaNoWriMo website wasn’t very helpful for me, but that’s because I think I should have got into the NaNoWriMo mentality a month ahead at least. I rushed into the forums and Reddit and Twitter writing community to see what people’s tips were when I was already a week before NaNo. October is a busy and stressful month in my full-time job, so if I plan to do NaNo next year, I should plan in August or September. That I know now. The one thing I enjoy was entering my daily word count into the website, that was the biggest thing and getting some of the recognition badges. I enjoyed getting those as I kept going. I would have liked it if it had more achievement badges. Once you reach 25k, the badges are not fun unless you reach 40k and then the final 50k, which I didn’t since I barely made it to 25k by the end of NaNoWriMo.

Ok, here we go 3 Lessons Learned:

  1. Have a NaNoWriMo Buddy. I have a colleague at work who offered to help me keep motivated. He is a writer himself and I declined. I’m a loner, so I thought I don’t need anyone to cheer me on. I was wrong, though my husband answers my questions during my writer’s block and orders food when I’m too tired to cook. It’s not the same as someone who writes and might be helpful for more specific writing questions. Even better, a fellow NaNoWriMo participant could be a valuable writing buddy, ensuring accountability for both of us.
  2. You Need a Writing Routine before November. As I mentioned before, not having a writing routine set me up for failure. I succeeded at several things during NaNoWriMo. The word count only happened in the first week, and having that routine would have made my life easier. Whether or not my draft had a good quality, that’s a different conversation. But I would have nailed the word count if I have had a firm foundation with my writing routine.
  3. Taking a break from Social Media helps. I made announcements on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. For those who are not active on social, whether posting content or consuming it, this tip won’t be super helpful. For those who are like myself and consume or post content, it makes a huge difference. I created social accounts for my creative work, Pluma Writes. Although I remained active, every moment spent on social media in November was intentional, keeping me connected to the writing community.

Deep down I wish I had achieved the goal of the 50 k words, I’ll keep it real. That didn’t happen, but all the insights I had during this month were valuable. The best was getting back in the habit of writing. You can’t buy that. You can’t rush that. I’m grateful for getting it back. I’m content with this ephemeral life when I’m writing.

I’m coming back to this post next year if I plan on joining NaNoWriMo, hopefully I’ll have a NaNo buddy or a decent plan at the very least. Also, prior to this NaNoWriMo, my only official publication has been a small book of poems and I finished my first horror manuscript in 2021. Still, I feel like I can start calling myself a writer. After publishing my first novel, hopefully in 2024, perhaps even a ‘Horror Writer’.

If you’ve read so far, tell me: did you do NaNoWriMo? How did it go? And let’s connect on Twitter or Instagram. I need more #WritingCommunity friends.

JC Straub selfie on Thanksgiving Day, Smiling, wearing a plaid dress.


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