PhotobucketThis year was my first year to participate in the hugely popular NaNoWriMo. (I figured that since my youngest just turned 2, I finally had a prayer of achieving the target 1667 words per day). Now, let me say first of all that I am a NaNo ‘rebel’–if you go to the NaNoWriMo website you’ll find as I did that there’s a whole special category for us rebellious types–meaning in my case that I’m adding to an existing manuscript rather than starting from scratch. But all the same, at just over the halfway mark of both the month and of my goal of reaching 50,000 words by November 30, I feel like it’s been a fantastic experience, one that’s pushed and expanded my boundaries as a writer.

I remember reading once that the rigorous training that Navy SEALS go through is designed to show recruits that they’re actually capable of accomplishing 30% more than they ever thought they could. I think that’s first and foremost what NaNoWriMo has shown me–that the limits on my writing are largely of my own construction, and just in my head. Even without NaNo, I’m a little–okay, maybe more than a little–compulsive about making my daily writing goals. I work 7 days a week, and have a basically ‘no excuses’ policy about making my word count–doesn’t matter if I’m sick, tired, whatever, I still don’t let myself off the hook of sitting down to work. And yet this month I’ve discovered that I was putting more limits on myself than I realized.

Firstly, while I’m a definite believer in having a daily word count goal, I’ve realized this month that I should assess and adjust my goals more often than I have been. For ages my goal was 1000 words/day. But that was when my kids were tiny. Not that their ages now of 4 years old and 2 years old are exactly grown up–but it is easier to fit writing time in these days, and I realized that I could adjust my goals upwards accordingly. Not that my goal is to churn out a novel as fast as possible, of course. Faster doesn’t necessarily equal better, something every writer learns at some point. But I want to make sure I’m setting the bar high enough to challenge myself, too.

Secondly, I’ve discovered that my writing routine can just as easily slip into more of a rut than a routine–something that limits how much I can accomplish rather than helps me meet my goals. I like to write in the mornings–I’m a morning person by nature, and that’s definitely my most productive time. And I also have the above-mentioned 4 and 2 year old home with me full-time, which means that by the time they’re in bed in the evenings, just about the last thing I want to do is sit down and work. But November 12 was a holy day for my family, which meant that I didn’t work from sunup to sundown. But then the sun went down, and that little bar on my NaNo progress page hadn’t moved for the day–so I sat down at my computer and thought, Well, let’s see if I CAN get anything done. And I did–that night after my girls went to bed, I easily wrote (well, as easy as any writing ever is) 1700 words. Morning is still my preferred time to work, I don’t imagine that will entirely change. But still, it’s good to know that I don’t have to turn that into a self-imposed limit. Shake the routine up, and the words will still come.

All in all, I’m heading into the second half of NaNo with a manuscript I’m feeling great about and a whole new energy to challenge myself into achieving higher goals. And a definite determination to do NaNoWriMo next year, too!

What about you? How is your NaNo experience going? What have you learned?

About Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.