What I learned from NaNoWriMo

- February 2023


Every November thousands of writers around the world participate in NaNoWriMo, committing to write 50,000 words in just one month. That’s laying down 1,667 words every day for 30 days to create a draft that’s longer than a Famous Five book but just short of an old-school Mills & Boon.  

It’s a lot. Especially when you have a day job. 

Like many communication professionals, writing is integral to who I am – be it presentations or web content for clients, or fiction for fun. So last November, for the second year running, I joined the crazy hordes of Wrimos (yup, that’s what we’re called) and threw myself into writing what could be loosely termed ‘a novel’ in my spare time.  

Despite being a fiend for communication planning, I usually write short fiction so don’t bother too much with planning. Then I learned the hard way during my first NaNoWriMo that the requirement for high productivity within a time constraint meant I wouldn’t have time to waste on engineering my way out of the narrative equivalent of a corner.  

Plan early, plan often 

So this year I planned. I started describing my characters and plotting in July, and by the end of October I still didn’t feel ready. At all. But if I didn’t start writing on 1 November, that would be 1,667 words I’d have to make up on the following days.  

So my approach to planning had to become more fluid and responsive. I researched how other writers planned, then adapted them into a tailored solution that most closely fitted my needs. I ended up transferring my plan into an excel spreadsheet (yes, I’m that rare comms person who loves spreadsheets) and got started on the writing on time. As I identified changes from the original storyline, I’d add them to the spreadsheet and note any flow-on effects. It helped focus my writing on what was of most value and provided a north star when I lost my way. And best, it only took a couple of minutes to update so didn’t significantly impact my writing time. 

Achieving outcomes 

Did I make 50,000 words? Yes! I made 50,141 words on 30 November. This is known as ‘winning NaNoWriMo’, and I totally feel like a winner. 

Can you read it? Nope. Well, not yet anyway. There’s a whole heap of editing and rewriting to do first. Maybe sometime in 2025. Or 2026.  

Did I find new ways to plan that I can bring into my professional communication practice? Hell yes! Planning is a living process. In communication it is fundamental for us to evaluate effectiveness of our activities on an ongoing basis because it’s a waste of resources persisting with something that isn’t working. Instead we need approaches that can be easily reviewed, updated and implemented on an ongoing basis without creating excessive administrative overheads.  

Moral of the story 

If you need strategic communication planning, especially in a dynamic context, hit me up: I have a bunch of new skills to share.