If you are pursuing a career in writing, there are skills that NaNoWriMo and other contests like Pitch Wars can give you that will be invaluable, and from which you will reap benefits throughout your whole writing career.
Skill 1: Learning to Write Under a Deadline. AKA: working under pressure.
After winning PitchWars, the other mentees and I quickly realized we had a lot to do in a little amount of time. For some of us, there were only minor edits to be done, but for others, there were total rewrites–which means, ripping the book to shreds and transplanting every vital story organ, with little time to put it back together again and make sure everything is functioning with clarity, pace, voice, not to mention the tedious work of line editing out all of the typos.
Our mentors were quick to point out that PitchWars would give us a taste of what it is like to work under publishing contract deadlines. Under contract, there is little choice but to meet deadlines, which means you need a plan of priorities, time, and focus.
If you let NaNoWriMo be that deadline test, you may learn you love it and can thrive, or you may learn you hate it, and would love to pursue another avenue for publishing apart from traditional publishing.
Ideally, either way, you can learn to work hard, meet commitments, and build lasting and healthy habits.
Skill 2: Healthy Writing Habits. If your body breaks, so does your mind. Learn to rest.
Working under pressure, towards your dream and goal, especially one that reaps rewards, can be addictive. But to be successful, we must know when to rest, which means possessing enough self-control to close the computer.
Rest is crucial to our creative process and the quality of our work. Our brain needs time to process and think through plots. Believe me, our brains are still working, even when we rest. Often, after stressing about a plot point and wasting hours trying things that don’t work, if we set it down, the plot point comes to us during that rest time.
Some writers (mentees and others) can attest to losing so much sleep over writing goals that their body broke down, and they feared they’d be forced to give up before the end. That’s when they made a crucial change in their writing habits: to put health first, then write. That includes eating well, drinking more than just coffee, sleeping enough, exercising, etc.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but when we are well rested, fed, and healthy, we often produce more.
Skill 3: Time Management: Don’t get distracted.
We all have a life, families, jobs, responsibilities, and oh my goodness we really want to go to that party, or see that new movie or finish reading the last chapter of that latest riveting book…not to mention I really should post that pic on Instagram or Facebook or jump on Twitter…
When we have goals, under deadline, we all must rework our priorities. Now, I’m a firm believer that family comes above writing, so this does not get moved, nor does health get bumped as we mentioned earlier, but things like social media time, that TV show, blog posts, that late night, do get bumped down until I finish my book’s goal.
Reading is a love language of mine. As a writer, I can easily justify reading time, but even that love is reserved until I meet my goals.
So, next time, ask yourself: What do I want more? To do X now for a few moments or have a finished novel under my belt and get my career moving? Trust me, you will have plenty of time for playing, but the reward of a finished novel is so much more gratifying.
Skill 4: Together is better than alone. The Lesson of Community.
As humans we are designed for community. The writing community is the same. We need each other. The Spinning Pen authors, my critique groups, my fellow Pitch Wars mentees, and other YA communities online are a life line of motivation and strength for reaching my goals.
So get involved. Latch on and don’t let go. Run the race together, and guess what? There isn’t just one winner in this race. The winner is anyone who plugs away, and doesn’t give up. Each race has a different finish line and a different pace. This is not a competition. We learn with and from each other. We share with each other and cheer each other on.
Skill 5: Rejoice.
Finally, learn to rejoice. After all, we are writing because we love it, right?
Rejoice in what you and others have accomplished. Anyone in the publishing industry says writing and publishing books is not for the faint of heart. Whatever writing journey you have walked, although enjoyable most times, was probably not all down hill. Like our novels, we have conflicts and obstacles that prevent us from reaching our goals, but like our protagonists, we over come.
We always find a way– if we keep going. So just keep going, and on the way, rejoice.
Nova, signing off.