5 Lessons I Learned From Winning NaNoWriMo


After eight years of trying, I finally won NaNoWriMo this year. It was glorious, affirming, life-changing. I proved to myself that I could write at a professional pace, banging out 2K a day with amazing regularity.

So, what was different this time?

I plotted a bit more than I usually do before writing, but that wasn’t what helped me win this one. I’ve put these lessons below, in order of importance. Some of them completely changed the way I write.

Note: For any of you who haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s a writing challenge that happens every November where people from around the globe try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

#5 – Writing every day is about momentum.

I’m not a person who generally writes every day. I have a kid and a job and a social life and it just doesn’t always happen. I have friends who swear by it, but it just isn’t something I can keep up 365 days of the year.


Writing every day kept me immersed in the story in a really creative way. Writing every day kept said story at the top of my mind in a way that taking lots of days off just didn’t match.

#4 – Writing everyday increases my output. A LOT.

Seriously, look at this graph. Look at what happens when I’m really in that story, multiple times a day, every day.


At the beginning of the month, I was hitting between 1800-2400 each day. My birthday is November 10 and I took a break with my honey for a few days. When I started back with NaNo, I just inched ahead on that story.

I’d lost my flow.

I got the flu the week before Thanksgiving, and then prepared a magolicious gluten free Thanksgiving feast. And I didn’t think I’d win NaNoWriMo.

That’s okay, I reasoned. I never win NaNo. I have 24,000 words I didn’t have. That’s close to what I usually do.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

#3 – Enlist the support of friends and family.

Several friends told me they were going for it and I was too. That’s right, they informed me that I was capable.

Jamie Raintree, Julie Glover, my WANA pals and all my fabulous writing friends at OCC/RWA were like, “You can easily do 26,000 words in a week. You write fast. You’ve got this. Plus, we want to be accountable to you and have you be accountable back.”

And my family picked up the slack for that last week of November, which was pivotal.

#2 – Accountability and group sprints are like rocket fuel.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I freaking love group sprints. I’ve been doing them for some time online in Facebook groups or at Twitter hashtags, or over in Kristen Lamb’s WANATribe. They’re lovely and I set a timer. And that ringing buzzer often jars me out of the story.

The NaNoWriMo site has a group sprint tool (under Word Sprints) that’s rocking my world. I’m still using it, even though the challenge is over, and I hope they keep it on the site FOREVER.


The NaNo timers have a cute little “time’s up” voice that isn’t jarring at all. Plus, you are prompted for word count at the end of the sprint so you can visually analyze later if there was a time of day or part of the story where you wrote faster. And you see how everyone fared. If you’re competitive, that part is groovy too.


Being accountable about reporting numbers and meeting up online for sprints is just a little extra oomph to get me back to the page. Love. It.

#1 – I can do way more than I think I can.

I’m not calling myself a lazy-ass. It’s more that I get in my own way. My “you can’t do that” voice seems to be much louder than my “you can totally do that” voice, and that’s a damn shame.

This was my biggest lesson this last November: Get. Out. Of. Your. Own. Way.

When I sat down and played with my story every day (being accountable to my friend, Julie Glover) we moved mountains.

I busted out 3-4-5,000 words in a day. Easily. One crazy day, I wrote almost 7,500 words. I’d never done that before because my silly brain didn’t know it was possible. What a huge eye opener that was!

Get immersed in the story and sit down and write until you can’t any more. Take a break. Repeat. That was the “magic formula” for 2016. It worked and I had so much fun because I got out the way of my inner happy storyteller.

What is the last goal you worked for that you met? Is your “no you can’t” voice louder than your “sure you can” voice? Have you every participated in NaNoWriMo? Enquiring minds love to know these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
This entry was posted in Inspiration, NaNoWriMo and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to 5 Lessons I Learned From Winning NaNoWriMo

  1. Congrats! Feels good, doesn’t it? 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It felt AMAZING, Felicia. I’m still a little bit euphoric over it all. Still, it was that #1 lesson that really knocked me out. I just had no idea what that complete immersion felt like, and how much it would spur the higher word counts.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Woohoo! You rawk! *happy dances in your honour*

    Liked by 2 people

  3. CrizGazr says:

    yay! Woo Hoo! Congratulations!
    I started doing Nano in 2006 but under a different user name and never won, in fact, it was a nightmare involving low self esteem, unrealistic goals and martyrdom. I have a self-competitive gene, if I write 1000 then words the next day I want to beat it and that obviously leads to me failing who can double their word count every day? I had to harness my silly-self and try to reach 2000 words a day and just maintain that goal. –my real goal is stamina. Eventually, I found that goal left me with enough time and energy to also work on my WIP. And yes, I seem to catch the flu each year but that’s good too, I learn what works to get back on the horse and power through. Every year is different and I think the real treasure with NaNoWriMo is to really explore your creative process make it your own tool for success. Nano also occurs during the Thanksgiving ‘crush’ and all that involves emotionally and physically, it can teach us that most obstacles are homemade and surmountable.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I will totally confess that during the week or two in the flu/holiday desert, I didn’t look at any of the stats because it does whack your self-esteem. However, I did keep my personal NaNo calendar and that helped immeasureably.

      And this is SO TRUE: “..the real treasure with NaNoWriMo is to really explore your creative process make it your own tool for success.”

      How was your NaNo experience this year?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. MichaelEdits says:

    Congratulations! Way to go!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Michael! It was a wild fantastical journey this year. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • MichaelEdits says:

        I used to say, “I don’t need NaNoWriMo because real authors write every day.” Then I stopped writing fiction for ten years. I’ve used the external pressure of NaNoWriMo more than once to yank a novel out of me.

        Last year I jumped in after Thanksgiving and wrote 30,000 words before it ended, then reached my 50,000 a week later.

        This year I started with 5000 on the first day, 3000 on the next, and maybe 100 per day for weeks after because my customers needed me. Then I decided that, as long as wrote daily, finishing at the end of December was fine. Then I finished the big editing job and, with no pressure at all, blasted my novel out of the water and won early. Hey, whatever works.

        For many years, my favorite part of writing has been self-editing. I’m going to have fun with the new book next year. I hope you enjoy yours too! You rock!

        Also, this is NaNo’s best banner ever. I’m glad I got one. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

        • Jenny Hansen says:

          This banner IS amazing – I’m excited to get my first Winners t-shirt. 🙂 I like that idea of blasting it loose. Candace Havens has a FastDraft method that advocates 5K a day and I always thought she was super ambitious. This year I learned that, if you’re in the flow, 5K is extremely doable.

          I’m totally excited about my book. But I can’t say I get as excited about editing as you do!

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Tina Newcomb says:

    Congrats on your win! I love NaNoWriMo. It allows me to turn off my inner editor and just write.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. So happy to celebrate your first win, Jenny! Thank you for all you did to support me in return! 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Jim Hansesn says:

    Congratulations Jenny, as we say in Texas- You done good!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Mischa Eliot says:

    Sometimes you’re the roadblock….

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Julie Glover says:

    There is no way I would have won NaNoWriMo this year without you, Jenny! We pushed each other across the finish line, and it felt good. (Actually, a couple of days, you dragged me, but I slid easily enough across the scenes I was writing in cooperation mode. 😉 )

    I ordered the T-shirt too, dadgummit! Because when you write 20,000 words in a week, you feel like wearing the banner. Congrats! And you deserve all the victory laps you can take.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I feel the same way, Julie. Perhaps it’s the extrovert in me, perhaps it’s the scene writer, but having a partner in crime this year was pivotal for me. Particularly with both of behind, just going for it was so fun!

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Kelly Byrne says:

    Soooooooo proud of and happy for you, Jenny! 7,500 words in one day – you so totally rock! I regret to say that I was not nearly as successful this year. I’ve won NaNo once before – but it kind of messed with my head. I began to be more concerned with my word count than what was actually happening in my story. I think there needs to be a happy balance between the two with NaNo. I wasn’t able to achieve it then and have struggled since.

    And so this year when I tried (have to say, writing anything or focusing on anything after the election REALLY threw me for a loop) my inner jerk (Jorge) kept screaming at my face, “Hell t’tha’nah!” And, yeah, I listened.

    So I’m picking up my pieces and starting again. But I agree with what you’ve learned. Doing it every day really does make a huge difference because it’s ever present in your mind. I just need to get the hell out of my own way and stuff Jorge back in his trunk in the corner before he convinces me that what I’m writing isn’t enough of enough again. Good enough, smart enough, funny enough, important enough, etc. The list is long. And he is loud. But I will prevail! Hugs to you, Wonder Woman.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I know a LOT of people who had a difficult time getting started again after the election. It was so fraught, and I don’t think anyone ended up happy. But in the end, very little is more important than your own happiness – that includes your story. You won’t be happy if you don’t give it your time and attention. You just tell that jerk, Jorge, to SHUT UP. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  11. The Guat says:

    CONGRATUFREAKINLATIONS! Duuuuude I am so happy for you! Now I know two peeps that completed it! Awesome job! High five! As for your learning top five? I totally agree with you on 5 … just when you thought you couldn’t find a way … BAM! There you are at the finish line. Duuuuuuuuuude happy that badge is yours.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. davidprosser says:

    Well done Jenny, you’ve every reason to be proud of yourself.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Liked by 3 people

  13. K.B. Owen says:

    Jenny! So awesome, and I’m so happy for you! Congratu-FREAKIN-lations! Writing sprints are what kept me moving through my story this month. I didn’t officially join NaNo, but I’ve made a lot of progress. I am a slo-o-ow writer. Having support is huge, and writing every day as well. Great tips! Hugs.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Support is major. I’ll be keeping on the sprints via WANATribe and the NaNo Timer. It’s grand fun and major motivation. And I saw you following along – it’s such encouragement for me to see my pals writing alongside me!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. John Holton says:

    Congratulations on reaching the goal! I’m 3 for 5 on NaNo, and I have no idea where the 3 are. I am on a streak of blogging every day since July 1, 2014, so that’s 890 days now.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Your blogging is amazing, John. I know what a commitment that is, and here you’ve been at it for over two years. Have you thought of curating some of those groups of entries and doing a blog-to-book? I know several people who have had amazing success with that. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • John Holton says:

        It’s something I want to do, and I’m thinking some of the memoir pieces might do nicely. I can always threaten my family that if they don’t buy it I’ll reveal something embarrassing… I might have some trouble because some of it is embedded in other blog posts, so there’d be some rewriting and editing to do, but that’s par for the course…

        Liked by 3 people

  15. Awesome job there lady! I can’t fathom writing that much each day. I better man up!

    What is the last goal you worked for that you met? Well, just read my latest blog post as I pulled myself away from the computer this year and set out on a fitness journey that I recently conquered. Not as impressive as your conquest but it was something I needed to do.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Maria Powers says:

    I am so with you on #1. Too much so. Love this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Maria! I’ve been working hard to be sure I keep these lessons front and center. It’s so easy to get back into my own way, ya know? But I’m not falling for it. (You won’t either, right?)

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Kink Lover says:

    Last year I jumped in after Thanksgiving and wrote 30,000 words before it ended, then reached my 50,000 a week later.

    This year I started with 5000 on the first day, 3000 on the next, and maybe 100 per day for weeks after because my customers needed me. Then I decided that, as long as wrote daily, finishing at the end of December was fine. Then I finished the big editing job and, with no pressure at all, blasted my novel out of the water and won early. Hey, whatever works.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. palhao says:


    I still haven’t had the courage to participate…
    I don’t think my family would support me.
    Maybe I should discuss this with them.

    Thanks for sharing!


  19. Pingback: One Word for Your Writing Life | Writers In The Storm

  20. Pingback: Five Editing Lessons From the Road | Writers In The Storm

Comments are closed.