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I am in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Since I majored in English, some people expect all types of writing to come easily for me, but writing fiction is basically completely terrifying. So this year, I decided to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge. Each day, my goal is to write 2,000 words, but to be honest, I don’t make that goal nearly as often as I’d like to (OK, so almost never). I regularly get stuck, and I feel like the characters are just running around in circles. But here I am at word 24,140, and I have to admit that I’m growing as a writer in a lot of ways. Here are some things I’ve learned from my NaNoWriMo experience that actually do apply to just about every kind of writing:

  • A first draft is just that—a first draft. Don’t stress if something doesn’t sound perfect the first time around. Several of my characters were “NAME” for the first few chapters of the book until I figured out who they would become. Get the idea down and move on; you can always come back and rework it later.
  • Deadlines are incredibly motivating. Now, this may seem obvious, but I don’t mean just the ones set by your professors. In NaNo, I am the only person that holds me accountable, and while I don’t always meet my word count, I am writing far more than I would if I did not have a goal. When you receive an assignment, establish deadlines for yourself so that you don’t leave it all until the last minute (that way your first draft isn’t your only draft!). Writing Center appointments can be a great way of doing this. Just make one (or several) ahead of time and decide that you will have an outline, sources, or a certain number of pages/words by your appointment.
  • Revisiting your draft can help overcome writer’s block. On more than one occasion, I have found myself stuck, not sure where to go next with the story. In those moments, I go back and reread previous chapters, paragraphs, or sometimes the whole story to help get me back on track. If you reach a point in writing when you don’t know where to go next, pause and review where you’ve been. It’ll get you back on track and maybe even open up a new direction.
  • Reward yourself for accomplishments. Sometimes, you just need to walk away from your writing. When I get to the end of a 1,000 word sprint, I take a break, grab a snack, and play a game to reward myself. This applies to your papers as well. Set a goal, meet it, and then celebrate it!