#NaNonFicWriMo: The End and Lessons Learned

Photo by Ali Abdul Rahman on Unsplash

The end is here! I can’t believe the 30 day of #NaNonFicWriMo have flown by so fast. I gave myself this 30 day challenge to jumpstart a largely untapped writing habit. This daily writing challenge tested an undefined limit. I’ve written articles and essays largely only for work, with a few personal essays published on smaller online media outlets. But there’s a major leap between pursuing a hobby and building a career. Although writing intrigued me, I wasn’t sure if it was more of a creative fling or if I was reading to fall head over heels with literary endeavors. So like so many times before, I set up a test. If I still loved writing after doing it everyday for a month, I should invest more time and resources in improving.

I established a few basic requirements written at the bottom of every essay:

I’m writing an unedited personal essay everyday of November for #NaNonFicWriMo, the non-fiction spin on #NaNoWriMo. You can find daily prompts on my Instagram. Want to join in? The only rules are at least 750 words about the daily prompt and tag #NaNonFicWriMo to share.

To give myself some structure, I made a list of writing prompts using my favorite app to end all productivity apps, Notion. I choose a wide range topics from generic to specific and deeply emotional to intellectual reflection. The topics varied so I could have a deeper understanding of the subjects I wanted to write about at the end of the challenge. I wrote all of my initial drafts on the site 750words.com, a simple site that encourages you to write everyday for greater self-awareness and creativity. There’s a nice feedback loop because they track writing streaks and give a basic analysis of the content of your writing. I copied the completed unedited text to Medium to keep myself accountable for completing the day’s assignment. Lastly, I wanted to make it fun. I used Canva to make writing prompts on Instagram using largely my own photography.

What went well

First things first, I finished this challenge and never missed a single day. I now have 30 essays that I can edit and assemble into a collection of essays if I like or I can shape them for individual publication elsewhere.

This daily writing challenge helped me find my personal writing rhythm. I create best with a bit of productive procrastination. Every morning at about 8 am I published an Instagram post with the day’s writing prompt. i’d write a caption with an anecdote about the prompt that was never more than 200 words. When I returned home that evening, I would review the caption. Some days I used all of the daily caption, some days I used some of it, and some days I used none of it. But forcing myself to put digital pen to paper first thing got ideas out of my head so I didn’t feel stuck when I sat down in the evening. Additionally, having a prompt everyday helped avoid that “What do I write about panic” that I’ve had before even on days where I hated the prompt that I gave to myself.

What didn’t go well

As I mentioned above, some of the prompts didn’t sit well with me. They either didn’t lend themselves to compelling storytelling at the time or I wasn’t in the mood to write about them at the time. Even though I aggregated all of the prompts before starting, there was a fair amount of behind the scenes shuffling for future prompts.

The prescribed word count made some essays feel repetitive or like drudgery. I definitely published pieces that I was not proud of. My perfectionism definitely played a role in how I approached editing. A few essays were bad because they didn’t feel like there was a point or because my execution just wasn’t up to snuff. I’m glad that I didn’t let my perfectionism get in the way of me meeting the requirements of the challenge. But I also want to delete the bad essays from the internet now that the challenge is over.

What surprised me

A not insignificant number of people told me they enjoyed the prompts and essays. I know intellectually I put them out there so I shouldn’t be surprised that people read them. My accountability concerns prompted me to share the challenge publicly in the first place. Having people comment was a delightful surprise. That said, the production required to create the social media assets and remember to post everyday was annoying and time consuming.

Starting over with new subjects everyday was both exhausting and helpful. When I felt the resistance of cranking out every new word, I patted myself on the back for having a new prompt to begin anew the next day. For days that felt like writing was going nowhere, I let myself get frustrated and distracted which made writing feel like drudgery. Overall, it usually took a lot less time to write a draft than I expected. Most of the essays were written in 45 minutes to an hour as long as I focused. To be fair, I did only sketchy editing because I was afraid of censoring myself and deleting the whole thing. This habit has helped increase my tolerance for the discomfort of imperfection and the state of un-doneness.

If you’re wondering what’s next, we are in the same boat. December is a hectic month so I thought I’d take the time to re-read and reflect on what I wrote. I have a lot to learn about writing and a lot to learn about myself.