Gini Dietrich

Lessons Learned from National Novel Writing Month

By: Gini Dietrich | January 21, 2013 | 

Many of you have asked me how my fiction writing is going, particularly because I made it public I was participating in National Novel Writing Month this past November.

Let’s just say I was very naive about the process.

The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month.

I accomplished that…gold star for me!

But did you know that’s not a full book? It’s only about 100 pages. For me, it is maybe a quarter of my book.

I understand, now, the point is to get you in the habit of writing every day and to move you closer toward having a book…eventually.

But I really thought I’d have a book that needed a good edit and a couple of revisions by the end of November. Then I could go get an agent and shop it around.


If I finish it, it’ll take me a good three or four months just to get the story out of my head (writing an hour every day). Then it’ll need a good edit and a couple of revisions.

But I went and committed to writing Spin Sucks (the book) so the fiction is on hold for now.

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

  • Read fiction. A lot of fiction. And all sorts of genres…not just the stuff you normally read.
  • It’s a lot harder to write fiction than a business book, especially if you blog for work every day.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Just like blogging here every day makes me a good business author, writing fiction every day would make me a better storyteller.
  • November is a terrible month to take on a project like this. You’ll think it’s a great month because you have a few days off for Thanksgiving, but family doesn’t stop because you have to write.
  • I wrote for an hour every day. That got me to the 50,000 words, but if you aren’t disciplined enough to do that, consider you’ll have to spend at least eight hours every weekend.
  • Going into November, I had the story outlined in a notebook, but I didn’t do enough research or decide the simple things – such as character names – ahead of time. If you participate this year, make sure you do all of that beforehand. The rule is you just can’t have started writing…but you can do everything else.
  • Making it public holds you accountable. I’m glad I did because there were some days when that alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and I thought, “I can just double my efforts tomorrow.” But the fact that so many of you were holding me accountable got me out of bed to write that first hour of the day.

I’m sure there are lots more things, but the biggest thing was that 50,000 words does not a novel make.

The book will be finished eventually. I have started dreaming about it so it’s in my head and it needs to come out. But, for now, it’s on hiatus.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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111 responses to “Lessons Learned from National Novel Writing Month”

  1. angellr says:

    Thanks for sharing, as the “behind the scenes” stuff never gets told. Another gold star for you.

  2. jenzings says:

    Thanks for sharing this. And yes, it is hard to write fiction, I’d say *especially* if you write for business. It’s difficult to get into your character’s heads that way.
    I’ve taken a few workshops, and 50K words is around the time it’s recommended you start taking your writing and forming chapters. It’s a daunting undertaking, which is why roughly 90% of the people who start writing a fiction book don’t finish. (I think that number seems low!)
    I think it is amazing that you undertook this, and I find it wonderful that you are committed to pursuing this. Good luck!

  3. suddenlyjamie says:

    Gini! How did I miss that you did Nanowrimo? Oh – maybe it’s because I was trying to do it myself and fell off the internet for a while. 😉 
    Congrats on your 50K. I hit that goal (though it was 50K words of CRAP) in 2009, but bailed out in 2012:
    I couldn’t agree more about writing fiction being so much harder than writing for business. I worry sometimes that all the blogging and copywriting I do is actually a handicap, because – although it keeps my keyboarding muscles limber – it’s a completely different mindset and set of tools. What do you think?

    • ginidietrich says:

      @suddenlyjamie I totally agree with you. It’s good, from the perspective of creating habit, but it’s a completely different mindset. It’s almost like you have to turn off one side of your brain and turn on the other side. I’m off to go read your blog post now.

      • suddenlyjamie says:

        @ginidietrich I suppose we should be grateful that we have TWO sides to our brains, but it sure can get confusing when you have to blend those two worlds, or – worse – jump back and forth and back and forth and … well, you get the idea. 😉 
        One thing that is really helping me to get my head around all the intricacies of the fiction craft is reading a TON of books about the brain science behind it (Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story), the inner workings of good fiction writing, story structure (love me some Larry Brooks!), and random bits and pieces from every source I can find. I read a LOT of writing blogs, but also really enjoy the Poets & Writers magazine. Finally finished the Jan issue last night and two articles gave me mini epiphanies. Good stuff! 
        Of course, eventually you have to stop studying and get down to the actual writing. There’s a fine line between beneficial learning and procrastination. I’ve found, however, that the Type-A side of my brain is MUCH more cooperative if I can give it some structure to hang onto while my free-wheeling creative brain takes the wheel . 😉

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @suddenlyjamie  @ginidietrich After a couple of years of writing, I decided to read my first book about the craft. “On Writing”, by Stephen King, is considered by many to be a must read for writers. When I got done, not only did I feel like writing was exactly what I wanted to be doing, I came to the conclusion that all those people were correct.
          I’m not 100% sure, but I think when people (like Stephen King) say that you must read many books, to be a good writer, I think he is talking about fiction, more than books about writing.
          When I want to improve my dialogue, I read Elmore Leonard. When I need better characters, then Rudyard Kipling is the perfect teacher.
          For inspiration about finding a new voice for a different genre, then I try someone new.  I’ve just read Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and it was fantastic. I have a rule, and I’m not suggesting it for anyone, but it works for me, Rule 1: If a writer has been dead for 50 years and people are still publishing their books, they are usually pretty good writers.
          I also like to read from different centuries, because books published in the 1880’s have a different texture than those published in the 1980’s. Still, they are just telling a story and keeping the reader engaged seems to be timeless.

  4. Katjaib says:

    I’m proud of you for getting to 50K in a month! And getting up at 4-freaking-thirty A.M. to do it! I got to 0 K, but I did get a killer outline. Which is something, considering I was in the midst of a killer project and getting 5 hours sleep if I was lucky. Agree… November is a terrible month for this. Why not Feb. or March, when there’s not much to do? I know you will get it done, because you’re Gini, Wonder Woman! Thanks for sharing what you learned. xo

  5. belllindsay says:

    Fifty thousand words in one month while running a business does NOT a failure make. Standing ovation my friend!!!!

  6. douglaserice says:

    Agreed. Writing fiction is tough. It’s hard to keep the story straight and the characters believable.

  7. martinwaxman says:

    First of all, congrats on writing 50,000 words @ginidietrich . That may not be a novel, but with the right story it would definitely a novella make :). 
    Those are great lessons. Too many people think it all comes down to great ideas and inspiration.  But everything we want to do well requires mastery. And that comes down to combining talent with commitment and just plain hard work.
    To put it another way (and build on one of your learnings), it’s like the old old joke: A tourist asks a New Yorker, ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ The New Yorker replies, ‘Practice.’

  8. M_Koehler says:

    Fiction writing is very hard. I took several creative writing classes at BHS and UNO. I do love to write and the whole creative process but it is very time consuming and dadly time is something I don’t have a lot of. Research is incredibly important as well. That part I really loved but again, time is the great enemy. I encourage you to continue with it. I saw that gleem in your eye when you were writing and when you came up with something you thought was really good.

  9. Writing fiction still scares the hell out of me.

  10. rdopping says:

    Good on ya for making a go of it. That’s more than most people would do.
    Hey, I would argue that writing a business book is tougher. No room for BS there.

  11. ClayMorgan says:

    Several of the published fiction novelists I know personally have a similar story, and it is one of four or five or six finished novels that never saw the light of day.
    When I was competing seriously in judo, I had an instructor from Japan who used to say “do it correctly 100 times per day for 100 days.”
    Discipline. That’s was National Novel Writing Month brings to the table – proof that you can write 1,500 or 2,000 words per day.
    But the second part is the hard part. There’s an adage – there is no good writing, only good rewriting.
    Butt in chair discipline is part one. Editing discipline is part two, and not quite as sexy.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @ClayMorgan Yeah that editing part doesn’t sound so much fun. I know how much fun it is in a business book (not). Also, I have an email half-started to you. I am pulling some things for you that I think will be helpful. So not ignoring you!

    • ExtremelyAvg says:

      That old adage likely came from a literature professor who couldn’t write, probably had little ability to do math, and was trying to ruin his or her students before they got started out of spite.
      Editing is important, for mistakes, but telling people they need to rewrite the story half a dozen times is a tool used to keep people from trying. I read the 1st, 2nd, and 4th version of a friend’s work. I didn’t bother with the 3rd, 5th or 6th. The first was easily the best of the bunch, though all of them weren’t very good. The point is, she had a fair book after one try. After six, she had 5 versions that were dreadful, and one that was fair.

      • ClayMorgan says:

        @ExtremelyAvg We’ll have to agree to disagree. A good editor, viewing an article, story, novel or whatever, with an impartial eye, will find not only mistakes, but inconsistencies, holes in a story, weak or cliche plot lines, or ways to refine the story telling process or offer ideas to strengthen leads, conclusions, prevent the middle from bogging down, etc.
        While plenty of people may have a fair book/article/story after one try, I find that very few have something of publishable quality after one try.

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @ClayMorgan I can agree to disagree. I’m fine with that.

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @ClayMorgan Of course, an editor can also try to put their finger prints on the work and thus change the voice. In the 50th anniversary of Farenheit 451, they include an interview with Bradbury. In it, he talks about getting a letter from students at a school who read his classic. They didn’t have a lot of money at the school and the students were asked to check out copies from the library or buy their own.
          Some students had old copies other newer ones and they found that over the 43 printings, the editing had been severe. Mr. Bradbury had no idea and had assumed that after the second or third printing it had remained the same. The reason for the 50th edition was to put back all the stuff the editors had changed to make it more politically correct. Yes, the most famous work on censorship had been greatly censored over the years, much to Mr. Bradbury’s chagrin.
          In fairness, he did edit his first version, which was published in a magazine, because it was only 12,000 words, so in that regard you are correct, he did do second version.

  12. HowieG says:

    I heard the first Harry Potter was written in 18 days. The second one in just 22. Brian Solis wrote his last book in 12 days. Brogan? 6. I heard @dannybrown is spending just 4 on the influence book.
    You should take my speed writing course. You are clearly are the superior story teller you just need clerical help!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @HowieG Why don’t I just give you the outline and you write it for me in five days.

    • ExtremelyAvg says:

      @HowieG I wrote 45,000 words of Two Decades and Counting in 21 days and I was sick for three of them. My latest, Touched, took 46 days, and came in at just over 60,000 words, in 46 days..  Stephen King, in his fantastic book, On Writing, recommends 2,000 words per day. At that pace, a 50,000 word novel would take only 25 days.
      Conversely, my first Henry Wood took around 8 months, which is the longest. Some authors take 10 years to finish a novel. I’m not sure that speed matters. As for length, I tend to write until the story gets to the end, but since I don’t bother to outlines or plan, the arrival of the final chapter is often a surprise. I thought my fourth Henry Wood was going to be around 60K and it didn’t wrap up until 100K
      I can’t imagine doing much writing while working all the hours Gini puts in, because the days I work (2 per week) usually wipe me out.
      I think the key for any piece of fiction is to start and get the first chapter. When that is done, write the second one. If one keeps doing this, without stressing about anything but the next part of the story, they will find that eventually they get to the end. Then hire and editor, cover artist, and decide if you want to publish or shop it.

      • HowieG says:

        @ExtremelyAvg @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes @ginidietrich wow Gini that is some outline. Already half way done. If you read Finnegan’s Wake you will know it is very possible to crank out spectacular gibberish to last a lifetime or 3.

      • Katjaib says:

        @ExtremelyAvg  @HowieG 45k words in 21 days??? That is just obnoxious! If you were my friend, I’d have to unfriend you. hahaha.

        • ExtremelyAvg says:

          @Katjaib  @HowieG On Jan 1, I had only 7,000 words, and was ready to quit. I told Roy Marble Sr., that I would try to write 3,000 that day and if it sucked, I was done. We had a hard launch date of Feb 4, 2012 at the Penn State vs. Iowa game. I had, the previous two months, written zero. Well, I’d written a bunch, but it was all rubbish. I couldn’t get a handle on how to tell their story.
          In the end, I was pleased with how it turned out, and the terror of missing the deadline helped me understand what I could do when scared to death.

  13. RebeccaTodd says:

    Thanks for the update! I am already unclear how you accomplish so much with your time. And now mention of a 4:30 alarm?!? You are a force of nature!

  14. Keena Lykins says:

    Gini, I think we all go into our first novel thinking, “this will be easy.” Then we are all shocked and surprised how hard it is to write fiction, much less good fiction. Keep at it. You can’t revise if you don’t finish that first draft.

  15. bdorman264 says:

    Oh, I heard you were a pretty good ‘storyteller’ all right…….your mother told me……
    Send me that thing, I’ll fix it up and shop that sumbich around; you’ll be more famous than Bones. 
    So if 50,000 is 100 pages, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 must have been 425,000, huh? Hey, you’re 99 pages ahead of me……..
    Good luck, can’t wait to see the finished product.

  16. This is very easy for you because you only need 2 hours of sleep a night. I need a solid 4.5. 
    I agree, writing a novel would seem to be way harder than writing a business book. I’m amazed at what Mr.Brian @ExtremelyAvg  Meeks just did. He published something close to a chapter a day for 44 chapters. It was fun to read, got the heartbeat up, and it held together. I’m not sure if that’s the ideal way to write a novel, but hats off to Brian. 
    Anyone who wants a fun read, it’s here: 
    I commented on it occasionally, and DM’d Brian for typos and such. So now I can say I helped edit a novel, and that’s the closest I want to come to writing one. 🙂

    • ExtremelyAvg says:

      @barrettrossie You helped a bunch, both in pointing out that Honda makes the accord, not Toyota, and also in cheering me along.
      If one doesn’t mind showing their warts, it is a great way to write a novel. Having the readers there with you makes the ride so much more pleasant.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @barrettrossie  Oh if you only knew I really need eight or nine hours of sleep. But I agree with you…writing a chapter a day is freaking amazing!

  17. dbvickery says:

    i wouldn’t know what genre to do. I went through phases from a teen until now having kids exiting their teens. At one point, I wanted to write along the lines of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Anne Rice and F. Paul Wilson. Then I had that martial arts phase, so I favored Eric Lustbader and Barry Eisler. Loved heroic fiction like David Gemmell. And enjoy Daniel Silva, Steve Berry, and David Baldacci.
    Then I thought, what about some “boy growing up to be a man” book? That could be more personal, and I definitely had the tangents…but that felt a tad self-possessed, or folks just wouldn’t read it (I’m just a normal guy that feels like he had several major decision points that shaped my life). And, it’s anti-climatic by today’s standards. I’m not rich…not famous…not dead – I’m just happy.
    Kicking around doing more around my “Social Media Fitness” series based upon the parallels I drew with zone training.
    Get my last daughter off to college in the Fall, and I might have time to crank 50,000 words a month – when the Broncos and Nuggets are not playing…and when I’m not playing tennis…or doing weekend getaways. SQUIRREL!

    • ExtremelyAvg says:

      @dbvickery With such a finely crafted response, it is a shame  you aren’t writing books. Such a strong finish to your comment, too. I love it!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @dbvickery I’d think less about genre and more about what kind of story you have in your head. Kind of like you did with the “boy growing up to be a man” book idea. For mine, I was inspired by something that happened in the news and I suddenly had an idea for a novel.

  18. Tinu says:

    Well if you get a good agent (since you probably don’t have the time) you may be able to get a contract to finish enforce it’s sold. Or you might have a blog where you do character back stories and excerpts if you’re self-publishing. And ave you tried transcribing part of the book? Harder to edit but you can get the body faster.

    • ginidietrich says:

      @Tinu I can’t think unless I type so it’s actually faster for me to write than to talk it. That’s an interesting thought though…I wonder if I could make that work on those nights I dream about it and need to get it out of my head. Also, my sense is to get an agent I have to prove myself first. For most first time novelists, that’s in the form of the actual book. With the business side of things, it was easy to do because I’d spent so much time proving myself with the blog.

  19. polleydan says:

    Yes. I agree on pretty much all counts. As a several-time NaNoWriMoer, I know it takes effort to get to that 50,000th word.I would also add: Don’t worry about it being good or making sense. You can always go back later (after November) and tie up loose ends and add or subtract sections as needed. Good luck on your novel! I plan to focus more on shorter fiction pieces in the near future.

  20. ginidietrich says:

    @timbo1973 The early morning doesn’t bother me, but when everyone wants my attention at 6 p.m., I’m kind of brain dead.

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