Lessons from The Writing Sidekick: What I Learned About Writing and Writing Groups

Posted May 15, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Writing / 2 Comments


In April, 21 intrepid souls and I embarked on the Camp NaNoWriMo adventure. It wasn’t my first NaNoWriMo—or even my first Camp NaNo—but it was the first time I banded together with a group of writers to write.

And through them, I learned a few key lessons.

1. Motivation is overrated

Okay, sure. We all need some level of motivation to get ourselves in the chair to write. But weekly motivational messages? They don’t help. We like to think they do. And maybe sometimes it’s exactly what you need to hear.

But that brings us back to the difference of hearing something and acting on it. Don’t confuse the two.

Most people need actual events designed to push themselves into writing. Like writing sprints. Planning to write makes you write. Reading words doesn’t.

2. When the going gets tough, the tough get going you fall back on old habits

As much as we like to think something like NaNoWriMo is going to force us into writing and we’ll finally have that major writing breakthrough, it’s all lies.

You’re participating in an epic writing marathon for an entire month. Without the proper training, you don’t magically develop new habits. You fall back on old ones.

And old habits are the ones holding you back. The ones you’re hoping to change.

Trying to break a habit during the pressures of NaNoWriMo is hard. You either need to be committed 100 percent to changing or train yourself outside of NaNoWriMo. I suggest the latter.

3. You get as much as you put in

Your level of dedication—to writing and to writing communities—determines what you get out of it. If you want to write, you have to write. If you don’t write, it’s because you lack the desire to truly do it. (And if that makes you angry, go write already and prove me wrong.) How badly you want it shows in how much you accomplish.

The people who rated their experience with The Writing Sidekick on the lower side also admitted to a lack of time to devote to the group. Coincidence? Absolutely not. If writing with a bigger group isn’t your thing, that’s fine.

But if you love the group experience and you’re not devoting the time to it, you’re also not devoting time to what’s going to get your butt in the chair to write. Where you invest your time says a lot about your priorities and desires.

4. NaNoWriMo isn’t an accurate representation of what writing is really about

Not everyone is pro-NaNoWriMo, and I think this is one reason why. (There are others, all valid, but not an issue for this post.) If you’re writing on a regular schedule outside of April, July, and November, that’s where the nitty-gritty of writing happens.

Plenty of real writing happens during NaNoWriMos, but what happens outside of those months is as important as—if not more important than—during those months. Building a writing habit isn’t going to happen in a single month. 

We tell ourselves that NaNoWriMo is a good excuse to force ourselves back into the writing habit. And it can be, but you can’t go from zero to 1,000 or 1,667 words per day and expect to develop a writing habit that’ll stick.

If you’re not a runner, you’re not going to be able to run three miles every day right away. (You probably won’t even be able to run one.) And if you attempt to maintain a habit of three mile runs, you’re going to develop an unhealthy and unhappy relationship with running. Writing is no different.

For those without a steady writing habit in place (I’m among them. There’s no shame in admitting it), NaNoWriMo encourages you to binge on writing. When you binge on writing, you develop a bad, unhealthy relationship with it. NaNoWriMo can get you writing, but will it keep you writing? Only YOU can answer that.

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2 responses to “Lessons from The Writing Sidekick: What I Learned About Writing and Writing Groups

  1. I agree with all of these things. I was that runner who took off at a sprint and ended up on the side of the road with a twisted ankle.

    That being said I really liked it. There was a great feeling of solidarity and a safe place to fall. I got some great notes from alpha readers which was a big hurdle in thinking about sharing work.

    So my plan is to casually write between now and July and then try again. Being a little better prepared is going to be important but I wouldn’t miss it!

    • I’m more of the runner who’s like, “Yeah, I can do this,” runs the entire race, then spends the next week being so miserable she doesn’t attempt running until the next race. Ahem.

      That said, I’m doing some incremental training now. At 350 words/weekday and increasing.

      I’m excited to see what we can accomplish in July! 😀

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