In our October Essay Contest, we asked readers to tell us, “What it will mean to you to complete the NaNoWriMo Challenge in November and FINALLY write the book you’ve always dreamed of writing?”

You answered, and our five lucky winners were Lisa, Marina, Kara, Syndee, and Katy. They each received a $500 prize, and their essays were published on our website.

These five writers also participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. They committed to writing 50,000 words in 30 days, or an average of 1,667 words a day.

What effect does a project of this magnitude have on your writing? We checked in with our Essay Winners at the beginning of December, to find out what happened during their NaNoWriMo experience.

Did they reach 50K words?

Lisa, Marina, and Kara each hit 50K words and beyond. Lisa had the highest word count, ending the month with an amazing 81,126 words in November. Well-done!

Even though Katy and Syndee didn’t reach their goal of 50K words, they were still positive about their efforts. As Katy says, “I only got in 10,000 words and change this time, but I was happy with my overall attitude shift.” No matter what the word count, they got a big benefit from making progress toward a goal.

What did they learn from NaNoWriMo?

Discipline was key to each writer’s success. Almost all of them scheduled time to write every day, and set a daily word count to meet. Lisa said, “ … having a word count to meet every day, it helped me to be more descriptive, more inclined to ‘show’ rather than just ‘tell.’”

They also realized how important it was to build a daily writing habit. A schedule, and daily writing goals got them through busy days when they might otherwise have been tempted not to write.

Marina learned a good formula for her writing: “Writing things down on a schedule and sticking to them as much as possible + being kind to yourself + staying even keel = SUCCESS!”

Syndee also discovered something new about her personal writing style. “Although I had a synopsis, research, and a general outline for the book, I’m not a pantser — I need planning. A tight outline is needed. I can’t write without one! By having a great ‘skeleton’ for the book, filling in everything else becomes easier — and that’s where the ‘pantsing’ comes in — after the planning.”

How did this change them as writers?

NaNoWriMo reinforced their discipline and commitment to their daily writing practice.

Kara also renewed her commitment to writing for her own personal benefit. “I’m on a mission to make time every day for my fiction writing. I’d lost sight of how much I enjoy it.”

Katy found that writing daily helped silence her inner editor so she could concentrate on getting words on the page. “This was a great refresher for me in terms of getting back to basics and getting out of my own head.”

And Marina discovered an unexpected benefit. “Having done this for the past month now has really created a momentum for me, which is translating over into my now editing process with my book, as well as into my freelance writing business — I seem to have picked up three new clients just this week!”

How has this changed their views of what they can accomplish as writers?

It’s not surprising that all of the writers said they have more confidence after NaNoWriMo, from tackling a long writing project, trying something different (fiction vs. copywriting), and just seeing they have it in them to write and edit.

“I remember when I first started trying to write novels, most of them were no longer than short stories and I would get discouraged,” said Lisa. “Writing for such a long story — it’s a daunting task, but it can be done and I can do it!”

Do they have any plans for their manuscripts?

Syndee pitched her story idea to an editor, who wants to see the finished manuscript. She’s planning to finish and edit her novel, and send it in to see what happens. Marina is editing her novel with the intent of getting it published. Lisa is about 75% done with her story, and will decide what to do when it’s finished. Katy is also still working on her first draft, but would love to see it finished and published. And Kara isn’t happy with her story arc, so she plans to start over and finish it.

How about any new writing goals?

Everyone agreed that they want to keep the momentum going and keep writing every day. They all said that consistent writing is part of their lives now, whether it’s finishing up the novel they’re working on, starting a new fiction project, or working on more copywriting projects for clients.

“I’d love, love, love to get this book written,” said Kara. “It’s been in my head for years (along with a few others … I keep a running list). So my goal is to make time to write fiction every day. Maybe just 30 minutes to an hour each day.”

Syndee said NaNoWriMo sparked a new project. “The whole experience also made me realize I know a heck of a lot about publishing, so I’m contemplating that as a key blog focus for my new website (set to launch soon!).”

How can you can benefit from the NaNoWriMo experience?

NaNoWriMo comes around again each November. But you don’t have to wait a year to get these benefits. You can get started right now.

Simply commit to 30 days of daily writing. Set a goal for your daily word count, such as 250, 500, or 1,000 words a day. Writing every day for 30 days is long enough to develop a lasting habit, and make a lot of progress on any large project.

And you don’t even have to write a novel. There are many other things you can write about. For example, you can use NaNoWriMo to write a non-fiction book, a blog, a journal, or even self-promotional content like web copy or a brochure that sells your writing services.

At the end of the 30 days, you’ll have a new daily writing habit, and maybe even the foundation for your new life as a Barefoot Writer!

As Katy says, “The best part about NaNoWriMo is that it is whatever you make it and you can use it to your advantage in whatever way you need at the time.”