Animation Lessons from doing NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. I had the opportunity to participate this year, and complete the goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. What common themes can we learn from the challenge to apply to our animation work? Read on to find out!

Deadlines Exist for a Reason

I really enjoy writing, and recently completed my first published book the 15 Day Creativity Boot Camp. In spite of my passion, I tend not to allot enough time to practice the craft. NaNoWriMo is a chance to change that.

By having a deadline (albeit a crazy one) of 50,000 words in just one month, I was a lot more focused when I sat down at my desk. As a result, I met my goal in only 22 days rather than the full 30. Without that hard deadline, though, you can bet I would still be fussing with the first chapter, weeks later.

Burning the Midnight Oil
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If you work at a studio, you have deadlines set for you. What if you’re a freelancer, or simply do animation because you love it? Deadlines can still help you; you just have to set your own.

Bonus tip: To be sure you stick to your deadlines, ask a friend or family member to hold you accountable. The reason NaNoWriMo works so well is that you’ve declared to other writers that you’re participating, and that public knowledge can help keep you on track when you feel like taking a day off.

First Work Rough, then Edit

Writing 50,000 words is no easy feat. To do it in 30 days borders on ridiculous.

Because of such an overwhelming amount of work, it’s almost impossible to be timid when you sit down to write. Instead you simply “go for it” and allow your first draft to be a messy scribble of ideas, pouring things out onto the page to see what needs to be there. Later, when things have settled down, editing is necessary, and possible because you put down so many words.

rough scribbles
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The writing adage goes “You can’t edit a blank page.” The same is absolutely true for animation.

Often we get caught up in trying to make something perfect in the first pass. This is a mistake. By working loose and rough initially, we can see what is working and what needs fixed.

Bonus tip: Remember that no one says how many attempts you’re allowed to have. If you have to go back 30 times through your few-second shot just to get it right, so be it. The only failure is allowing yourself to give up.

Tell the Truth

An author’s job is to tell the truth. Even in fiction, there is a story to be told and altering that story for our own purposes is nothing more than manipulating the audience like some sort of puppet master.

As animators, we must also tell the truth. We have to allow the characters to live and breathe, honestly showing what they would do in any given situation. We can have a brilliant idea for some beautiful movement or acting choice, but if the character would not truthfully do that, it needs left at the thumbnail stage.

It can be painful to do this, for sure. We have so many great ideas, and to be at the whim of what our character wants to do is giving up control. Still, the piece will be better in the end if you do. The audience will relate better, because they know the artist has been honest with them.

Bonus tip: That doesn’t mean we can’t make the character’s choices as appealing as possible! Going back to the editing mentioned above, we have the opportunity to push the truth and make it really shine. The key is simply that we must begin with that honest core and work from there.

Hopefully these ideas help you work through your next piece of animation, whatever it is! If you have any thoughts on the process, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Have you ever attempted NaNoWriMo, perhaps to stretch your own creativity? How did it go?


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Sabina K

Nice, encouraging article. 🙂
A deadline helps you work more and keeps you determined but can also be the cause of stress and panic. But No pain no gain. If stress is the price for making something creative and great, so be it. I’m sure it’s ultimately worth it.


Hey there! Very cool article! Btw. Beginning work on this novel that I am going to make into an animated film {see bio info for details}. It’s going to be a full-length feature. So looking for either software or a website that I can use to create it. Any ideas? Btw. The protagonist looks like this: http://i1243.photobucket.com/albums/gg550/oceanparkraven/JD_zpsruha66hj.jpg

Jamal Ste

Nanowrimo is insane lol.