In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t win NaNo, but what I learned changed my writing life.
For those unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo for short) is actually a world-wide phenomenon where writers attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. The whole point is that you aren’t alone. Regional groups sponsor in-person events and write-ins and forums are available on the NaNo website to discuss every aspect of writing. There are even writing coaches to answer questions and pep talks by famous writers. It’s a bit of a rah-rah experience.
For years, YEARS, I thought these people were nuts.
I’m a sloooooow writer, happy to get 500 words a day and that didn’t happen often. (The NaNo average is 1666 words per day and don’t forget Thanksgiving right near the end!) There was no freakin’ way I’d be able to write that. Well, turns out I didn’t have to write that much to see benefits.
A couple things happened that changed my mind. The planets must have aligned and I swear I saw a pig with wings.
While my first novel was with beta readers, I’d outlined the second novel in the series, and had started writing. I wasn’t that far in, at 5,460 words, when Halloween hit.
I listen to a few writing podcasts and scuttlebutt around the Indies is that the best way to break in as a new author is to publish three novels within a short period of time. It gives readers time to read, enjoy the first book, want more, tell their friends about this fabulous book they just read, anticipate the next one (but not for long), and then buy the next one. There’s already a big bias against Indie books. We need all the help we can get if we want to make a career out of this and earn enough money to live on.
It’s a strategy that makes perfect sense to me. As a reader, when I find an author I like, I binge read. However, to take advantage of this accelerated publishing cycle, I needed to get BUSY.
You see my problem here?
Suddenly, I saw the upcoming NaNo as a trial by fire. Do or Die. Putting my money were–well, you get the picture. I didn’t expect to hit 50,000 words. My goals were to see how much I could write, how fast I could do it, and maybe make a few writing friends.
I wrote 33,395 words!
My average was 1,113 words but I was all over the place. On my best day, which was near the beginning, I wrote 3,178 words. Then, I had to work on Thanksgiving, cooked an entire meal (with help) the next day for our Thanksgiving, and the day after I was a mess. I missed three days of writing. Just couldn’t do it. Then finished the month out writing almost 4,000 words over two days.
I felt like a mad woman most of the month. But, my family was very supportive and cheered me on. (They also still don’t understand the closed door concept, but we’re getting there.)
So, how did NaNo miraculously change my writing life?
I know I can do this.
I broke through some kind of mental barrier. I now know it’s possible for me to write more words a day. Period.
I can live without TV.
Hi. My name is Eileen and I’m addicted to TV.
What can I say? I was a child straddling the 70s and 80s and grew up watching the boob tube. When I’m bored, tired, or feeling like crap, I lose myself in the world of NCIS, Blacklist, Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, etc., or movies.
I’m learning to make the TV an ‘atta girl for finishing my writing for the day. Yes, I fall off the wagon. Then I pick myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again. (You’re welcome for that earworm.)
I learned to write even when I didn’t feel like it.
I felt that deadline looming like the Eye of Sauron. I normally hate deadlines for my writing. Strange, since I have no problem meeting deadlines for other things (okay, maybe I’m late paying a bill once in a while). I’m real good at watching those self-imposed writing deadlines pass me by. For some reason, this one month seemed doable to me. Crazy, right?!
The point is, I wrote in the morning, my normal time. I wrote in the afternoon. A couple times, I even managed to write at night. It felt weird, yet not. It’s kinda hard to explain.
I pushed myself, which was something I needed.
The social aspects of NaNo didn’t live up to my expectations.
I live in a rural area and the closest area write-ins were scheduled during the day when I worked. The next closest were a 40-minute drive away. That’s time lost writing, so I gave up on making writing friends in person.
Next, we have Writing Buddies. You click on someone’s profile within the NaNo site to be your writing buddy. You can then see their writing progress, email them encouragement, etc. I’m still a little fuzzy on the etiquette of this. I clicked to see what would happen and Bam! they were my writing buddy. It felt a little stalkerish. Apparently, it’s not like Facebook, where you have to get permission first. I went back and emailed them, told them a little about myself. Sadly, I never hear back from them. Anyway, I got three other writing buddies that actually talked to me, so that was fun. One of them hit 50,000 and I didn’t even feel jealous.
I tried the forums a bit, but, honestly, I spent most of my time writing. The need to get the words done felt like a ticking clock. I didn’t want to waste time just talking.
Fast drafting is the way to go.
My problem has always been my internal editor. She’s an iron-willed wench. As a former English major, I’ve struggled with a pathological need to fix each sentence I write to conform to proper grammar rules. With informal writing, this isn’t a problem. I’ve learned to write the way I talk. Mostly. I still find myself spending way too much time editing texts and emails. *shrug*
Anyway, over the last six years of novel writing, I’ve learned to ignore some grammar rules in favor of story flow. But I still love to play with sentence structure. I slip into that mode without realizing I’m doing it.
I didn’t completely lose my internal editor during NaNo, but she quieted down some. When I noticed I was playing with sentences, I forced myself to go on, despite the ugliness.
And it was ugly. *shudder*
I think I need to tweak my preplanning. In order for me to write fast, I discovered I need to know where I’m going, in a fairly detailed manner.
Since my NaNo novel was the second in a series, I already had the main characters, setting, and supernatural elements fleshed out. I planned most of the new characters, the plot structure, etc. and had my scene sentences written out. I thought that was enough to start writing.
Not quite. There was section in the middle where I floundered badly. I needed to research something important to the rest of the story and had to stop and do it. I lost time. Yes, I did, Precioussss.
I think what I need are beats.
There’s a lot that can go on in a scene that the scene sentence only hints at. If I’m going to write fast, I need more. Beats are basically as little as one sentence or as much as a full paragraph for each step in the scene. This happens then this happens then this happens, including setting description, noting which characters are present, etc. All in narrative form. No dialogue. Unless something good comes to mind while writing the beats.
While fast drafting, I went strictly plot point by plot point. I totally forgot to include characters that weren’t specifically mentioned in the scene sentence. And I meandered a bit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. I’ll have to see how the editing goes with this one. Obviously it’ll require a hell of lot more than the first one.
Despite the problems, I got a story — beginning, middle, and end — written in ONE MONTH! Which feels AWESOME!
Sorry about all the shouting. I’m a little excited. This has been a big, big learning experience and it got my butt in gear. I needed that motivation to push myself. Luckily, they have smaller Camp NaNoWriMos in April and July.
I do still have that third novel to write.
Did you NaNo this year? If you did, how did it go? What did you learn about yourself and your writing?