Holy Crap, I Did NaNo!


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? 


17 comments on “Holy Crap, I Did NaNo!

  1. thepencilneck says:

    I’ve won Nano twice. The first time was a real learning experience. But in between, I took 2 classes over on Savvy Authors that changed my life. The first was about writing a novel in 6 months — and I bragged that at that wordcount I could write two. The teacher challenged me to put my money were my mouth was… and I did. The second class, immediately after that, was a year long class where we were supposed to write at least 2 novels and several short stories, get at least 1 novel revised, and send at least three of the short stories out to magazines. I learned a ton in that class.

    I learned how to budget my time, how to write to my outline, how to depart from my outline and follow hunches, how to write when I didn’t feel like writing and what it meant when I didn’t feel like writing.

    After that, I was in a “challenge” on Savvy and I wrote 80,000 words in a month. In a freaking MONTH.

    Last year, I played Nano, and I won a second time. But this time, I went from idea to 60,000 words in one month. I spent the first couple of weeks just planning the thing.

    This year, I didn’t play because I was in the middle of a big revision, and I had a lot of work, AND we flew back to the States for the Breeder’s Cup. I just finished that revision and got the book out to my betas. But now, my plan is to outline the next novel (which is already mostly plotted) and hopefully get it completely written by January.

    But, yeah, Nano is an amazing experience, and you learn a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds amazing! I did not even know so much comes into writing! *face palm *


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      I’m still in awe of folks like you who really get the word counts out there – and then finish, revise, and publish. That’s what I’m working towards. I really think the communal aspect of NaNo and Savvy Authors as you’ve described it, help spur us on.

      Thanks and good luck with your revision!


  2. Woho! I finished my novel too and recently blogged about it. Guess what? I wrote supernatural things too!

    I completely understand what you said, the rush of finishing up the words per day to meet deadline, breaking of the mental barrier and writing when you don’t feel like.


    BTW, what sort of books are indie? I do not know that.


  3. jazzfeathers says:

    This could have been my post of six years ago… that is, if I had been blogging six years ago 🙂

    I leanred the same things you did, especially the first: I can do this. I’ve been writing nearly every day since, I’ve drafted and revised an entire trilogy of novels and nearly polished the first novel in the trilogy. I would have never imagined I could do that.

    But this is why I always say every writer should try NaNo at least once: it pushes you to do more and it really tests your motivation and what you are willing to give.
    I’m very happy I did it. And I’m happy it worked for you too 🙂


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      I love, love, love hearing how NaNo helped everyone! Now that I’ve done it, I agree with you ththat every writer should try it at least once. Learning/forcing myself to write every day was huge.

      Thanks so much and congratulations on your trilogy!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. D J Mills says:

    Well done! I knew you could do it once you got over your doubts, etc.

    I found I could write more once I understood my writing was the same whether I was in the mood or not. The only difference was word count per hour, that is, if not in the mood the first hour I would only get 200-400 words. But if I stuck to it, the second hour would go up to 700-900 words and so on for each extra hour I sat and wrote.

    Still, reading over what I wrote the previous day (cycling) and fixing spelling, adding tags, etc I found the story read as well (sometimes better because I lost critical voice) as when I was in the mood to write and enjoyed watching my characters act on the pages. 🙂

    So glad to hear you have now learned that. I look forward to reading more of your stories when you need beta readers. 🙂


  5. Leah says:

    First off, CONGRATULATIONS! 33,000 words is awesome. *happy dance*

    On 11/10, I realized it was NaNo month. And I almost joined. That was going to be 2,500 words a day and I just didn’t know if I could do that. I mean, sure, there’s days I’m in the zone and can go on four or five thousand words… Anyway, I have it on my calendar for 2016 no matter where I’m at in my current WIP, I’m going to NaNo.

    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*

    Yes!! Me, too. Part of my problem is that my day job demands laser focus and attention-to-detail (where perfectionist tendencies actually work IN my favor) so it’s become a habit in all areas of my life. It’s always been a struggle to turn OFF the editor as I’m writing my fiction. You’ve remdined me to keep on keepin’ on; in other words, just write and ignore that wench. 🙂


  6. Alexandra says:

    Keep on writing and chginugg away!


  7. Alot of folks have Cervelo bikes with FSA Gossamer cranks. Can you inquire if they will be offering an option for these FSA Gossamer cranks? Lots-o-Cervelos out there.Thanks. . .


  8. I Will have to come back again whenever my course load lets up – nonetheless I am taking your Feed so i could go through your web blog offline. Thanks.


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