I first heard about NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I had to keep asking the person who told me about it to say the name of it – the word being so unfamiliar to my ear. Na-No-Wri-Mo; the abbreviated version of “National Novel Writing Month” where the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November.
Fall is a very busy time for me in my job so it is usually mid-November before I realize that NaNoWriMo is happening and much too late to join. This year I made the decision to do the challenge a few days before it started. I had no outline when I started just the name and occupation of my main character.
I chose to write a mystery because I love reading them and wanted to try to write one. It is very difficult to write a mystery without an outline which I found when I got to 25,000 words and didn’t know where to go with the story. I had to take time to figure out where to go with the plot before I could continue writing.
One of the reasons that I wanted to do this is that I have another book in progress that I have become stalled on. I thought by writing 50,000 words I would get my writing mojo back. The older we get the more critical we become of ourselves and I had convinced myself that I couldn’t write because I never studied writing in school; had not been paid for my writing; and many other versions of this same line of critical self-talk.
NaNoWriMo urges you to share your writing goal with others to receive encouragement and solidify the writing commitment that you have made for yourself. You may encounter some resistance from friends who too have aspirations to write but who have not fallen through with the dream. When you boldly declare your participation in NaNo, they may make some limiting comments. Luckily, your fellow NaNo writers will cheer you on as well as writing buddies that you find along the way.
NaNoWriMo also has volunteer MLs who coordinate write-ins and other community events to help keep you motivated during the month. I didn’t attend any of these because my greatest challenge was lack of time and couldn’t afford any additional time to go to these events.
As a first-time NaNoWriMo participant, I wanted to share with you some tips that I learned along the way.
I learned that you can make time for things that you want to do. I started off writing between 8:30 – 10:30 pm each night after I had finished making dinner and cleaning up. I couldn’t sustain this because it was cutting into my sleep. After writing for two-hour chunks to achieve my daily goal of 1,667 words/day (50,000 divided by 30), my mind would be too alert to fall asleep right away.
After the first week, I found I could make progress towards my daily writing goal by writing for several 30-minutes writing sprees throughout the day. By limiting my time on social media and TV watching, I had no problem finding time most days.
Write every day even when you think it won’t make a difference because it does. Writing is like dieting, you don’t think that saying “no” to a cookie will make a difference when you are trying to lose 20 lbs but multiple times of saying ” no” will. Just do it.
On the first Friday of NaNoWriMo and exhausted from my work week, I decided to give myself a break and didn’t write. This was a huge mistake because it was difficult to get caught up and make up the additional 1,667 words. It would have been wiser to shoot for a higher daily goal to build in a cushion for days when I had other things going on and had less available time for writing.
On the night of the US elections, I tried to write but only managed a couple of hundred words. I was so discouraged by the short sightedness of some Americans in voting in a narcissist, racist as their President that I could not write. It took a few days to come out of this funk and I am sure the writing that I did during this time was not very good.
One night, we had friends over for dinner and we had two early Christmas parties in November which limited my writing time on those days. On the last Sunday of the challenge I had to get caught up by writing 5,000 words or I would not make the November 30th deadline.
I wrote 6,000 words which allowed me to get caught up and I finished strongly one day ahead. I had never written 6,000 words at once and wasn’t sure that I could so I wanted to share with you how I did this. I would decide what I was going to write – like a scene in a movie and would write for one hour. Then, I would take a break for an hour and do something else like vacuum or do the dishes. (Housework was a victim of NaNoWriMo.) I continued this process of alternating one hour of writing with one hour of something else until I reached 6,000 words. By breaking it up like this, it did not seem too difficult.
Letting go of the desire to edit as I wrote and correct typos was one of the hardest things to do. It was freeing to simply let the words flow without self editing which slowed me down and interrupted the creative process.
I wrote a lot of dialogue in the novel which required me to step aside and let the characters reveal themselves. I loved this part and am looking forward to adding some more depth to the characters in my first edit of the draft.
Giving yourself permission to not have it perfect the first time is very liberating.
Once I started writing in half-hour chunks it became necessary to find a way to do this easily. I had been writing in Word on our desktop computer at home but this became limiting trying to work around my husband’s use of the computer. I also encountered a sticky keyboard three times. The first time it happened, the “w” key became stuck and wrote line after line of “w’s” across my Word document. It happened a second time with the letter “u” a few days later so I bought a can of pressurized duster spray to clean the keyboard.
The third and final incident happened when the “delete” key got stuck; this was the last straw. I lost an entire page before I could get it to stop. I decided to import my document into Google docs so I could work on it remotely.
I had not used Google docs much before so it took a little while to figure it out but it proved very easy to use and the best part was that it saved the document as I typed. Beautiful. It also had a word count feature which was very important for updating my word count in the NaNoWriMo dashboard.
The NaNoWriMo dashboard and stats were great motivators. It helped me churn out a few hundred more words when I was tired and wanted to stop.
The NaNoWriMo community is wonderfully supportive. My treat after accomplishing my daily writing goal was to go on Twitter and seek out other NaNo writers to give them encouragement. I received the same support in return.
Volunteer writers provided useful tips in online forums and in articles making the experience educational as well.
I had a wonderful first-time experience participating in NanNoWriMo and am planning to participate again next year. it was the impetus that I needed to get writing again. Here are my five tips for someone planning to participate in NaNoWriMo.
- Declare your intention to participate to those who will support you. Ignore the naysayers.
- Decide what you are going to write about an create an outline before November 1st.
- Google docs was a great writing tool for me and you can adjust the settings to access the document while offline.
- Write every day. Fifty thousand words seems like an impossible goal to achieve when you are writing 1,667 word a day but it all adds up. Habits are developed after 30 days so after you complete NaNoWriMo you can easily continue to work on your novel.
- And the best advice that I can give someone contemplating participating in NaNoWriMo is to just do it. We don’t have forever to achieve our goals, so get going. The satisfaction in achieving this challenge is very motivating.