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Why NaNoWriMo Works for Me (And Might Not for You)

The day after NaNoWriMo 2017 I saw a conversation from someone saying they haven’t been able to win since the November they were unemployed. I also saw confessions from people who gave up or from people who never started. Being a Municipal Liaison, it’s easy to forget that NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone, that—in fact—writing 50,000 words in a month with everyone watching might be unhealthy for some people.

So before you sign up for NaNoWriMo 2018, consider these ways in which NaNoWriMo works for me, but may not work for you.

I’m a Plantser

Plantsing is the combination of planning and “pantsing” (writing by the seat of your pants). While I normally write with a planned structure and outline, I’m flexible enough in my plans to let inspiration take me off course.

This combo can save me if I get stuck in my outline or am having difficulty with a character or a scene. Because I have a plan, I can skip ahead and write a later scene that isn’t giving me trouble. Conversely, because I’m flexible, I can get “distracted” by an interesting minor character, or wind up inventing a new subplot because of something I discovered about the characters. Since I have flexibility, I don’t feel restrained by my outline, and since I have a plan, I’m not a slave to the muse. I can write forward by either following my plan or by following my inspiration. The ability to shift back and forth between those writing methodologies helps keep me writing throughout the month.

I Hate Writing First Drafts

I really hate writing first drafts. There’s a reason I’m an editor, and it’s because I like improving content that’s already written. Revising makes sense to me because it’s like untangling a ball of yarn. But writing a first draft is making the knot, and I’ve always liked creating order rather than chaos.

NaNoWriMo forces me to write the first draft as quickly as possible, and it forces me to keep working on the draft. While I could potentially spend November rewriting the same scene multiple times until it’s perfect, it’s difficult to hit 1,667 words a day if you’re only tweaking text. NaNoWriMo is full steam ahead on the first draft, which is a gift for me because otherwise I will relentlessly avoid writing a first draft. (Case in point: I’ve been working on the same first draft the past three NaNos because, without a deadline, I struggle with forcing myself to write it at other times of the year.)

I Can Write 1K in 30 Minutes

When I’m on my game, I can write 1,000 words in about thirty minutes. It’s a valuable skill for NaNoWriMo, to be sure. It means I can hit the pace-goal of 1,667 words in less than an hour. Since I don’t write at that pace year-round, I have to work to get myself back into that kind of writing shape (I typically start November around 700 words in thirty minutes), but once I’m into the stride of things, it’s something I can rely on to make NaNo easier. Spending less time physically writing means I’m more likely to fit writing 1,667 words into my day every day.

Healthy Competition Keeps Me Motivated

A little healthy competition keeps me writing. Most days I’m just competing with myself and the pace bar in the word count graph, but sometimes my co-ML and I pit our word counts against each other. Nothing got me writing more than when Brad was going to beat me! We kept all our battles lighthearted, which is the key to competition being a positive motivator.

I’ve had plenty of NaNos in which I knew I wouldn’t meet the 50K, so I used the month to write as much as I could without adding on the pressure of “winning,” But every time I’ve set out to win NaNoWriMo, I’m one of those writers who will kill myself to win. I find deadlines invigorating. They’re stressful and tiring, too, but pushing myself electrifies me and helps me actually finish. I thrive on that, and it’s a big reason why NaNoWriMo works for me.

 

Those are some aspects of my writing life that make NaNoWriMo a good match for me, but since all writers are different, it’s easy to see that the 30-day deadline or the suggested pace count or the feeling of falling behind could easily stress out or intimidate another writer. It’s sometimes hard to say no to NaNo, especially if it seems like all your friends are signing up, but if you know the challenge doesn’t work for you, keep this in mind: writing is hard enough without the added stress. Keep writing and keep working on a process that works for you.

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Camp NaNo: The Kinder, Gentler NaNoWriMo

April marks the first Camp NaNo of 2018. If you’ve been intimidated by National Novel Writing Month, or just had the misfortune of having a busy November, Camp NaNo is an opportunity to commit to your writing with less stress and greater control.

In addition to not being set right before holiday season, Camp NaNo allows participants to set their own goals. Writing 50,000 words in one month is a challenge even the most successful writers may skip. But the customizable goal during Camp NaNo allows you to set your own word count goal, or pledge to work on a certain number of pages or lines (welcome, poets) or even for a certain number of hours or minutes. That flexibility allows writers who are revising or who are juggling other responsibilities to also participate. It also allows you to factor in what is actually the most productive accountability for you. Does tracking words stress you out? Are you more interested in making sure you write for 30 hours over the month? Then Camp NaNo may be the NaNo for you.

Goal flexibility also means that if you are more successful when you’re ahead, you can arrange to be ahead and stay motivated. Surpassing my goal is highly motivating, so even if I think I’ll write 25K during the month, I tend to aim lower, maybe 18K, so I can feel that boost of accomplishment for hitting the initial goal early. Without the 50K pressure, I feel much more motivated to extend beyond my goal, and—if it turns out I misjudged my available time—I have a buffer to still be successful.

Camp NaNo is also a closer, more intimate environment. Instead of the massive forums and regional groups, Camp is organized around “cabins,” which are private chats with up to twelve writers. You can be assigned to a random cabin, or create a private cabin, accessible via invite. Personally, I go the private route, cultivating a cabin of positivity and productivity among like-minded friends and colleagues. We take turns asking, “Have you written yet? What are you working on?” which makes for a nice daily check-in about our writing. It’s also encouraging to see our small group combine to hit our target goals.

Because there isn’t as much outside activity around Camp NaNo as there is during NaNoWriMo—there aren’t daily tweets and blog posts about composing a novel in a month, maintaining motivation, or dealing with writing anxiety—it’s easier to forget about the event or to let check-ins slide. NaNoWriMo is a little like being in a big city, with eye-catching advertisements directing you to write, but Camp NaNo is like taking a breath in the woods and recharging creative energies. It requires a little more mindfulness to check-in daily, but it is peaceful in comparison to the chaos of November. If that sounds like the kind of thing your writing life needs, sign-ups for Camp NaNo are currently open. Camp runs in April and in July. Use your NaNoWriMo username, if you have one, or create a new account. I wish you many productive hours of writing.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Wrap-Up

Words Written: 50,926

Chapters Written: ?????

Write-Ins Attended: 9

Date Finished: Nov 29

Days Written: 30

Hours Written: ~28

 

Ultimately this NaNoWriMo was a success for me. 50,926 words marks the most words I have written during a NaNo (and therefore the most words I have ever written in a month), and this is the first year I’ve ever finished early. Hurray for new landmarks and successes!

The first draft of my new novel is still unfinished and what I have is sort of a mess, but I feel pretty good about the mess. I learned a lot about the story during the month, accidentally created a few new characters and a new subplot, and figured out how to condense some of the story beats. I like some of what I’ve written (even though I have plenty of first draft clichés and placeholders), and I’m feeling better about this whole idea than I did at the beginning of the month (or even in the middle of the month).

I built myself back up to banging out a thousand words (or more) in a half hour, slapped away writer’s block, and kept myself going even when I really wanted to push the story aside. As cool as it is to have finished a day early or to have written the most I’ve ever written, it’s these in-the-trench successes that really have me smiling. The mechanical aspect of writing, the unstoppable Terminator aspect of NaNo, is part of what I love the most about participating in NaNo. Even though I write every day, I don’t write 1,000 words every day. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to push myself beyond my normal routines and write that 1,667 words a day (or 2,000 words when I fell behind). It’s a yearly reminder that I still have room to grow and that I can achieve the seemingly impossible.

I still have a lot of work ahead of me on this novel, but, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I’m feeling better about that work and I’ve got a decent start.

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One Day More

I have one last day of sanity before the writing madness that is NaNoWriMo takes over my life. That might sound dramatic, but I know the precipice on which I stand, ready to dive into my novel. I know the increased hours I’ll spend pounding away at my first draft or worrying that I made the wrong decision about how to write a scene or say a line. I know the temptation I’ll face to start revising now, to scrap the last chapter, or to throw it all away because it’s just not right. I know the times I’ll go to my friends, desperately needing a pep talk, and feeling like I’m taking up their time because they’re working on their novels too.

It’s scary to be a day out from starting a new novel, but it’s also exciting. I know the characters and the world, the details that make them real and the weak places to prod. I know the plot—I have it in an outline that I can follow if I get stuck, or discard if I get a better idea. I know if I write like crap, if I can’t get it right, if I lose my way, that I can fix it all in revision. I know that this is the start of a book, and that six months or a year from now I’ll have something finished and polished and ready to send out into the world. I know that NaNoWriMo is just the beginning, and that by the end of the month I’m going to have more work to do, but it’s all work I love.

I know that despite the frustration and the anxiety and the inevitable doubt, this month devoted to my novel will be worth it.

I wish all writers the best as they start their NaNoWriMo projects. If you need a few words of encouragement or support during the month, feel free to tweet me.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: Community

Writing is often a solitary pursuit. After all, usually you’re the only one working on your book! Even though writing is a solo venture, that doesn’t mean it has to be a lonely venture.

Last year was the tenth year I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, but the first time I really embraced the community aspects of the challenge. As an assistant to the Municipal Liaison (our region leader), I ran the majority of the social media, offering encouragement and congratulations to participants using our #NaNOrlando hashtag. I also attended more write-ins than I ever had before. By the end of the month—after going to my usual weekly write-ins, write-ins at Writer’s Atelier, leading a write-in at Universal, and joining the NaNo Orlando group for the annual Write Around the (Disney) World event—I finally felt like I was part of a local writing community.

Since quitting my job in 2014 I have struggled with loneliness. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on the social nature of working in an office. Because I needed social interaction, but also needed to write, NaNoWriMo write-ins were the perfect place for me to fulfill both needs. Just like being at work, during a write-in writers work on their own projects and then take short breaks to socialize. At an event like Write Around the (Disney) World, most of those breaks came in the form of transportation between writing locations. Last year we started in Disney Springs and then took the boat to Port Orleans Riverside. We chatted on the boat and as we walked to our destination, and then everyone sat down and got to work. Similarly we chatted on the bus and monorail when traveling to our next two stops of the day. Between each round of traveling and chatting, we got to work, writing for about an hour at each stop. I got so much writing done, and I ended the day by knowing more writers in the Orlando area.

Since then, I’ve made attending local writing events a priority, and have felt more confident branching out and going to events outside of my comfort zone. It’s gotten easier the more I’ve thought about writers as colleagues. Colleagues understand the troubles you’re going through in your work life, can offer advice, and can learn from your experiences. Having a local writing community reminded me that while I might be in a career geared to solitary work, I’m not working in solitude.

 

NaNoWriMo is a month full of writing challenges and writing lessons. I’m a better writer for having participated in NaNo because it allowed me to learn things about my writing life and process I may not have discovered without the pressure. NaNo has also helped introduce me to the rich and wonderful community of local writers, and it has helped me get more involved. This is my first year working as a Municipal Liaison with NaNoWriMo, and I’m excited to get out there to help motivate writers to write. If you’re a writer, consider signing up for the challenge, even if you don’t finish the 50,000 words, you still might learn something about yourself.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: To Sprint Or…?

My first attempt at National Novel Writing Month began with my hard drive crashing two days into the challenge. Sometimes NaNoWriMo is like that—full of obstacles and challenges and complications. I wasn’t very motivated to write while my computer was sent off for repairs, so when I got it back on November 18th, I had a decision to make: was I done with NaNo or did I try to write 43,000 words in twelve days?

Everyone who signs up for NaNo surely has a moment in which they think they’re crazy. It’s a huge goal to accomplish on a tight deadline, and it takes some serious determination to finish, even in the best circumstances. In 2005 I was not looking at the best circumstances. But I didn’t want to throw in the towel.

I started by changing my expectations. I knew I couldn’t blow through a novel that quickly, so even though it would be a rebellious act in my first NaNo, I decided to work on short stories and not worry about connectivity or using the same characters or even following the same ideas. I was going to write 50,000 words of something and not worry too much about what I was writing, so long as I was writing.

That still left me writing 43,000 words in just twelve days. I wasn’t the steady writer then that I am now, but I was very good at sprinting. The first two days of my attempt to catch up had me writing about 8,000 words. It took me four more days to write another 10,000 words because—as it turns out—sprinting can leave you creatively exhausted. I learned to be motivated by count downs (“just 400 more words to go!”). I honed in on ideas that were easier to write and I clung to inspiration. Ultimately I did it. I wrote 43,000 words in twelve days. I’m proud of that accomplishment—amazed­ by it, honestly—and it’s something I never want to do again.

Even though I could binge write my way to 50K, I discovered it wasn’t the healthiest thing for me to do. The act of churning out so much in a single day left me drained, and it was much harder to preform the next day. In the last year and a half of writing every day I’ve discovered exactly how much I value consistency over high word counts. Knowing that I will write every day without it being a struggle is more important to me than writing 6,000 words in a day.

NaNo is still a sprint—I don’t normally write 50,000 words in a month—but pacing myself for the 1,667 words a day is a lot easier than stumbling to catch up at the end. Even if I get behind (which I have many times in past years), keeping the gap small is a good way to keep the NaNo goal in sight. After my first year, catching up 10,000 words could look like a breeze, but I know better. Sprinting is possible, but pacing myself is healthier.

NaNoWriMo is on my mind this month as I’m preparing for this year’s challenge. Stick with me to check out a series of posts on the writing lessons you can learn by participating in NaNo. If you’re a writer, you should really consider signing up.

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NaNoWriMo Lessons: Time

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner! For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a yearly challenge in November to write 50,000 words of a novel. It’s an event that brings together thousands of writers from around the world to practice their craft and talk about writing for a month.

I first participated in NaNo in 2005, and then took a break for several years because I was too busy to write. You know what month is incredibly busy every year? November. You know what excuse is a terrible one for not participating in NaNoWriMo? Being busy! Here’s the deal, writers: you will always be busy. Life will always get in the way of your writing. There will always be a responsibility you think you should be doing instead of writing. You may even feel guilt because you are writing instead of doing something else!

Stop it.

One of the great gifts NaNoWriMo has given me is the perspective that I can make writing a priority. That was a lesson I re-learned every year for the first few years in which I participated. I wasn’t prioritizing my writing life at any other time of the year, but during NaNo, I set aside 30–60 minutes every day to write. (Okay, maybe not every day because there was a year when I wrote 8,000 words one day because I had written 0 words for a whole week.) The only thing standing in my way was myself.

I had responsibilities chomping away at every hour of my day, but with a little extra planning I found the time to write for NaNoWriMo. One of my most productive times to write was on my lunch break. Instead of going out to eat every day, as was my usual routine, I brought lunch at least two days a week and got 30–45 minutes of writing time. I also made use of my weekly writing group (1–2 hours per week). And, sacrifice of sacrifices, I woke up 15 minutes earlier during the month of November. Some days I used that time to make lunch, but other days I got started with writing for the day. Starting my day by writing 15 minutes made me feel ahead all day. Since I was looking for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, I was halfway there!

At the end of the month I was less surprised that I had achieved the 50,000-word goal, and more surprised by how easy it was. I had never before consciously thought about prioritizing writing. I had prioritized projects in order to meet a deadline, but I had never tried to make time to write daily (or semi-daily) for a month. I had thought it would be an impossible task, or that I’d be either exhausted or behind by the end. But when it came down to it, finding the time was much easier than I thought it would be. It took a few years before those lessons really stuck and I stopped being so surprised, but now I never question when I’ll find the time to write, I just find it.

NaNoWriMo is on my mind this month as I’m preparing for this year’s challenge. Stick with me to check out a series of posts on the writing lessons you can learn by participating in NaNo. If you’re a writer, you should really consider signing up.