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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.

No, Thank You, I Do Not Need Another Journal

Journals are pretty much the bane of my existence. There are so many beautiful ones out there. Ones with leather bindings, magnetic closures, fancy mechanical closures, embossing, foil embellishment, pages to track your reading, questions to help you write—THERE ARE SO MANY. But no matter how enticing they are, no matter how much I want to run my hands over their beautiful bindings and ingenious closures I have to stop myself because I don’t write in journals.

I have a desk drawer that is full of empty journals. Some of them I purchased, but the majority of them were given to me over the years by well meaning people who decided that the present you should buy a writer is a journal. I get where these people are coming from—after all, I have purchased an amazing number of journals on my own—but not all writers use journals and I am definitely a writer who doesn’t use journals. I like working on outlines by hand, and I love the idea of story bibles, but I can’t translate either of those things into writing in journals.

To me, a journal with a cover sets the theme of the content inside. That means a journal with say, Anakin Skywalker on the cover, should be used for Star Wars fanfiction, or at least something fandom-y, or Star Wars-y. A journal with frogs on the cover might be more generic, but I’m not going to use it to plan a sci-fi time travel story or start drafting my next steampunk adventure. So, if a journal I own doesn’t match a project I want to write, I feel like it’s the “wrong” journal to use. Thus, it sits in the drawer, waiting for the right project.

So when the right project comes along, I immediately go for that journal, right? Wrong. What if I “mess up” the journal? What if when you open that beautiful journal with the leather bindings and the mechanical clasp all you find inside is scratched out names and wrong details about characters or outlines of a book I abandoned? What if I wait until I’ve done the dirty work and start transcribing it into a journal to make a story bible, but change my mind while I’m writing? How will I live with myself knowing I ruined that book!? Thus, it still sits in a drawer, waiting for me to finish the novel and then write the story bible after the fact. (I’ve never done this, but it’s the only thing I can think of that would satisfy my perfectionist fears.)

It’s easier for me to admit that I don’t write in journals. I’ve tried a few times to force myself past my neuroses—and I do actually keep a bullet journal that is far messier than I would like—but using journals for fiction isn’t something I’ve been able to do. I finally started giving away my collection of empty journals, and I’ve repurposed a few, using one to keep track of editorial work and another to jot questions for phone interviews, but ultimately I don’t write in journals. So please, when you’re thinking about giving your writer a gift, ask yourself if a journal is really the right thing.