"If a story is in you, it has got to come out."
"If a story is in you, it has got to come out."
So, it's December 2nd and NaNoWriMo is over! I gave myself a day off before writing this so I could reflect on my month and see what exactly it was that was most valuable from this experience. Also, my whole family is sick so I needed the extra day to play nurse!
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. This amazing event happens every November and you can log on to the NaNoWriMo website and track your progress, find local groups around you for support, and they will even send you emails with pep talks from established writers to encourage your writing along the way. The goal of this month is to write 50,000 words of a new novel in one month (November). It started years ago with just a few people, friends of Chris Baty, the founder, but it has now spread and in 2015, more than 400,000 people participated in various ways. A number of established authors have also written in NaNoWriMo, with some of the most popular books on the market, like Fangirl and The Night Circus just to name a few, being written by NaNo competitors. They also have a Young Writer's Program for students that encourages them to set their own goals and meet them, and Camp NaNoWriMo that takes place in the summer to continue the support and writing community building.
Anyways, it's quite a daunting task when you go to sit down at your computer or notebook on November 1st and stare at a blank page, the 50,000 word mark looming in the distance. And yet, it's doable. They even break it down for you with an awesome graphic (check out mine below) that tells you your averages, totals, words left, and other helpful stats.
As you can see, I struggled to say the least. But then I somehow miraculously pulled out the win a day early. Now this isn't the first time that I tried NaNoWriMo, but this is the first time I got past the first week and the first time I won! Usually I work on my stories over a longer period of time and the 30 day deadline was stressful to me. So, I wanted to share the three biggest things that I learned from accomplishing it!
1. I have more time than I think
With a full time job, a husband and three kids under the age of 5, my life is pretty busy. I already feel stressed enough when I'm just trying to make sure we have clean dishes and clothes. What was I thinking taking on this type of challenge?! I would need to dedicate time each day to write, alone, and without allowing some of the other stress factors of my life interfere with my ability to be creative. But you know what? I did it. Sometimes I wrote when all the kids were asleep. Sometimes I wrote with my 4 month old in one arm (I can type one handed faster than some people one handed!). Sometimes, I was able to write on my lunches after scarfing down food and attaching myself to a breast pump because I'm nursing. Other times, I would do write on commercial breaks while watching TV with my family. But I made the time. Because it was important to me.
This was a huge eye opener for me! Here I was struggling to get things done and feeling like I could never write or read or pursue other types of leisurely activities, but I realized it wasn't actually the time that was the problem, it was the mindset that I had. I was already exhausted, I may as well be exhausted and feel accomplished.
Moving forward, I realize that I can do all the things that I've always wanted to like write more, read more, paint, blog, take up photography, etc. and still have time to handle my responsibilities and spend time with my family.
2. My Writing Areas of Weakness
Spending thirty days writing 50,000 words didn't leave much time for me to go back and revise and edit as I went. I was blatantly writing words as quickly as they came into my mind without worrying so much about adverbs or punctuation or any of the proper things that novels and stories have. Because of that, I can honestly look back at what I wrote and see what it is that I need to improve. Is my dialogue life-like, but not too life-like? Is there enough character development to make my characters who I pictured them in my head? Do these events even make sense for the plot?
All of these things were things that I didn't think about too much in the actual writing stage because I was more concerned with quantity and not quality necessarily. But it helped me. As a writing teacher and coach, it was a new experience to just write without feeling all of the tugs of editing and revising in my head. The deadline looming, and the stupid gray progress line that I could never reach loomed in front of me. Taunting me. Like I would never make it. And if there's one thing I hate, it's being told that I'll never be able to do something just because. So I pushed myself. I wrote 5,000 words in one day on multiple occasions and didn't think about all of the important, but restricting pieces of writing. Even while I was writing one chapter to the next I could make a note to myself that I needed to rework something, but I never erased, never backtracked, never went negative on my word count. I just got the story out, as choppy and crazy as it was. I went the whole novel without naming about four or five characters! (For info on how, check out this awesome article I found about using brackets for writing faster!) Organization and cohesion is what second drafts are for anyways.
The NaNoWriMo team also has January and February marked as "What Next?" months dedicated to revising and editing manuscripts and because my story was not done at 50,000 words, I will be finishing it now in December and then revising next year with a few key areas to look at.
3. Confidence in My Own Process and Style
Going into NaNoWriMo was terrifying. Yes, I had tried it before, but always quit almost after I started. Part of this was because of a lack of confidence, and part of it was because I didn't fit the writing process to match my true writing style. See, here I thought I was a plotter-someone who needed an extensive outline and details worked from beginning to end before I could start my story. I've read books and worked on stories before where I could tell you every little detail about my characters before they even hit the page. But it was difficult. I got through maybe two chapters before I was just so overloaded with details that I couldn't even see how they could all mesh together to create the story that I wanted to tell. And so I gave up. I let those characters sit there on the page, their story never getting told.
And I knew from a long time ago that I was no pantser (fly by the seat of your pants writer). Apparently Stephen King is a pantser. I'm a pretty organized person and like to keep things straightened away for the most part. I also feel like too much clutter makes me stress and prevents my work, so there was no way that I'd be able to look at a blank page and just write a story out of nothing but a blinking cursor and cold computer keys.
It turns out, I'm a plantser. I need a little bit of plotting and a little bit of pantsing to move along and get my story out quickly. And I loved it! I started NaNo on November 4th because it took me three days to commit myself mentally and come up with an idea (shower ideas are the best!). So, on the 4th, I used my lunch at work to outline the five most important scenes that I wanted to get to, spaced throughout the novel. One at the beginning, one at the end, and three at important parts of the middle. Then I started on that first scene, which was pretty vivid and easy for me to get out. But what next? I had to connect those scene dots somehow. So I started writing, one word in front of another, one event at a time, until I got to the next scene I had plotted. Did it match completely? No, but it was amazing how my characters came to life to fill in the gaps, and so I adjusted and made my way to the next dot and the next. Until I got to 50,000.
So, there it is! The three main things I learned from finishing NaNoWriMo! I'd love to talk to you more about it so leave comments with your own NaNo experiences below! Also, if you're interested in getting help with writing or evaluating your manuscript, check out my Services page!