Things I learned About my process by doing NaNoWriMo
I'm back on the map. I disappeared for the month of November to participate in National Novel Writing Month. A bunch of us crazies decided, "Hey, I want to write a book. I think 30 days right after school starts and in the middle of the holidays is the perfect time to churn out words to an arbitrary deadline to the tune of 200 pages." so that's what I did.
In the writing community NaNoWriMo is kind of a big deal. People tend to be divided on whether or not it is a good idea for them to participate. I had a wonderful experience with my very first Camp NaNo back in 2013 that led to my first book as well as the outlines for several others. I have also had some pretty terrible experiences that were filled with anxiety and dread that made me absolutely hate writing and want to give up my dreams of getting published (If you feel that way, don't do it. Hang in here with me).
I can't tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what I learned about me (and hopefully it will help you):
NaNoWriMo makes me rush. I am not a fan of being in a hurry. I think it is devastating to humanity when people are forced to live a clip too fast. NaNo kind of has hurry built in. Fifty thousand words seems insurmountable in 30 days. But as with all skills, your speed and execution elevates with practice. I have been writing 6 days a week (give or take a family emergency) for the last 3 years. I wrote 31k of my requisite 50k in a span of 7 days because apparently I can do that now. (Things I learned by doing NaNoWriMo). At some stages in an authors career 50k in 30 days is ridiculously fast. But then there are seasons when it is a really appropriate challenge. Determine for yourself where you fall before you sign up.
I really like the flexibility of deleting my words. Deleting your words is annoying when you are 1) tracking words daily, and 2) encouraged to never hit the delete key. One of the big hangups for me is that I like to explore quite a bit as I write. I try out various characterization strategies, develop scene events that are later discarded. Heck! This month I discovered that I needed to trash Act 1 entirely. Exploration is ESSENTIAL to me, but it generates hundreds or thousands of useless words that clog up my story.
Now, I love me a red pen and I'm even more fond of machetes. Once I have run down a rabbit trail into a wall, I want to go back and delete it all. Strikethrough just is not good enough. I need to SEE those words die. Then the story is really whole. It’s like pruning. You don’t just bend back a diseased useless branch to hang there for a while as the rest of the tree grows. In order to stop the flow of nutrients you cut the damn thing off entirely. The tree gets stronger and so does the story. The tree is more beautiful, the writing process is more enjoyable. Speaking of which,
Enjoyment is an essential component to my writing career. If I hate what I am writing I am confident that everyone else will be too. Writing is a bonus. It's like the cherry on top of my already awesome life. It is something that I am doing to contribute to the comfort and happiness of my family and any future descendants. I want to leave my kids an inheritance. I want to buy my daughter an Autism Dog. I want to ensure a decent living situation for them when they are older regardless of their capacity for work. Writing and editing are the skills that I have honed and sharpened and they are the most likely source of income for my family that I can provide.
But it is a BONUS therefore part of what I get out of writing is intangible and can’t be measured in words written or money earned, but in words enjoyed and time spent. While I would not change much about my life (a single level house would be nice) I have to admit that it is somewhat stressful. I live with some medical conditions that limit me in some big ways. The rest of my family is dealing with some big stuff too. Everyone does. Life will always be hard in some way for everybody. If writing is not enjoyable to me it is going to have to go. It would not be responsible to pursue something that adds stress to my family situation (that already operates under more demands than we would like). My writing career is extraneous and therefore susceptible to an axe. enjoyment keeps my writing career safe. Burnout is the greatest risk for my writing career. NaNoWriMo can be a recipe for burnout.
And yes there will come a moment when writing becomes stressful, and when it does my family will adjust for that season so I can buckle down and get through it. But it damn well better be for a good reason. In my life, arbitrary stressors will always get cut. Nano is fun and I like the challenge. But the second it stops being fun or it becomes counter productive NaNo has got to go.
Having a beautifully organized scrivener project folder is a silly waste of time. The only way that I actually effectively organize my writing is by creating a new document per day with the numeral for the date. Bonus points if I go through at the end of each day and create a list of points that each paragraph is about for review at the end of the month. Because…
I don’t want to write about a single subject for an entire month. Pretty much everything I write is a rambling mess. I am not writing USEFUL words for NaNo. I am writing sparkly words. NaNo (for me anyway) is a great opportunity to capture and dream and explore all the corners of my mind where campfires are lit and have been abandoned. I am interested in letting the month of November be my big chance to ignite and create the sparkly seeds that I keep in glass jars on the shelf in my library waiting for my current WIP to wrap up. About which…
In the future I will keep my current production schedule. I'll only include NaNoWriMo participation to the top of my current work in progress. I have discovered that I can produce about 1500 words in a half hour. NaNoWriMo requires 1667 per day in order to finish on time. NaNo should in theory do nothing more than add about 45 minutes to my regular work schedule each day. That’s not very much. And quite frankly I can easily find a way to make that extra time work. Maybe I will spend Novembers in the future asking about 75% of my normal workload so I can give that little bit extra to NaNo for the sake of generating new story ideas. I can have a new story idea to start outlining and exploring to place in the production schedule for the following year. Which reminds me…
December is finally here! which means it is time to start revising Winded Embers!
Having never revised a novel length work before I have no solid estimate for a completion date, but I hope to be recruiting Beta readers by June of 2019.
If you are interested in reading Winded Embers for free and giving me some feedback, you can subscribe to my mailing list or let me know in the comments.
NaNo isn't for everyone at every stage in their journey. My NaNo strategy has always been "Contemplate it, don't commit to it."
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.