Lessons from NaNoWriMo

I finished National Novel Writing Month again this year but I didn’t achieve my true goal, which was to write 2500 words a day until I finished on the 20th (also to post favourite lines on my blog. That didn’t happen either). I’ve spent a little time trying to figure out why that was.

I was doing well for the first 7 days, I even did more than 2500 some days. I can write really fast when a) the details don’t matter much or b) I know what I’m going to write in advance.

NaNoWriMo is ripe for the first condition. It doesn’t matter w=one bit how good your novel is, you can ramble on, switch character names, have them do improbable things, it completely doesn’t matter. Obviously, it means you will have to do more editing if you ever decide to publish the thing – and I do think that this year’s is possibly publishable- once I do some serious tidying- but in terms of getting the words on the page (or the clay on the table as my friend Tina says), you can’t beat NaNoWriMo for encouraging the gushing of words.

The second condition is the one that confounds me. I write faster when I have an outline but I don’t enjoy outlining alone. I love a good brainstorming session and I love the spark of an idea that prompts me to write* but I go blank when I sit down and plan to outline. It’s silly, since I end up sitting down at some point and planning out the next few scenes anyway. I am working to get around it and researching a few ways to get better at outlining.**

So, I guess that for the first 7 days of NaNoWriMo this year, I had an idea of what sorts of things to write about so I had that going for me. And I put my writing as early in the day as I possibly could. Both of those things contributed to me keeping momentum at first.

However, on that 8th day, I had a ton of things to do and I was having my birthday party. I put the writing aside for that day and swore that it was only going to be that one day.

It wasn’t.

I ended up staying up way too late that night and was wonky the next day because of it and couldn’t bring myself to get to the computer to write. So, I didn’t have the prep work done, and I didn’t know what I was going to write about. ***
And, of course, my momentum was broken at that point.

Once I have a daily habit, even after only 7 days, I get ridiculous when I miss a day, I always want to double up. That turns the practice into a BIG THING and I hate BIG THINGS. So there’s another lesson for me. I have to find a way to be okay with letting go of a missed day without trying to make up for it and I have to learn to recognize when I’ve made a practice into a BIG THING.

My days tumbled into one another after that point, with a variety of family birthdays and social/work obligations distancing me from my writing.

Finally, on the 20th I decided to get back at it and I have had two 10,000 word days since then. The best part about those two days is that they were easy, not at all stressful and I got lots of other things done, too. I managed to get over my own brain and just write up a storm.

This past week, I’ve been writing a lot and I’ve been organizing and doing a lot of thinking. It’s been one of the best weeks of the year. I can learn a lot from that.

So, my lessons?

1) Practice a variety of outlining techniques
2) Learn not to care about the intial rush of words during the rest of the year, editing is my friend.
3) Let a single missed day go, and return on the next without the burden of the missed task.
4) I can write 10,000 words in a single day on a regular basis and I should do that a couple of times a month to give my writing energy a boost.
5) The more I write, the happier I am.
* I should say the spark that gives me something I want to write about. The only thing that prompts me to write is my self-reminding tactics – I forget how much I enjoy writing until I am actually doing it. I hate making decisions in the moment about what to do and I will waffle away my time unless I have decided what to do with it in advance.

**Frankly, I think a lot of it is leftover resentment from how I HAD to make outlines in school. I swear there is nothing less likely to make you want to write than the way they try to teach you in grade school.

***To be fair to myself, and maybe only other writers will get this, but my characters ended up having very different motivations than I realized at first and that threw off my idea of the plot. It took giving up on trying to write a story and just doing a lot of writing of background for me to figure out where I was going next.