This November, I set out, as has become my habit, to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Or, as it’s better known: NaNoWriMo. It’s a pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, 1,667 words a day for the month of November, basically, to write about two-hundred pages. These days, not quite a full manuscript for anything YA or older, but definitely nothing to scoff at.
While wordcount isn’t everything when it comes to writing a novel, I find that watching those metrics go up helps keep me motivated and on track. Even if you’re not metrics motivated, NaNo can help people who struggle with their internal editors get past the impulse to get the opening perfect before they move on. Even for heavy planners, the story doesn’t always look the way you expected when you finish.
Some people sprint through the whole thing in two days and keep going, wracking up hundreds of thousands of words. Others lose speed after five-hundred words. But, anyone who ends the month with more words than they started with — especially more words than they would have had they not tried to participate — shouldn’t consider themselves a loser. They’re closer to finishing a manuscript than they were when they started — which is really what this whole thing is about.
So, in the name of accountability, I’m going to share how my NaNo went.
I got my words in. I even managed to hit the daily 1,667 target every night before I went to bed. With a few extra words here and there, I actually ended the month with 53,164 words.
Who was it? William Shakespeare I think, who said “know thyself.”
Well, I know what I need in order to ‘win’ NaNo. I’ve done it before, and this makes my sixth time in eight years. It helps that my workday is flexible, I don’t have any kids, and my family obligations are not terribly time consuming. There are tons of people out there working with a lot more on their plate, and I recognize that NaNoWriMo is not for everyone — based on both the wordcount targets and the annual timing can be factors against many aspiring writers.
I’m not a terribly fast writer, and I have focus problems. Knowing that I’ve only ever written over 3,000 story words in a single day five times in my life means that I know it’s very unlikely for me to be able to make up a fully missed day in one go. I can’t wait for the weekend and crank out all my words in two days. I’m the turtle. Slow and steady, but I can’t afford a break if I’m going to hit the word target.)
My local NaNo group has had a Discord server for a couple years now, and, just like last year, most of my words were written during word sprints. We’d set the Sprinto timer, tell it how many words we were starting with, and then go until the timer went off. Sure, it told us who had the most words, but for me, I used it to measure ‘how is my own personal pacing going’. If I got less than 350 words in a sprint, I knew I needed to take a break or grab some chocolate, or plan a little more. I think my best sprint all month was 720 words in 20 minutes. Pretty proud of that one.
Plus? I didn’t even have to count my blogposts in my daily target. (I may have done that in the past.)
All in all? Quite pleased at my word count progress.
My story isn’t even close to being done. And I’m not really sure if the scene I’m working on even belongs in this story. But… when you’re an interstellar navigator, you’ve got to take it out of the classroom and onto the ship, right? So, why not start off with taking the local children on an in-system field trip.
Come January, I’m going to be sitting down to finish the silly book. NaNo is a bit of a stretch for me, so I’ll likely set my monthly goal at 25,000 words a month until I finish. Should be February, March at the latest. Not because I need 125,000 words, but…
My pacing for this story is pretty much a disaster.
I’m a plantser. I’m not an in-depth planner, but I don’t usually write by the seat of my pants. Except, this time? I kinda was. My story is a fantasy in a sci-fi setting, and I have three fairytales mingled in my head as a very high-level structure, but otherwise? I was doing that exploratory writing thing and I was not comfortable with it.
I got one day into my story and the light outline I had for my story just wasn’t working. I didn’t delete any scenes, but I did jump sideways with my next scene and go in a different direction. Twice.
The last time I wrote a story in a new world, it took me three tries to get the setting right — but that was my first book. And when I got it right, I won my first NaNo, and never stopped writing.
My first week of this story, all of my words were basically world building and info-dumps. That does not need to be in the story. At least not in this format.
I already know I need to move twelve family members off-screen, and probably combine three of them. I already know there’s two scenes that will be cut. I’ve got a line in one of my scenes that says “the second half of this scene isn’t needed, cut in edits,” because, as I was writing, I realized I’d already done everything I wanted to with that scene and I really wasn’t going anywhere after a certain point.
Of course, I always keep my offcuts. Sometimes they can be worked into another section of the story, and I’ve found? Sometimes I’m wrong about not needing them, I just didn’t realize their true purpose at the time, and they can be retooled to shine.
Plus, I need to stop making everyone sympathetic. Some people are selfish jerks and I need to stop redeeming everyone!
I mean, even if my two ordinary-superpowers are: putting stuff back into the original packaging and being able to justify almost anything, that doesn’t mean I should.
There you have it. A NaNoWriMo veteran, sharing her ups and downs and in-betweens. And maybe, someday, I’ll polish some more of my drafts from previous NaNos. I’ve worked on two of the six projects.
Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Is it for you?
If you haven’t? Well, don’t knock it ’til you try it.
It might not be for everyone, but it definitely is for some of us.
I haven’t done NaNo, per se. For years I wrote short stories and practiced (and practiced) writing, but was too insecure to try to sell anything but technical articles (I sold many, and co-authored a technical book).
I wrote an entire novel in my head. Rewrote. Edited. Never got a word on paper. Became convinced I couldn’t.
One night I sat down to write a short story based on a recent dream. A month later I had 75,000 words, a rough draft of the first novel of a series. After that finally became a published book, I did it again. And again. And again.
Now I have several novels demanding I write them; I just need to pick one and start. I expect the first draft to take a month, but that’s the easy part for me. It wasn’t always!
I’m a big fan of ‘“use what works for you”. NaNo has helped s lot of people write, and that’s a good thing.
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