NaNoWriMo 2020: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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…

The Ugly

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.

You Don’t Have To Write Alone: NaNoWriMo, PitchWars, AuthorTube, and More

I first started writing because I wanted to tell a story.

Wait. That’s wrong.

I first started writing because I wanted to read a story that didn’t exist, except in pieces in my head.

The only way for me to find out who exactly these characters were, what exactly happened to them, and WHY — was to write it until the story rang true.

I know that’s not how writing works for everyone. However. With my conceptual imagination? That’s still how it works for me.

But when I started writing, I was writing alone.

The stereotype of the writer is the heavy drinking — or maybe tea-drinking loner with dozens of cats for company. With a feel that truly great art — great writing — only comes from pain.

Well? I know that it depends on what you like to write, and what you like to read, and what brought you to where you are today. However, that stereotypical writer life doesn’t sound very healthy to me.

Be you an introvert, an extrovert, or something in-between, most of us thrive in supportive environments, that push us to achieve something greater.

In this day and age of the internet, supportive writing communities can be found everywhere.

NaNoWriMo

Maybe you like the challenge of NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month, where you pledge to write 50,000 words in one month. But, NaNoWriMo is more than just a website account where you update your daily word count. NaNoWriMo has forums, twitter hashtags, and facebook groups. Plus? They support local writing groups with liaisons running in-person (and, in these days, virtual) meetups and write-ins and overnighters.

You can be active year round, or only touch a pen during November and you’re still just as valid a member of the community. You can be a 15 year champion (hitting the word count goal every year), or average 500 words every November and you still count.

Twitter

Maybe twitter is your jam. Sharing your updates on the #5amWritersClub, joining the different hashtag chats and sharing writing memes and progress posts.

You might be the type of writer who joins those twitter pitch contests: #pitMad, #sffPit, #dvPit, where you tweet a short pitch for your polished manuscript and hope a literary agent from a respectable agency likes your tweet. If so, it’s an invitation to query, where you typically get moved to the top of their inbox.

Instagram

For the low-key writer who loves a good aesthetic, #authorsOfInstagram may be for you. Cover reveals, office set ups, and quotes from favorite books abound for authors on Instagram. While less centralized than other social medias, it’s a great place to connect one-on-one.

Facebook

If you’re a facebook user, there are groups for all sorts of genre writers and all ranges. There are professional groups and critique circle groups. There’s the Sub-It-Club and the Insecure Writers Group. I personally run several support groups for PitchWarrior hopefuls, and admin a few others.

Social Media In General

Social media, in general, is a good way to connect. Reddit, tumblr, MeWe, or wherever you hang out, is likely to have a group or ten for writers. Take a look.

PitchWars

Speaking of PitchWars — for those of you who don’t know, PitchWars is an online mentorship opportunity, where you query mentors like you would an agent. If you are accepted, you work with them to revise your full manuscript, and at the end, all of the re-worked manuscripts are showcased, with reputable agents invited to visit and make offers. Some books get into bidding wars, and some still don’t find an agent, but in either case, you get a more-polished manuscript.

While I’ve never been a mentee, I’ve found plenty of critique partners and supportive friends from the community — it’s full of writers with finished and polished manuscripts, ready to query — exactly the same stage of writing career that I’m at.

PitchWars is very active on twitter, it has its own forums, not to mention, of course, the facebook support groups.

Local Writing Groups

Outside of your local NaNoWriMo group, many cities and regions have their own writing groups — some are critique circles, some are open mic nights, some are support groups, some are accountability groups, and some are all-of-the above. Know what sort of group you’d prefer, hit the internet, and see what you can find!

Discord Groups

My local NaNoWriMo group has its own group on discord servers, with easy-add-in sprint bots, and rooms to discuss plot issues.

My local writing groups and the cons I’ve worked? They also have their own discord servers. These are just chat rooms where you can share images, files, and more.

An Archive Of Their Own, Wattpad, and more

Some writing communities form around the works themselves. On AO3, Wattpad, and more, writers share their works (often in chapter style increments), get feedback, and often learn to improve their writing.

It’s not unheard of for major successes to end up getting traditional publishing deals (but it’s not an avenue for success I would recommend, because the odds are not with you.

Conventions and Book Fairs

Then, there are your conventions and book fairs. Some are focused on professional development, some on the joy of reading, some celebrate certain genres. While you can get a lot of of them, it typically takes about 3 visits to a particular event to really get comfortable and familiar with an event. After that? Networking becomes easier.

There’s no right way to attend a convention, but a few of the methods are:

  • hanging out at the bar to network (colloquially called “BarCon”)
  • attending workshops and panels, either casually, or hitting 30 panels in 3 days, and filling a notebook with tips
  • wandering around, absorbing the sights and talking to whomever you meet. Collecting all the freebies and giveaways
  • strategically attending panels or pitch-sessions and actively trying to network — approaching it like a professional development conference
  • working the convention
    • Do you want to run lights? Register people? Help with the website? Are you an EMT and want to help with First aid? Do you want to run the disability services so that everyone can have the right accommodations? Maybe you want to help with programming — making sure there are events you want to see or be a liaison for the speakers? There are jobs, big and small, for almost anyone.

AuthorTube

Some of us writers love to talk about what we do, we like to write with friends anywhere, and don’t mind (or want to become comfortable with) video taping ourselves and putting it out there. Authortube is a youtube hashtag community, by authors, for authors.

The authortube community hosts live-streamed write ins, workshops, writing vlogs, progress posts, and just about anything you can think of that’s writing related. A fair number are self-published. While a few #authorTubers are here for the drama — sharing ‘did you hear what just happened’ reaction videos, we also have book-bloggers, talking about what they read and liked — or hated, journalers, and more. Most of us are there for the community.


While many people keep crashing into the toxic side of the internet, I usually only hear about most drama second-hand. Instead, I just keep making new friends who share my passion.

The writing community takes as many forms as there are writers. If you are out there, if you are writing alone, without support, without a network, you don’t have to go it alone.

If you want a connection: no matter the format, no matter the scale, there is a writers community out there for you.

And if there isn’t?

Build it and they will come.


Is there a community you’ve found that I’ve left off?

Do you have a community you’d like to talk about!

Please share in the comments below.

P.S. Check out this week’s podcast! [Season 1] Episode 8: Writing Fight Scenes That Work

P.P.S Plus! There’s a bonus episode this week, because we’re in the middle of the PitchWars annual mentor bloghop: [Season 1] Bonus Episode 1: A Message To My Fellow PitchWars Hopefuls

Making Write-Ins Work For You – Virtual or Live

Ah! April of 2020! With corona quarantines, for us writers (especially you Camp NaNoWrimers) the only type of write-in most of us are attending these days is virtual.

Now, I don’t know how your write-ins work, but these are the guidelines I follow, to get the most out of any write-in — virtual or not.

Some write-ins are just people sitting there, online or not, typing away. But, most of the ones I’ve hit (maybe because this ambivert is a social creature) tend to be a mixture of social and writing.

5 Tips To Get The Most Out Of A Write-In

  1. Pick a modest goal

    You’re here to write. And socialize. Sure, you can ignore the other people, but if so, why are you even there? (Okay, it’s probably peer pressure, to keep on track. No shame there).

    Most of the write-ins I’ve attended, I’ve ended up spending about half the allotted time writing, and half the time socializing (or being weirded out at how super quiet it was, then falling down the rabbit-hole of research or cleaning up my google drive folders).

    Long story short — expect to get as much writing done during 2 hours of a write-in as you would during 1 hour by yourself.
  2. Break your goal into discrete tasks

    My most productive time at write-ins tend to be during writing sprints. Someone will set a timer and then we’ll write for 10-20 minutes. After, we’ll chat, get snacks, then refocus and go again.

    How I make sprints work for me is I pick a discrete task:
    – create a list of names for characters
    – edit the rest of this chapter
    – find out how long it takes to travel from Loxley to Sherwood
    – decide what the next scene will be about
    – write that scene
    – write the dialogue

    You get the point. Something zoomed in and focused. Maybe it’s 50 words, maybe it’s 500. Set a goal that’s within your reach.
  3. Be competitive

    Make that peer pressure work for you.

    If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than you did last time (or at least not dropping below your average), race yourself.

    If you’re the person who likes writing/editing more words than other people, try to best the rest of the group (or at least beat the person you were closest to last time.)
  4. Embrace the breaks

    You’re at a write-in to write — but also to socialize, to network, to make friends (and potential critique partners). You’re there to hang out with people who understand why getting the story of some imaginary people RIGHT matters so much to you.

    Accept that the time won’t be 100% on writing, and welcome the friends you can make.
  5. Make Sure Your Equipment Is Ready

    If you’re in person, make sure you’ve brought everything you need — be it pen and pad, or laptop, power cord, extension cord, and mouse.

    If it’s a virtual write-in, test your microphone — and if needed, your video camera — ahead of time. Adjust the lighting, the equipment, your setup location for comfort — and productivity. Make sure you know how to use the app and that you’ve got the time right, or you’ll lose time you don’t want to tech support.

    In both places, you may want a drink and a snack. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

Even if write-ins weren’t your thing, if you’re feeling isolated, you may want to try them again.

If you’ve never attended a write-in, or had a bad experience, try it again. With the write right group, it could be exactly what you need.


Do like write-ins? Do you hate them?
Tell me about your write-in experiences!

3 Things NaNoWriMo Gives You — “Win” OR “Lose”

This week, I thought I’d take a break from sharing convention notes to talk about my writing.* Specifically, what I’ve learned from National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — both this year, and in previous years.

For those who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is the pledge to write 50,000 words (or 200 pages) during the 30 days of November. This averages out to 1,666 words per day, or about 6 double-spaced pages.

Now, NaNoWriMo is clearly not for everyone. As with all things writer related, you should do what works best for you. But for a lot of people, it’s a great starting place.

If you’re new to my blog, I feel I should inform you that this was indeed, not my first rodeo. I’ve talked about my previous NaNoWriMos before. The first NaNo I won was in 2013, and I didn’t finish the novel itself until I hit 131,000 words that following August. I took that year off to revise. The following year, I was moving that month, and then I was back. Since 2016, I’ve attempted and won 4 more NaNoWriMos.

CONFESSION: NaNoWriMo is NOT my natural pace. For me, it involves a daily grind, prioritizing my writing over chores and social events, and fighting burn out. I know this. It’s always like this for me.

But? All 4 of my rough drafts, plus this year’s near TWENTY short stories were written as NaNoWriMo projects. It’s not sustainable… but it gets the job done — for me.

So. I’d like to talk about what has NaNoWriMo given me.

3 – Understanding Your Own Pace — And Limits

Some people are sprinters, some are slow-but-steady marathoners (me!), and others vary depending on the day.

By taking on the challenge, you learn:

  1. How fast you write
    Can you fit those 1666 words in before the clock strikes midnight?
  2. When you write best
    Are you an early morning writer? Sneaking it in on your lunch? Maybe on your commute — hopefully you’re not the driver. Do you pull late nights? Or perhaps, long weekend sessions where you make up the whole week’s word count goals?
  3. What you’re willing to give up for your writing
    For me, it’s chores and social time. For you? It’s all in what you say no to, and what you make sure to leave time for — besides your writing.
  4. What a reasonable pace looks like for you
    Maybe 250 words were the most you could write per day. Maybe you were averaging 3,000 words per day. You might even be one of those 10k on the weekends people.

By pushing yourself, you learn your limits — or you learned that you can do more than you ever dreamed.

2 – There’s A Writing Community For Everyone

NaNoWriMo has a website and very active forum. When you join, you’re encouraged to also join a ‘region’ based on actual geographic locations. Regions are run by “municipal liaisons”. Who run events.

Some regions are more active than others. Mine is very active. There were OFFICIAL, in-person write-ins at libraries, coffee shops, and diners 3-7 days a week. Not counting the unofficial ones, or the solo-writers.

On a chat program called Discord, we also could hang out virtually. Which is what I mostly did. Including writing sprints — challenges to see who can write the most words in the next 15 (or however many) minutes.

I’m also part of the #AuthorTube community. They had their own Discord chat, as well as Live-streaming write-ins. In which multiple Authortubers would video stream themselves writing, and others could ‘hang out’ on the stream’s chat with the streamers, conversing back and forth.

It let you know you weren’t in this alone. If you wanted company, it was out there for the taking. You could find other writers in your genre, style, what have you. It’s a priceless opportunity to both make friends and find potential beta readers/critique partners.

1 – Pride in my accomplishments

I’m not going to say “everyone’s a winner”, but if NaNoWriMo inspired you to write more words than you otherwise would have, you ended up ahead of where you would have been without it.

So many people achieve more during NaNoWriMo than they ever have before.

Besides. What do you win in a contest where claiming the winning certificate is entirely on the honor system?

All you win are bragging rights and some discounts on writing software. (And I seriously prefer gDocs over Scrivener anyway, so… shrugs).

Okay. Maybe there’s one kinda big thing.

There’s the satisfaction and pride at having set a goal, worked at it, and learned you can achieve it.

Not counting, of course, the community, the knowledge of your own pace, and an understanding of what you need to write.


Now What?

Now that November is over, what should you do next? Well, everyone has advice and here’s mine.

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? If so, what has NaNoWriMo given you?


* Okay, let’s be honest here, my dayjob sent me on travel and I forgot my notebook, but hey. This is more timely anyway!

Twas the Week before NaNo

In honor of the last week of October, here’s a Throwback Post.

‘Twas The Week Before NaNo

‘Twas the week before NaNo, and all through the land
Not a writer was ready, not even the grand;
The stories all waited, ev’ry last one,
In hopes NaNoWriMo soon would be won;

The characters jostled all shoved in our heads,
While visions of new worlds continued to spread
And Facebook on the PC, and I in my tweets
Had just settled DOWN to fill those blank sheets—‌

When up on the screen there arose such a clatter,
I clicked off my doc to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew in a flash,
Scrolled over the adverts and cleared out my cache.

The notification of a new month said hello,
Giving luster of import to objects below;
When what to my wondering eyes should egress?
But a miniature list with eight friend requests!

Then with a li’l old idea, so lively and quick,
I’d know in a moment if this one would stick.
More rapid than eagles, the story now came,
And I whistled and shouted, and called components by name:

“Now Chapters, now Setting! Now Plot and Conflict!
“On False-peak, on Raised-Stakes! On Black-moment-strict;
“To the top of the peak! To the climax and fall!
“Now type away! Type away! Type away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When you meet with an obstacle: write fast, do not sigh;
So, up to the document’s top, I will go
With my head full of musings‍—‌my ideas now in tow:

And then in a twinkling, you’ll hear my keyboard
The tapping and clacking, each word I’ll record.
As I draw down my head, and ignoring all sound,
Down the page, my story will grow with a bound:

My main character formed, from her head to her foot,
And her clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of supplies was flung on her back,
And she look’d like a peddler just carrying her pack:

Her brow—‌how it furrowed! Her eyes, my how wary,
Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a cherry;
Her fair little mouth was drawn up so’s to bite,
And the hair on her head was as black as the night;

The dangers she fled were as deadly as sin
And the safety she sought, oh–her lead, it was thin;
The plots, they did lead, and oh how I chased ’em,
While watching my subplots all full of odd whims:

A blink of my eye and a twist of my head
Soon’ll give me to know I had nothing to dread.
I’ll speak not a word, but return to my work,
And fill all the pages; then turn with a jerk,

And stretching my fingers, all done with their task
And after a click on the save key, I’ll finally bask.
I’ll spring to kitchen, to my fridge give a peek,
And filling a good bowl with th’ ice cream I’ll seek:

Then you’ll watch me update, ere the clock strikes midnight—‌
Happy NaNo to all. Put up the good fight.

(For more tip-filled posts, check out my previous NaNoWriMo posts:
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
An Outline To Write By (for Plantsers and Plotters)
How to win NaNoWriMo
3 Things That Helped Me Win NaNoWriMo early
Craft Vs Professionalism )