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!

What I Love Most About Being a Writer

Sometimes, when you’re stuck at some writing stage for too long, it can be hard to remember why you started this thing in the first place. Whether you’re drafting, editing, revising, querying, submitting, or marketing, there’s likely some point where you feel like you’re never going to reach the next stage.
Me? I’m currently stuck in the [Query -> Get Feedback -> Revise -> Get Beta Feedback -> Edit -> Send More Queries] loop. And have been, on and off, for nearly 3 years.
It can be really disheartening.
Fortunately, I keep getting small tastes–little reminders–of just why I do this.

Here are 10 things I love most about being a writer:

1 – Exploring new worlds!

Whether it’s a ‘what-if’ scenario in my head, or filling in the details from some hardly remembered dream, creating a world, exploring it, and finding out how it works is something I find FASCINATING.

2 – Meeting New Characters

I am a friendly person. I love getting to know my characters, finding out their hopes and dreams. Being there for them when they face their fears. And? Watching them grow into the person they were always meant to be.

Plus? I like watching jerks get their comeuppance.

3 – Finding out what happens and why!

Often, when I start a story, I know a couple of the key scenes and the broad strokes that make up my characters. It’s not until I’m there with them in the trenches that I find out how they got there and what pushes them on.

Instead of just a highlights reel, I get to see them, every step of the journey.

4 – When you get that turn of phrase. Just. Right.

This is a bit more of a technique related reason, but it’s true.

Sometimes, you have an emotion or a concept that you agonize over conveying to the audience. The phrasing might come on the first try, or 12 tries in, on the fourteenth draft, but when you get it right, you can SEE your readers opting to highlight and share that sucker.

You can see your story connecting with someone who’s been there before and needed to hear it.

5 – Getting to read other writers works early

I’ve opened myself up to the writing community and they’ve welcomed me with open arms.

The more beta reading/critiquing I do, the more I realize just how creative and talented my friends are. And? The more I dream about how awesome it will be when we’re all the big name authors, and we can say “I knew them when…”

6 – Helping my friends fine-tune their novels

The flip side of number 5. This way, I get to watch great manuscripts turn into amazing stories that fly off the shelves. Being there as they learn and grow — and hopefully picking up a few things, myself.

7 – The terrifying hope that comes when an agent asks for more pages

Hope has never been so sharp as when I get that request or send off those pages.

Need I say more?

8 – Having an answer outside of my day-job when people ask me, “so, what do you do?”

I’m in the DC metro area. Asking people, ‘so, what do you do?’ is asked almost before they get your name. But? I hang out with a lot of creatives, and I know that I’m more than just my day-job. I like supporting my friends, consuming webcomics, novels, and art. But? I like being able to contribute something, too. Not just as a consumer.

9 – Seeing how far I’ve come and how much I’ve accomplished

I may not be agented or published yet. But I’ve got one polished novel, two full rough drafts, a WIP, a handful of short stories, some poetry, a blog, and a community that supports me.

All this stuff takes work and dreaming and persistence. It might be ego, but I have to acknowledge to myself that I’m the reason it’s happened.

10 – And my favorite? Serendipity

When I figure out a plot point or background detail that makes everything just come together.


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If you’re a writer, why do you write? What’s your favorite part about writing?

If you’re not a writer, what do you do that fulfills you? What’re your favorite parts?

Author Spotlight: Tamela Ritter

Today’s Author Spotlight is: Tamela Ritter

A member of the Write By The Rails group and the author of From These Ashes

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Readers, let’s welcome Tamela, the wandering storyteller to my blog. She’s agreed to visit and share with us today some dreams, some advice, and some reading recommendations.

Tamela, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Oh man, start with the hard ones first! For a real pet? This is going to seem boring, but I’d really just like a dog. I’ve lived with dogs for most of my life, but I’ve never had one that was mine, ya know? I just really want a dog who loves me best. Lame, I know.

Oh, oh, wait, any pet? With no worries about logistics? A dolphin. Not to own really, not in a cage or anything. But seriously, how cool would it be to hang out with a dolphin? Or a unicorn? Wait, what if it turns out unicorns are sort of douches? That would suck.

Yeah, I’ll stick with a dolphin, thank you.

Puppies and dolphins? You have good taste in pets! Assuming, of course, they’re the friendly ones and not the jerk-faces. Next up, a more standard question.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I write small stories about everyday people who have been marginalized or forgotten.  I give voice to the voiceless.Or I try.How did I get started writing? I honestly don’t remember I time when I didn’t have stories in my head. I do remember I was 10 the first time I wrote one down.

I get that, Tamela, and I’m probably not the only one. Now, as readers ourselves, to find out if your tastes and preferences align with ours, next up is the all-important question — not that there’s a right or a wrong answer, just a sense of…harmonic resonance.

 

What do you like to read?

Ahhhh, easier question is what don’t I read. There’s no rhyme or reason to what I read. Right now I’m on a YA kick. I just picked up local authors’ PM Hernandez and Mara Mahan‘s books last weekend and I’m looking forward to checking them out.
I really love going to the library and pulling down books and checking them out based on their cover, their blurbs without knowing anything about the author or any buzz about the book (all the things that marketing types tell you that no one does). Makes me feel like I’m discovering a new treasure. Even if it’s not true.
Last time I found a book I loved that I thought no one else had heard of and that the whole world needed to read, it turned out that it had already been turned into a movie.
Oooops.
*pouts* Well, that answer didn’t really narrow it down for us.
*grins and winks* Good for you! Now, the next two questions are for the writers reading this blog.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

 
The oldest piece of writing advice there is, so old that it’s more a cliche than advice and it’s almost cliche to disagree with it. “Write what you know.”
Bullshit.
I mean, I get why it’s advice and there are definitely stories that could have been better told by someone who had more experience with the situation or particulars.
But I’ve found a writer only needs two things to be able to dodge this writerly rule: access to Google and a strong sense of empathy.
The empathy is for the heart and soul of the story about people who aren’t you, Google (or more specifically–research) is for the facts. In this day and age, there isn’t anything you can’t learn more about, nothing you can’t find someone willing to share their experiences about. If you don’t have a healthy sense of empathy, well, you’re probably in the wrong field anyway, so you just stick to what you know… or become a journalist.
And, of course, the flip side!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

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writing is when we make the words, editing is when we make the words not shitty – Chuck Wendig
Or really, anything that Chuck Wendig, my foul-mouthed guru, says about the whole writing thing in general.
Tamela, thank you for taking the time to share with us. I really appreciate you stopping by and hope my readers did too. Now, did you have anything you’d like to share with us? Because it’s now…

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

My first (and only so far) published novel From These Ashes was published in 2013 by Vagabondage Press. My latest published short story, “Quantifying Momentum” can be found in The Piedmont Journal of Poetry and Fiction’s anthology Tracks.
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