Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Experience with NaNoWriMo (And Why I May Never Do it Again)

In 2014, I did NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is November). I didn’t officially sign up, probably because I’m just not a joiner, but I started November 1 with a manuscript I’d mostly plotted in September and October. I wrote Monday thru Friday, taking weekends off out of respect for my family, and three weeks later, I was finished. Over 70,000 words in fifteen writing days.
Since November 2014, I’ve applied the concept of NaNo—taking a month to focus on writing a novel—two more times. In May 2015, I wrote a manuscript in just under four weeks, and last month, I took a week to focus on my WIP, which sat at 35,000 words, and in seven days added 44,000 words, bringing it to completion.
So, I suppose you could say I’m a fan of NaNoWriMo, and I recommend everyone try NaNo at some point. The effort required to succeed will teach you skills that can be useful when you write any time of the year. Here is my list of skills you may learn:
  1. Discipline. How to sit at your computer and write, even when the words aren’t flowing. The muse may not visit you daily, but what happens when you are a contracted author, working on a deadline? Then you won’t be able sit back and let the muse show up when she will. So learning to write even when you’re not feeling particularly creative is a valuable skill. After forcing yourself to take the time to write, even if you’d rather play games on your phone or catch up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you’ll learn that even when you aren’t feeling in the mood, you can start the words flowing if you just start writing.
  2. Plotting. I know, for some, the word “Plotting” is evil. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m not suggesting that everyone (or anyone, for that matter) needs to outline the entire manuscript before writing—though you may want to give it a try at least once—because for many, that is death of the creativity and the story. But plotting doesn’t have to be an outline or a synopsis of the entire, unwritten story. Simply thinking ahead before you write on a daily basis can be helpful, especially if you struggle with a muse who takes unexpected and extended vacations. By “thinking ahead,” I mean spend a little time—5-10 minutes—looking over the previous writing and scribbling out ideas about what you envision happening next. You don’t have to follow this mini scene or chapter outline, but spending some time brainstorming will get you into the story a little quicker.
  3. Scheduling. Some things can’t be removed from your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule, but others can be. Like a monthly hair appointment. Stretch the style an extra week or two. Move your dentist appointment. Skip book club. Cut back on workouts (but don’t cut OUT workouts). But with all the things you take out of your schedule, please remember that an occasional shower is necessary. At least one a week. Besides, showers are great places to brainstorm, so really, showering is as important to your creativity as to your socially acceptable-ness.
  4. Balance. Actually, I think balance is impossible if you seek balance daily between all your responsibilities. You can’t do it all or be it all every single day. Without considering writing, some days your schedule is so full of errands, appointments, and/or kids’ activities that you can’t cook a meal or get the laundry done. So why shouldn’t writing be—temporarily—the thing that leaves those tasks undone or delegated to another family member? There’s nothing wrong with asking the kids or your spouse to help with meals or laundry. Maybe you eat out a little more—or the rest of the family eats out while you eat at your computer, furiously typing. It’s only temporary. This is easier when the kids are old enough to help and the spouse is willing to assist. If that’s not possible, make a list of daily or weekly chores that you could ignore for a couple of weeks. Or make one day “chore day” and do as much meal prep and laundry as possible. If your kids are too young for you to do much writing during their waking hours, find a babysitter or exchange favors with a mom-friend. Or this might be a nice time for grandma to make a lengthy visit, if grandma is a helpful guest, not a needy one. And if your spouse is helpful (and even if your spouse isn’t helpful, because it’s good for a marriage), remember to thank him or her. You can always go back to the computer after expressing your gratitude ;-)

Despite the success I’ve had, I may never do NaNoWriMo again, because November is not always the best month for me to take time off and focus on writing. Other months may work better. But November isn’t the only month when a writer can write! If you can’t participate in NaNo this year, schedule your own during a month or a block of 4-5 weeks where you CAN focus on writing. The skills practiced and learned during a writing marathon will help in the future when you only have a week or a few days to devote to your manuscript.

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