This year was my first participating in the legendary National Novel Writing Month. I’m a slow writer and never felt up for the challenge, but 2015 is apparently “The Year Heather Faces Intimidating Challenges,” so I gave it a go. I even made a plan: A Slow Writer’s Scheme to Win NaNoWriMo. So how’d I fare? And why am I writing about it like it’s in the past tense even though it’s still November? Read on and I’ll tell you…
The Pressure: NaNo definitely pushed me to write more each day. That word counter graph taunts me! I created more words than I would have if I wasn’t in NaNo, and there was one day in particular (okay, it was only Day 5 – don’t judge me!) that I felt so burnt out I would have given myself a writing holiday any other time of the year, but because of NaNo I made myself write something and felt pretty good about it. By the end of Week 2, I was at 15,000 words. A bit behind, but I didn’t care. That’s a lot of words for me! I’d moved my story forward and was really figuring out some important details. And NaNo had pushed me to do that even when I didn’t feel like writing.
Tips & Tricks I Learned
Burnout: As I mentioned above, I quickly experienced burnout trying to keep pace with NaNo. To deal with this, I changed my writing schedule. Part of my “slowness” is it takes me awhile to get focused and start writing, so I’ll do other things as I prep my brain to begin. However, then I’m left with a big chunk of writing time at the end of the day that’s exhausting to get through. So I switched it up – now I write something first, then when my brain feels fatigued I take a break to wash dishes or respond to emails, and then go back to writing, and repeat. These short, intermittent brain breaks stave off the burnout. Plus, this schedule forces me to complete stuff within shorter chunks of time, so I can’t procrastinate like I would with a big chunk of time where I don’t actually write anything until the last hour.
Bedtime Debriefs: These help combat my slowness too. When I plan what to write the next day, beginning that writing is much easier. Plus if I’ve been struggling with the story, what’s wrong with it is more easily sorted out before bed. For some reason, my brain solves problems better right before sleep.
Character Quiz: As I got farther into my novel, I added more characters that needed to be developed. Luckily, I wrote these 10 Quick Character Questions before NaNo so I was ready to do just this and didn’t spend nearly as much time flushing them out as I normally would have. Huzzah! Plus, I counted those words in my NaNo counter. I saw someone in a message board who simply counts everything in their Scrivener document, whether it’s character sketches, world building or actual chapters, and I thought hell yeah! After all, these character sketches flushed out a lot of important plot points and contributed to the overall story.
What Didn’t Work
Pushing Ahead: When something is wrong with my story, I cannot “push ahead” as many in the NaNoWriMo community encourage. Note that I am not revising for pretty prose; I am revising plot points that will affect the whole novel. I have to go back and fix those before I know what will happen next. I think of a novel like a skyscraper – the whole building rests on the foundation, and if the foundation is weak or any of the lower storeys have holes, the entire thing will fall over. And it’s easier to fix the foundation before the building is built than after. However, the pressure to go forward in NaNo meant that I tried to push ahead and ignore the feeling that something was wrong with my story’s foundation longer than I normally would, and consequently I had to do a bigger teardown than if I’d just doubled back to rebuild sooner.
Getting a New Job: And here we arrive at the reason why I’m talking about NaNoWriMo in the past tense. Exactly halfway through November, I got a new freelance writing gig. It’s super fun and awesome, but it doesn’t leave me with enough time to write another 35,000 words by the end of this month. So, yeah.
I believe I accomplished one of the main objectives of the NaNoWriMo challenge – write faster! I may never spit out words at the speed of light, but I am certainly less slow than I was before. Though I don’t expect to win #NaNoWriMo2015, I will keep writing for the rest of the month and beyond at my new, improved pace.
So thanks, National Novel Writing Month! And for those of you still racing for that 50k finish line during this last week of November, good luck!