National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Status:
In case you were wondering, yes, I did finish NaNoWriMo. No, I did not blog about it beyond the third day, because as I’ve learned every year, writing up to two thousand words a day, sometimes more if I lag behind on some days, is hard work. By the end of that I refuse to dredge up the brain space needed to think of something coherent to say.
But, after multiple months of recovery, it’s time to discuss the experience.
This is the first year that I’ve completed NaNoWriMo, by the skin of my teeth. I had to push to complete 12,000 words of writing after getting home from work, with less than three hours to complete it in. Did I complete it on time? No. By a couple minutes at best, I missed the deadline. Did I write over 12,000 words worth of story in just a few short hours? Yes I did. So I’m counting it as a massive victory for myself.
A victory that ended in complete exhaustion and the inability to write anything for several months.
There’s a few things to learn from this.
The absolute importance of pacing yourself.
It’s a lot easier to write a consistent amount each day, than to write a little bit, or not at all, and then catch up later on. It’s a lesson I learn each year. A lesson that usually ends in my giving up on the whole thing. This year the lesson takes on a slightly different shade, because instead of giving up I struggled all the way to the end.
Failing to set a proper pace will end in either failure or the work seeming far more difficult than it actually is. You may succeed, and you may feel incredibly accomplished, but you’ll drain yourself far too much. Which leads me to my next point.
Don’t Let Yourself Slack Off Afterwards
There’s two components to this. First off, don’t let your sense of accomplishment change the fact that you have to keep writing. Maybe you finished your book, maybe you didn’t, because it’s longer than 50,000 words. Either way, you’re not done, and acting like having accomplished this difficult thing isn’t going to finish the book or start the next one.
The second part of this is that you need to set a proper pace. If you end up writing 12,000 words in a single evening on the last day, then you’re not going to want to even consider the concept of words and language for a long time. It’s rough, it’s draining, and you run the risk of sabotaging yourself.
I’d go so far as to say that it may be better to pass on participating in NaNoWriMo if you don’t already have a consistent writing habit. It’s a good tool to push yourself, and a satisfying experience in the end. But it’s better to write a 250 words a day for a whole year than 1,667 words a day for a month and then spend several months following that doing nothing. It’s easier, and you get more written in the long run. And it eventually leads to consistent daily writing with higher word counts.
The Good News
The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom. Sure you can easily drain yourself doing this, but it is a good intro to necessary habits you’ll need to develop as a writer.
Foremost among these is the fact that if you’re going to reach your daily word count you need to be thinking about your story ALL THE TIME!
Sitting down to write without any forethought will end in disaster. You need to be thinking and preparing for your writing session throughout the day. Or if you write in the morning, you need to be preparing what you’ll write the next day. Working out the kinks, getting to know the characters, thinking of awesome scenes. The biggest danger to writing is the moment you stop thinking about your story. Once it’s not the first thing on your mind you’ll find it harder and harder to think about it once it’s time to write.
This is especially important for writers because we’re day dreamers. It’s why we think we can do this crazy thing called writing. We watch a movie, and we start thinking of ways to change it, new scenes between the characters. We read a book, watch a TV show, and we start adding our own characters, writing scenes between them and the established characters. In our head, on paper, right before we go to sleep, we’re constantly thinking about stories.
The danger is when the shiny new game, or show, or comic comes along and suddenly we’re thinking about nothing but that. Nothing but our own characters, or new scenarios for the existing characters. The problem is that’s an easy way to get distracted from your book. It’s fun, but it’s not productive unless you’re writing fanfiction, which is just as valid as anything else. But if you’re trying to write your own original book, you need to think of your own original book.
With the urgency of NaNoWriMo there’s no time to think of anything else. Which is exhausting, but still important.
So go out, think about your stories, keep a small notebook, write notes on your phone, or record an audio memo on your phone. Something to keep those great ideas around. But don’t ever let the fact that it’s work and hard stop you from thinking about it.
And don’t be like me, who waits four months to finally write his NaNoWriMo wrap-up.