Weekly Musing: First 2017 NaNoWriMo Update

Well, we are 11 days into this year’s NaNoWriMo. And so far, this year has been different from previous years which I find fascinating. I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo since 2013, winning each year I participated. In 2013, my first year, I was nervous, terrified. I had one very specific idea I was going to tackle. Within the first few days it became apparent that I wasn’t ready for the original idea, so I switched to writing a novel completely without thought. The following year, I used it to finally complete a rough draft of the novel I’d tried to write the year before. By this time I was far more comfortable both as a writer and with the story. By then I’d learned the novel doesn’t have to be complete in order to win. 2015 saw me once again draft another new idea. 2016 has been the only year I didn’t participate as I was working on a re-write not realizing people used NaNoWriMo for re-writes.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I find myself using it for a slightly different purpose than one of its main purposes. During the summer I’d started a novel. Unfortunately, life changes happened to knock me out of my rhythm. Now that things have settled down, what better time and way to hop back on board then November? So, 2017’s effort is being used to re-focus and get back into a schedule.

In order to find my place again in the story, I re-read it without editing or critiquing the chapters done. How I was able to turn off the very aggressive editor part of my brain I’ll never know. I’m surprised I’m even capable of such a thing. To further aid me, I glanced at my incomplete outline to see what my original thoughts were. Oddly enough, I didn’t even attempt to finish it. By now I know it’ll change and I’ll figure out an ending.

Now that I had my bearings, I began. The first day was rough; only approximately 1,460 words written. Below the NaNoWriMo target goal of 1,667 words a day. Reflecting upon my prior experiences, it seems the first day is the most challenging. It’s the added pressure of logging it on the website making someone accountable. If a writer is part of a region, like I am, then everyone in your region can see what you’ve written especially if you post anything on the forums. Though it’s okay however many words people are at, still seeing that tracker is intimidating.

Since I didn’t meet either the NaNoWriMo goal or my personal goal of 2,000 words a day the first day, I pushed myself the next couple of days. The reason why my personal goal is 2,000 words a day is because unlike years past, I have decided to take one day off per week. That’s another difference from prior years. I have finally learned I am not the type of writer who can write seven days a week. I enjoy having a life outside of work and not being cranky every day. This month I’m only a grump six days a week. I’m also sticking hard to writing during a set time while recognizing if I get a later start, that’s okay. I’m still getting the words in.

I view NaNoWriMo as both a sprint and a marathon. What I mean by this is one of the attractive philosophies of NaNoWriMo is its emphasis on writing without stopping to edit. There is a sense of urgency with each word written toward the daily goal. But it is also a marathon with the ultimate goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. As the month goes on, your energy slows down. Primarily because we hit the middle part of our novel and start to experience middle book sag so somehow we need to find the energy to make it to the finish line. Once we reach it, our minds and bodies are exhausted and we’re glad when we finish.

At this point I’m confident I can “win” again. As of when this extra-caffeine-and-unhealthy-amounts-of-sugar-fueled post is published, I should be close to 20,000 words written. I’ll probably do another update toward the end of the month. We’ll see if I’m struggling to get to the finish line or if I buck the trend and have energy. I want to end by saying to everyone out there participating, keep up the awesome work! Keep going even when November is done. Your story is important and so is your voice.

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Weekly Musing: It’s a Wrap

The final word on my first NaNoWriMo experience. It certainly had some bumps but it was a very valuable learning experience. I can’t really narrow it down to just one thing but several things I learned about writing a novel and about myself during November.

As my spouse pointed out to me the second day of NaNoWriMo, just concentrate on what it feels like to write a novel rather than focusing on if it makes complete sense. That was probably the biggest thing I learned during November. It was about understanding what my process is, discovering what it physically feels like (hello more callouses and wrist pain), and discipline. Don’t get me wrong, finishing the novel was a huge goal and one that I’m happy to say I accomplished even though I wound up adding to the ending a bit earlier this week.

Another thing I learned was it is more than okay to have a really, really terrible first draft. My draft is terrible and makes little sense to me. The characters are inconsistent and at one point I decided I wanted to age up the main character. Since my original plans for NaNo weren’t working out, I focused on writing a story completely from scratch. I truly tapped into the pantser way of thinking and I found it quite freeing. It also means chunks of what I wrote will be cut as it doesn’t make sense for the story. I got the feeling around the middle of the month that I had written myself into the story. All this means is that when I go to revise the novel sometime next year, it will be a lot more work than the draft.

This leads me to the next thing I’ve realized. I think of my NaNo draft as a bones draft. No, not Dr. McCoy (dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a writer). To me a bones draft is just getting down the basics. I got down a lot of dialogue with some actions and some setting descriptions but beyond that, there isn’t what I would consider a lot of ‘meat’ to it. I’m thinking my technique may be to flesh out the story in terms of setting and getting inside the characters in subsequent drafts before paring it down again to a concise story. I guess it’ll get fatter before getting down to a healthy weight.

I also learned to somehow keep that inner editor at bay. The phrase ‘I can fix this later’ was circulating through my head every day. I needed to constantly remind myself to just concentrate on getting the word count in and just getting thoughts down. Also that it is okay to run spell check but to ignore the grammar stuff, especially passive voice reminders, because again, it’s just a rough draft and the story itself will change significantly. The story became the guiding force.

Discipline was another biggie in November. I had been struggle all this year trying to figure out some kind of routine. It even got to the point that I created a time sheet for myself to help me stay on task. That didn’t work but telling myself I will write at least 3 hours each day, 5 if I can manage it, did the trick. Somehow I managed to commit myself to that schedule nearly every day despite the fact I was prepping for a major move. The only exception was when I was out of town yet that break was beneficial. It allowed my brain time to refresh and make the final push to the end. So if I can get 50,000 words in during all that imagine what more I could do when life isn’t so crazy?

Finally, I think I learned this past month was that each novel will probably have its own process. This one had none other than to just write anything down. But for novels that will have had more research, thought, and plot notes done, the process should be less seat of the pants. This novel was written linearly yet there are plenty of scenes that need to be added to it which means in the revision stage I’ll be writing out of sequence.

Overall I enjoyed my NaNo experience. I think I will definitely participate in 2014 and beyond. I’ve learned to be a bit gentler on myself and let that inner editor go far, far away. While I wasn’t as active on the forums on NaNoWriMo’s website as I intended to be, just looking around that international community of over 300,000 writers meant a lot of them were going through the same experiences at the same time. Somehow that worked for me psychologically more so than reading or listening to author interviews. I think that says a lot about the people behind NaNoWriMo and their approach to novel writing.