National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2019 was a huge challenge for me this year. That being said, this was my third NaNoWriMo, and probably my favorite so far. I learned so much about myself, and I want to share that.
So, what is NaNoWriMo?
Every year, writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in one month while tracking their progress on nanowrimo.org. For some, 50K is the full length of a book, for others, like me, it’s about half.
It is recommended that writers do an average of about 1600 words a day for a whole month to stay on track, but that is not a requirement. The ONLY requirement is that you reach the 50,000 word goal however you want to do it. For me, I decided to select designated “writing” days. Since I work 4/10 days, which really turns out to be 4/12 days, my writing days were set to Friday-Sunday. Literally my entire weekend with no “days off.” But I consider writing to be enjoyable so it usually does not feel like a task or chore.
Nanowrimo is not an easy challenge. Even for someone like me, with good work ethic and regular goal setting, I found nanowrimo—especially this year—a near impossible challenge. I’m happy to announce that I WON THE CONTEST!! That’s right, I managed to hit a whopping 50,275 with one day to spare. Now I need a serious break.
This is my second win. I was unlucky in 2018 and maxed out 37,000 words. Then again, that’s still more words than I would have achieved at my regular pace, so hey, I still came out ahead. That’s the wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo. Even if you don’t “win” you still make progress.
This time around, I learned a lot about myself and my writing habits as an author. I’d like to split them into two categories: what went well, and what didn’t go well.
WHAT WENT WELL:
1. Planning my story out. Planning was my key to success this year.
I used to be a die-hard “panster”. My first Nanowrimo, which I coincidentally won writing Talon the Black, was done entirely flying by the seat of my pants. I literally sat at my desk thinking, “What should happen next?” and, “Oh, I should do this because it would do that, and maybe I’ll be able to use that sometime later even though I don’t know how the story is going to end, or the path it will take.” I did absolutely no planning, no plotting, nothing.
This time, I decided to utilize the outlining method in Take Off Your Pants, a book that really resonated with my writing style. Ever since reading it, I have been dying to use the method in its entirety. I did the entire TYOP method in an excel spreadsheet. I used different sheets for different purposes, all related to my planning. I have listed out the sheets, although some aren’t entirely filled out yet. I’m only bout half way through the novel.
Excel Sheets within the main spreadsheet:
Random thoughts, ideas, etc.
Reverse backstory tool
Magic System Ideas
Each writing session/day I was able to sit down, go to my outline, and see which plot point I was working on for the day, and say “Okay, today I have to write—” and it was right there on the spreadsheet. All the main points throughout the chapter that I wanted to accomplish were listed in bullets as part of my planning. I still had tons of room for creativity, to build in the transitions to each key point, to come up with ways to connect those ideas to the main plot, etc.
I also did a more exterior planning which consisted of mindset and understanding planning. I read several textbook style books on the Victorian Era (boring but super useful) because I felt more confident after understanding much of English life in the Victorian Era. I also watched some shows for inspiration, movies, etc. I’ve taken a picture of a bullet journal spread I did with planning and book ideas to get me in the mindset. I planned this out about two months before NaNoWriMo and only achieved about half of the stuff in advance.
Note: I always thought planning would completely eliminate my ability to write creatively, and remove the opportunity for it. I’ve found that my imagination and creativity have to work just as hard using a planned outline. Yet, with a planned outline, I’m confident that I’m hitting all the important points of the story core, character arc, and theme.
**If you want to hear more about how I did the actual planning, let me know. I can always write a separate blog on it.
2. Having designated write/no write days. This separated the days of November distinctly. The reason I did this is because I’m a workaholic, and I have retained the guilty thought patterns that plagued me during my PhD. In the PhD program, there was no line between school/research/teaching/homelife. It all blended together, and realistically, the sooner you could get your work done the sooner you could graduate. Thus, I often felt guilty if I wasn’t working on my dissertation and research work 24/7. These guilty thought patterns were dangerous, damaging, and led to a lot of health related stress issues for me.
By telling myself that I was NOT ALLOWED to write on a work day, I didn’t have to feel guilty for not having the energy to do it. It also made me that much more excited when Friday, my first of three writing days rolled around each week. But it also meant that I had 15/30 days as “writing days.” Realizing that I had to write 50,000 words in FIFTEEN FREAKING DAYS scared me. I did the math and discovered that if I wanted to hit 50k, I needed to write an average of 3,000 words per day. Okay, now I was really panicking. I spent the entire month of October deeply planning out the novel because I knew how limited I would be.
This write/no write idea worked well for me. I’m definitely doing the same thing next year. Also, I was so exhausted with writing by Sunday night (9,000 words of a weekend later) that I was actually excited to go to work Monday mornings just because it meant getting a “break” even though I consider my day job to be MUCH harder than I consider my writing. This told me something about myself: It told me that I have a limit, an amount of writing that I cannot surpass or risk a burnout, which kinda happened for a few days.
3. Writing first thing in the morning. I found I was able to get the most amount of word count in if I sat down at my computer first thing in the morning. Most days I took showers first and collected my coffee, but then made sure I was in my desk chair at approx. 8:30AM. Yes, no sleeping in. Most days I was actually up at 7AM on the weekend to write.
There were some days where I sat down to write before showering, and managed to get a good 2000 words in before 10:30 AM and then was able to think up the last 1000 in the shower and quickly scribble out the scene on my keyboard right afterward. Those days were the most productive. But overall, I found that the few days that I tried writing later in the day, I didn’t get to it at all.
4. Putting certain life obligations on hold for a month. I told my husband what I was getting into, and told him that I was only going to accept 1-2 obligations for the whole month. I knew that if I didn’t make it a rule and draw the line, I’d accept activities every weekend and that would really throw me off. Sure enough, the ONE WEEKEND where I had the ONLY obligation for the full month on one day (Friday) it threw me off and I only got 3000 words for the whole weekend. I’ve found that I’m an all or nothing person. I either spend the whole weekend writing, or none of it. I don’t know why I’m so extreme like that. Weird.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK WELL:
1. Pushing myself at my pace, and only having 15 writing days. I experienced burnout in weekend 3 and ended up getting 3000 words instead of 9000. That put me 6,000 words behind so that when I went into the fourth weekend, the weekend before Thanksgiving, I was nearly 15,000 words behind. At this point, I thought I would never catch up. Work had gotten REALLY crazy, so I was exhausted, burnt out, and needed a break. Fortunately, I hadn’t used ANY of my paid vacation days. I realized pretty quickly that if I A) didn’t take some days off, I was going to have a little meltdown and B) If I didn’t take any days off, I was done with NaNoWriMO and had failed.
I decided to email my boss and request Thanksgiving week off, allowing me a full 10 days off of work. This gave me 18 writing days instead of 15. I was able to buy back three days for the two that I had lost.
Pushing myself the way I did for NaNoWriMo is NOT SUSTAINABLE for long term. But it has taught me what I’m capable of.
2. Having a set writing time. I tried to make a rule that stated something like: Thou shalt write from the hours of eight in the morning until noon. Thou shalt not goof off in any way, and may only take short bathroom/food breaks.
Yeah, that didn’t work. It worked for one weekend. I churned out 3,000 words in each 4hr section and got a good start on the beginning of the book. The second weekend on was just too chaotic. I tried not to accept any engagements for the whole month, but there’s still life’s necessities that must be seen to.
3. Scheduling a book launch in the same month. Bad idea! Oops. Didn’t really think that one through until it was too late. I was so caught up in NaNoWriMo that I don’t feel like I was able to do the launch justice. Oh well, live and learn.