National Novel Writing Month is a personal challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. There are no awards, other than progress towards your completed manuscript and bragging rights. And the consequences for “losing” are still…you guessed it…progress towards your manuscript. So why not participate? Why not?
Even if you’re NOT an “author” or a “writer” it’s a great way to see what you’re made of. And here’s something crazy: I didn’t know I loved writing and wanted to be an author until I participated in my first NaNoWriMo! So I discovered something HUGE about myself in doing so.
NaNoWriMo 2020 was a success! I’ve only won 3/5 of my NaNoWriMos since starting in 2015. It’s hit or miss, but I’ve learned a few keys for survival and success. I’m going to outline them here, and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. Every year is different and I adapt.
My project this year was the same one last year. I won last year too! But the draft I was working on had not been outlined or planned out. I was “panster-ing” it. And unfortunately after 50,000 words, I trashed my manuscript. It just wasn’t what I wanted. The story had taken a direction and it wasn’t the direction I had in mind. So I took a break from it and then spent the better part of Winter and Spring 2020 making a detailed outline. Really getting to know my character and her internal conflicts. I watched a lot of “Abby Emmons” Youtube videos. She is GREAT! I also utalized the book called “Take Off Your Pants” for my outline. Once I had an outline, I started over. But after my husband and sister read a few chapters, they immediately voiced my deepest fears. That it wasn’t what it should be. And I realized the problem was with my outline. So I trashed about 15,000 words. My second trashing. And I sat down with my husband and spent two days straight re-doing the ENTIRE outline with him. It still wasn’t perfect but I felt like the bones were there.
So FINALLY I sat down a third time and began writing. In August 2020, I started what felt like a draft I would NOT meet to trash. And by the time I reached NaNoWriMo I already had 50,000 words under my belt. I was at the story’s half way point. I was feeling GOOD!
I knew NaNoWriMo would force me to change my writing habits. I would NOT be able to write slowly and give lots of thought to what I was putting down. There’s just no way to churn out an average of 1,667 words a day doing that. So I knew I needed to just put down slightly less quality and refine it later. That’s what I plan to do. The draft is FINISHED! I came in at 103,000 words for my first draft.
I won two things at the end of November: A completed first draft and 50,000 word achievement.
My keys to success:
1) Have a designated writing time. This doesn’t mean you MUST adhere to it EVERY SINGLE DAY but it’s something to strive for and teaches good habits. I set mine to be one hour in the morning and one in the evening. On work days that meant completing my hour of wiring before working so I had to get up an hour early. I was ONLY able to do this about 1 week out of 4, but it still helped me to get off to a good start and get some words under my belt.
2) Hold yourself accountable. Whether it’s a calendar you mark an X through, an excel spreadsheet you put word counts into, or a scrap of paper. Hold yourself accountable and TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. You need to SEE how you’re doing or else you’ll trick yourself into thinking your doing better or worse than you actually are. I tracked my progress in my bullet journal and I’ll attach a photo of it at the bottom.
3) Go in with an outline and a plan. But mostly just an outline. It’s SO important to go in with an outline of some sort. You do NOT want to be sitting there staring at a blank screen wasting your valuable hour of writing time. Not only did I have an outline so that I knew exactly what I was writing about when I sat down, I made sure to take my morning shower before my wiring time so that I could think about the scene in the shower, utilize that valuable quiet time to plan it out. Then I hit the ground running. Sometimes I laid down 1000 words in 40 minutes because they were bursting to get out.
Okay, those are my three key tips. I’ve found over the years that these seem to ensure a higher likelihood of success for ME. They might not work for YOU. You’ve got to figure out what works best for your own schedule and style.
A little about my bullet journal tracker: I am a graphs person. Seeing my progress in a graph helps me visualize how I’m doing. So I made an average line. This is the line my writing SHOULD take if I’m spacing my word count evenly. Of course, we know that we can’t write every day. So sometimes we are working ahead or playing catch up. Next is my box-checking-system for tracking if I did my 1 hour of AM and 1 hour of PM writing. And finally, the raw numbers of my word count at the end of each day. If I didn’t write, then I did not fill that day in. You can see there’s gaps. I had a friend visit for a week so I took that week off and was forced to play catch up in the final week. Overall, I was determine to hit my goal. And that determination and drive sent me to the top.
Hope this all helps! Thanks so much for reading about my journey. And good luck to you next year if you decide to participate.