Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month and takes place in the month of November every year. I had contemplated it for a few years since first hearing about it and was even encouraged to take part by several friends. Last year, I took the plunge, blocked off the month and picked my story.
Now for those who might not know what NaNoWriMo is, allow me to explain to the best of my knowledge, which I admit is pretty limited. I still think I’m missing some key components, so if you know what I’m lacking as far as knowledge goes, please feel free to write to me and fill me in. The goal of NaNoWriMo is for authors to write 50,000 words in thirty days on one project. The word count can include anything, as I understand it, from character sketches to outlines to background story. Throughout the month of November and in the days following, I learned several things that I believe has made me a more productive writer.
I wanted my word count to be strictly the manuscript, so in the days leading up to the contest, I fleshed out all of my character sketches and did my outlining. That in itself was a new experience as I never outline. Instead of allowing the story to just flow willy nilly, I actually had to plan ahead in order to make the best use of my time and not stare at the monitor wondering Okay, what should happen now? I needed to know where the story was going and how it was going to get there, so I needed to spend some time thinking of the future. That doesn’t mean that things did not change as the story grew and the characters took over. However, it gave me a foundation to build upon, which makes for a more solid story.
Set Word Count Goals
I also wasn’t happy with just 50,000 words. Books are longer. I don’t want to write short stories and call them books. I want to write actual novel length stories. So, I added 30,000 words to the goal bringing my endeavor to 80,000 words in one month. Still not a book-length manuscript, but it was something I could build on.
I knew that there would be days I was not able to write. Thanksgiving is in November here in the states and then there is all of that pre-Christmas prep that occurs, visiting family, and naps. Therefore, I subtracted a few days as nonproductive and then divided that number by my word count. In NaNoWriMo, you need to write 1,667 words a day to meet your goal. Mine was more like 2,850 per day. Doable if I remained focused.
I had one or two people online who were also participating who would ask me on a regular basis how I was doing with my word count, but that was about it. In order to keep myself accountable, I began to post my daily progress on my Facebook Author Page every night before bed, so that, not only could I see what I was doing, but others could as well. Many kept encouraging me, which made me want to get up the next day and keep going. Those pats on the back and “Great Job” comments kept my fuel burning and motivated me daily. If we don’t have someone holding us accountable, it becomes too easy to take a day off and then another. Excuses are readily available for those who are not motivated enough to keep at it. I didn’t want to keep giving excuses. I wanted to write.
It’s a Job
One of the things that I love about what I do is that I can come and go as I please. One of the kids or the girls needs me to do something, I am free to help out. However, it’s also an easy trap to fall into and an excuse to keep me away from the keyboard. I now had a goal in my head that I had committed myself to and everyone else had to respect that as much as I did. The words came first. Most people cannot just come and go at their job whenever they want, and I had to train those around me that neither could I. While it’s true I can write anywhere, I still have to be able to write and the distractions and the Honey-Dos were going to have to wait until after my daily word count was reached. If it’s to be my career, I have to treat it like one.
Tomorrow Is Another Day
Surprises happen. Goals don’t get met. It’s all right once in a while for those things to creep up on us and take over, but we can’t allow it to become a habit. If I failed one day, I just picked it back up the next and kept going. One day’s defeat did not cost me the month. Quite often, I was even able to make up for lost words and found myself ahead. Hurdles are not roadblocks unless you allow them to be.
So, by the end of November, I had written over 80,000 words and had a decent first draft with which to work. I had learned a few important lessons and knew that the only reason I wasn’t producing more was because I was allowing the excuses to get in the way and take over. With what I learned doing NaNoWriMo, I glanced ahead at 2015 and mapped out the next few books, set aside time for outlining, character sketches, and daydreaming. I mapped out how many words a day on a new project and then blocked off time for revisions and wandering around Disney parks. While I’ve already decided that I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo again, I gained valuable disciplines that have motivated me to be a more productive writer. It was a great training experience and I’m thankful I finally surrendered and participated. Now, it’s time to get writing and put all of those things I learned into practice. It’s going to be a great year.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Until next time, keep chasing your fantasies!