Why I Keep Coming Back for More NaNoWriMo

2015 Novel Stats

I was reading an article this morning over at Author’s Think Tank that aptly referred to NaNoWriMo as a “50,000-word slog”. I chuckled a little.

Writing 50, 000 words in thirty days is hard. Not gonna lie.

At an average of 1,666 words per day, for me personally, that’s a solid two hour + time commitment every day (though towards the end of the month I was able to do 800-1,000 per hour). Of course, this November, I was, for the first time since my first NaNoWriMo in 2012, behind in word count pretty much Every. Single. Day.

During the last week I had to do 2,500 words a day just to finish on time-you know, over Thanksgiving-a time when you’re supposed to be relaxing, kicking back. I haven’t had a truly relaxing Thanksgiving for four years.

It was nice that we were visiting family and my usual household duties weren’t around to lure me away from the computer. Every minute I wasn’t doing fun family stuff I was writing. Also, my kids are now old enough that riding on an airplane isn’t a four hour trial of patience (I wrote 1,500 words on the 3 1/2 hour trip back home on Sunday – which I thought was pretty awesome).

I’ve included a lovely infographic below just to prove that this was not my banner year.

 

NaNoWriMo Stats 2012-2015

I did better last year when the thing I’d written by the end didn’t have a clear ending – and which I’ve been struggling to fix all year.

So what happened? Have I learned nothing in the last three years?

In my last post I wrote about how I was intimidated by my idea.  It’s still true. It’s not an easy concept. The mantra I kept repeating to myself every time I felt uninspired or bored with the plot was “VISUALS and ACTION.”

I like writing action-I’m still learning but I like writing action even if turns out terrible. Visuals on the other hand are not my forte. At all. I don’t think I’m good at describing things. So even if I have something in my head, it’s almost impossible to get it on the page. But I keep TRYING. I guess that’s all that matters.

Also, I didn’t have names for any of the places or people, so I used bracketed placeholders instead (like [BIGCITY] and [BESTFRIEND]-though [BESTFRIEND] does have a name now). My daughter was not convinced this was a good strategy:

Twitter 11-1-15

She’s a tough critic.

I’d done some plot planning ahead of time but about mid month I’d written what I had ‘planned’ and then I had to ask the question, what happens now? And I was two full days behind at that point (that’s 3,333 words).

Twitter 11-17-15

 

At least I figured out an ending-which I still like so it’ll probably stay:

Twitter 11-18-15

I finished on November 30th with three hours to spare – and then discovered that the little app NaNoWriMo uses to calculate your word count doesn’t play nice with the ellipses and hyphens  that I use (a lot) in my dialogue. I came up 400 words short, so I had to go back and strip them out. Find and replace: you complete me.

There’s still so much work to do: side characters to add/cut, place and character names to figure out, creating some kind of map…

Even though I was behind in word count all month, I feel like this novel is more cohesive than projects I’ve done for NaNoWriMo in the past. I wanted to get it right-or as close to right as I could on the first shot, and that took more time. This NaNoWriMo wasn’t about just throwing words on the page.

The good news is: I’m not ready to toss my story in the closet to look at in a few months, which has not been the case in the past.

So, why do I even bother with this when it’s such a harrowing experience every year?

The reason is that I owe NaNoWriMo a lot. Three years ago, it got me writing after years and years of finding excuses not to even try. I finished a novel less than a year later because of two rounds of CampNaNoWriMo.

Me – serial manuscript non-finisher finished a novel.

Today, NaNoWriMo forces me to be brave and sit in the chair and write even if I’m not 100% sure about the plot or where it’s going or who the characters are…Which is ultimately how I want to be year round: every day, sitting in my chair, writing.

Eventually, I want to produce something that other people will want to read. I’m not there yet, but NaNoWriMo has made me a better writer because practice really does make perfect. I’m far from perfect (passable, maybe), but I  don’t cringe any more when I go back and read what I’ve written.

For me, NaNoWriMo is a test.

If I can get through the word slog year after year and still enjoy writing, well, then I must really love writing.

Twitter 11-30-15

Another Year, Another NaNoWriMo

Yes, it’s November 1st.

It’s a little sad that the last post I wrote was at the end of last year’s NaNoWriMo.

Things have happened since that have swept my writing legs out from under me over and over again. That’s not an excuse – it just is what it is. Life has been hard. And it’s hard to do things you enjoy when you’re overwhelmed and so very, very sad. It’s not something I know how to express at the moment, so this post isn’t about feels…

It is about being determined to do better, picking myself up and soldiering on–which includes trying to get up early and writing before the kids get up.

Stacy is not a morning person. Life is full of hard things (getting up at 6 AM is one of them).

I’ve been dutifully planning my NaNoWriMo novel for the last month. I narrowed my many ideas down to two, and then eventually one. And then this last week, I felt like I was really stuck on my plot outline and it was boring and it was going to be terrible and gosh, what am I doing? I suck at this.

In short, I panicked.

In truth, I’m scared to write this story. Scared. To write a story.

It’s not horror, folks, it’s science fiction.

This is the first time I’ve felt truly intimidated by a writing project. Maybe because I like the idea so much and I just don’t want to screw it up.

I decided to go ahead with it anyway, and you know what? My first scene turned out pretty good.

So take that, scary idea.

And happy NaNoWriMo to you all.

NaNoWriMo Retrospective – 2014

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

Despite having left the first 39,000 words of my manuscript on my home computer when I went out of town for Thanksgiving and feeling like I had no idea what to write this last week – it’s over.

And I’ve done it!

This is the third year in a row that I’ve done this crazy NaNoWriMo thing (my husband is excited to get his wife back, by the way) and I have to say, I just really love it and I’m so glad I found it and was determined enough to see it through that first year and every year after that.  ( ‘and’ overload – deal with it)

What I love about NaNoWriMo is the habit it gets you into – of making time for writing every day.

I wish I had the discipline to write every day of the year, even if it was just a few hundred words. That’s definitely something that I need to work on in the future. I have a lot of unfinished writing projects that need some quality time.

Also, it’s funny how, in this process, I prove myself wrong over and over.

I’ve tried to convince myself so many times that I simple cannot write certain genres.

Here are some conversations I’ve had with myself:

“You’re not creative enough to write fantasy.”

“You’re not smart enough to write science fiction.”

“Historical fiction is not for you because researching stuff makes you want to puke.”

In reality, I’ve tried all these things and there is no such thing as ‘not creative enough’ or ‘not smart enough’ or ‘researching stuff makes me want to puke’ if I’m interested in what I’m writing.

I started out this year’s NaNoWriMo project envisioning a near future sci-fi thing and – because of some early feedback – I decided to change it to be both a near-future sci-fi thing as well as an alternate history thing. And I have loved every minute of the ‘ugly’ researching aspect (thank you Wikipedia). It’s fascinating to learn about the etymology for expressions or words you’re using and also to discover the origin for the objects you’re putting into your world (like when things were invented and when they became used by the general population). (Seriously, how did authors function before the the internet? I shudder to think…)

So here’s to another year of breaking out of my comfort zone and proving that if I put my mind to it, I really can accomplish anything.

Time to start planning for next year…

Thanks for reading,

~Stacy

NaNoWriMo – How To Get Started

I was flattered (and humbled) to receive a message today from an old BYU friend asking about how someone new to NaNoWriMo would get started.

I thought I’d share my response here because as my BYU friend, my friend Annie and my sister have found out, once you get me started talking about writing, I just won’t shut up about it.

And if you’re a NaNoWriMo Newb (former gamer here), you may find this helpful.

It’s not too late to get started!

(1) BIC HOK

The best advice I’ve ever heard (and taken) is to just sit down and write or BIC HOK (Bum In Chair, Hands On Keyboard).

It’s that simple and that hard.

But of course, I have much, much more to say on the the subject – Soooo…

(2) Characters

Beyond the initial idea, I like to have character names for (at the very least) my main characters, however many of those I have.

Sometimes  I only have two characters to start with and I make up the rest as I go.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo novel, I started out knowing a lot of the characters I was going to use with a little back story for each – but it doesn’t really matter. Names and back stories will come as you write no matter how much prep you do before you start (I’ve found).

There’s no wrong way to do any of this – it’s just what works best for you, which will come with time and experience.

(3) Outlines

Some people recommend an outline of the novel’s plot, some people don’t. I’ve had success with and without an outline.

For someone who hasn’t written a long story before, I’d say write an outline – to keep yourself on track as you write. It will probably change as you go and that’s okay!

I can recommend a lecture I saw recently on YouTube from one of my favorite authors (Dan Wells) that talks about plot structure if you’re not sure where you want to go with your plot. It’s basic but profound. It gives you something to think about at the very least. However, I would not bog yourself down with How-Tos at this point – sit down and start writing.

(4) Where Should I Start?

You can start anywhere you want.

I usually start at the beginning. Dan Wells recommends starting at the END so that you know where you’re going. Again, there’s no WRONG way.

I’ll even skip around once I’ve cleared some initial hurtles at the story’s beginning (if a scene is stuck in my head and it just won’t get OUT any other way, for example).

(5) Help! I’m stuck! (Writer’s block is a thing)

If you feel like you’re stuck, move to a different scene, or a different viewpoint. OR maybe something that happens “off screen” that won’t end up in the novel but can inform you of something that’s going on in the story outside your main character’s viewpoint. Or you could write as the villian(!) to get a better idea of that character’s state of mind or whatever.

Again, there’s no wrong thing to do here.

(6) Go Easy On Yourself

Remember that your novel is not going to come out perfect the first time – or the second time – or the third time you go through it – but eventually it will or as close to perfect as you can get being the fallible human that you are.

Writing novels is not like performing music. It’s more like painting – layer on layer on layer.

(7) SHARE

For goodness’s sake,  SHARE your writing.

I sent the first three chapters of my current NaNoWriMo novel to my sister and the feedback I got was fantastic. No pats on the back, though. She absolutely ripped it to shreds and I couldn’t be happier because it’s going to be a better novel because of it.

So, fellow NaNoWriMo’s – forget about going outside (it’s COLD anyway), sit down and get to it. The world needs your novel.

Thanks for reading,

~Stacy

NaNoWriMo – We Meet Again

NaNoWriMo

I really can’t believe how fast this year has gone.

I feel like I just did NaNoWriMo (though I did do a mini-NaNoWriMo in April), but here we are again.

Last year’s novel was a disaster. I’m not ashamed to admit that. It totally went off the rails. But I did get to 50,000 words so there’s that, even if they weren’t any good.

I’m now two days into this year’s challenge and I must say that this is the best start I’ve had since I wrote my first-ever-finished-novel last year.

Maybe it’s because it’s sci-fi

Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about the concept for a couple years now…

Maybe it’s because I’ve been stuck in my basement all alone because of the whole cancer treatment thing…

I don’t know, but I really like how my first three chapters came out. Not perfect, but a very good base for something awesome.

I hope it continues to go well and good luck to all you fellow NaNoWriMo participants.

Just sit down every day and write, you won’t regret it!