• NaNoWriMo 2017 was great! Here are some pointers I learned.
• Timing sessions help (20 minutes work/10 minutes break).
• Outlines help a ton, especially when divided into actual chapters.
• Scheduled writing times are key to get consistent work done.
• Write-ins are a great way to stay/get motivated with other people.
• Stopping one day is likely to affect other days.
NaNoWriMo 2017 is OVER! How did it go for you? How did it go for me? I can honestly tell you I did it! I won NaNoWriMo this year (wrote 50,000 words)! But it was rough. As I look back on the month, there are lots of lessons I learned. I’d love to hear about your own experiences, what you learned, how you’ll write differently now, and how you’ll do future NaNoWriMo’s.
Lessons Learned Reaching goals . . . sort of
I had a few goals starting out this NaNo. (1) was to finish the 50,000 words by December 1; (2) was to use the website more; (3) was to be more socially involved and go to different NaNo meetings. I completed #1 but really failed in #2 and #3.
NaNo started off amazingly. I went to the kickoff party at Denny’s on October 31, which lasted form 10 p.m. till 4 a.m. It was amazing seeing twenty or thirty people all together in the backroom, anxiously waiting for midnight to strike so we could start our NaNo projects. The leaders were welcoming and friendly, raffling off tickets and prizes for everyone and getting us excited to begin. Once that clock reached midnight, it was time to go!
I was prepared. I had my outline, my opening chapter, and a fresh new document. Staring at the blank page on my computer was intimidating but I ran at it with all my might when the go-ahead was given.
Timers help The first big lesson I got out of NaNo is that timers help, A LOT! The leaders did this thing where you write in silence (no talking, no music, no nothing but writing) for 20 minutes, then you get a 10 minute break. You can keep writing if you want, or chat with people, order food, or whatever then it’s back at it again with the writing. This is a slight variation on the Pomodoro technique (4 sets of 25 minutes of work with 5 minute breaks interspersed between; then a longer 15 minute break and back to 4 sets of 25 minutes work/5 minutes rest). I’ve found that the 20 minutes work/10 minutes break is better for me than 25/5. And it really helped me focus throughout the rest of the month. Whenever I had difficulty starting, I’d just sit and watch the timer. Eventually, I’d get into the swing of things and start.
Late nights are not for me The second big lesson I learned was that late nights are not for me. As I’ve aged (and no I’m not too old but this is still an issue) I can’t handle staying up as late. I used to bounce back fairly quickly, but not anymore. I got really winded after the first big write in (on October 31) and didn’t write much for the next five days. I got burnt out. It was especially a problem because I was looking forward to the annual 24 hour write-a-thon. I had a blast last year but I realized I couldn’t bodily handle it. So I decided to go this year but only stay till 11 pm. Though I didn’t actually end up making it, the lesson I learned is it’s supremely important to take your health seriously. 24-hour-write-a-thons are fun (and staying up late in general) but if I don’t get my rest I won’t be sharp for the next day and my work will suffer exponentially.
Need better outline The third big lesson I learned was I needed a better outline. Though I spent a lot of time working on the generalities of it (what the forward motion was, events to happen in order, etc.), I found myself still discovery writing a bunch of things. I think my problem was though I had a good outline, I hadn’t broken it into chapters which is what Take Off Your Pants recommends. For my next project, I’ll go ahead and break it down by chapter and see if my writing goes any better.
Go ahead and write that scene The next lesson still involves discovery writing. Since I had my generalized outline, I knew what I wanted to happen, but sometimes there were blanks in the way. What should go in between? I fumbled and hawed, not knowing what would be best for the book (this is where a chapter by chapter outline might have saved me). But I knew where I wanted to get to. Because this was NaNo, I had to push ahead, so I ended up writing most of those scenes when I got near them. And you know what? They don’t seem too out of place. And I can always go back and edit if they feel too rushed. These scenes drive the story forward, they make me happier when writing, and give me passion. So it’s worth just writing them. If you’re stuck and have some amazing scene but don’t know how to get there, just make it happen. If there’s really a gaping hole leading up to it, you can always edit later.
Fixed times: get it done when it’s supposed to get done For me, it really helped having a scheduled time to write that was consistent. This used to help me a lot when I wrote on my lunch break at work. It was an hour I could dedicate for 5 days out of the week and accomplish a bunch of writing. During NaNo, I was most productive if I started writing in the morning. Waking up a little earlier, and just diving in before anything else. It’s something I’ll carry on in December as I work to finish what I started.
Being Busy–no socialness for you! I really wanted to engage with the groups more but for some reason, this November was much busier than last year. I found myself barely able to make events after the kick-off, even though part of my system required I attend meetings for mutual support. I missed out on a ton of fun! Like writing on a train heading down to San Diego and back, writing at the Disneyland Resort hotel, and of course, missing out on the 24 hour write-a-ton. I also missed out on being active on the website. It’s something I’d like to do next year. Part of my reasoning against it was it would take time from writing. It’s a valid fear, and since I barely managed 50,000 words as it was, I think I made the right choice.
Write fast, write on There’s definite merit to writing as fast as you can, silencing the inner critic, and just letting things flow. There’s merit to not doing these things, but with NaNo it’s difficult to succeed unless you’re sprinting. I was reminded again of the efficacy of that, of just making notes in the margin when I wanted to go back and change something important, then forging on ahead. It got me moving forward and that’s absolutely needed for me.
Write-ins for writers’ group Since it was NaNo, my writers’ group decided on stopping submissions/writing excuses and instead make November all about write-ins. Instead of discussing each others’ work, we’d have 20 minute writing sessions followed by 10 minute breaks. It helped tremendously! Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated to make submissions, but having something like this absolutely helped. It helped so much that we’re going to make it a staple going forward. Not in the sense that we’ll write for hours like we did during November, but that each writers’ group will dedicate 30 minutes to just work on whatever we’re writing.
Making it difficult–why November? I was talking to a buddy at one my NaNo groups and told him that this November had been particularly difficult. He told me with a twinkle in his eye, “Well that’s the point, you know?” I didn’t understand so he elucidated. “November is one of the worst months of the year to get writing done. You have vacations, you have family time, you have Thanksgiving, and a lot of work tends to be toward the end of the year. NaNoWriMo used to be in a different month but they moved it because November is so hard. Why? Because succeeding at NaNoWriMo means you can write even when it’s difficult, even when you have to make turkeys, bring family over, and everything else. If I can do 30,000 words in the worst month of the year, what can I do in all the other ones? Being in November takes away all the excuses of writing being too hard.” That’s great advice. And I love how he pointed out that even if you didn’t “win” NaNo (write 50,000 words during November), it can still show you your strength and what you can accomplish.
Stopping one day is a lot more damaging than just one day I’m including my final word count per day because I think it’s illustrative. What it shows is that when I skipped writing one day, it took a long time to get back on the horse. There was only one time where I skipped a day and immediately began writing again (11/26). Generally, it took me at least two days to get back to writing. You’ll notice too I don’t have days where I wrote less than 1,000 words. I think that’s problematic. Having a goal of 1,667 words per day made it harder to write on days where I didn’t feel like it because the goal was so high. I felt I had to dedicate large amounts of time to reach it, so on busy days, I didn’t even try. It would have been much more helpful on these days to just write 500 words, or 200, or even 100 words, just to keep in the swing of things and keep the momentum moving.
Writing progress My daily word count
|Date||Start||Finish||Daily Word Count||NaNo Goal|
Looking Forward Remembering the (recent) past
So where does all this leave me? If you recall, I still have the goal to finish my book by the end of the year since I always have the goal of writing a new draft every year. Well, I’m now 50,000 words into it. I now have extra tools and systems to help me succeed moving forward. I’m not sure if another 50,000 words will finish the story I want to tell but I’ll strive I’ll reach it.
How was NaNo for you? What lessons did you learn? Same ones as I did or different? Was this your first NaNo, second like me, or are you a veteran? What do you wish you’d done differently? What do you wish you’d done more of?