This article was first posted on Writers Coop on Medium.com
NaNoWriMo is coming up in November and once again I feel the pull to participate. I am not affiliated to the organisation behind this global event but if you are thinking of joining this year, my experience may help you reach your goal.
I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2017. To give you some idea of the excitement, this is what I posted on my blog and socials back then.
“Tonight is Halloween night and it’s also the last night before NaNoWrimo starts. Scary on both counts.
This is my first attempt at NaNo and I am super excited, but also terrified of the month ahead. Can I make it through the month and get to November 30 without going mental? Time will tell.”
So what is it all about?
By signing up you commit to a challenge to write 50K words during the month of November. Basically a small novel. A huge effort but it can be done.
This is how the NaNoWrimo website describes it:
“National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, empowering approach to creative writing. The challenge: draft an entire novel in just one month. Why do it? For 30 wild, exciting, surprising days, you get to silence your inner critic, let your imagination take over, and just create!”
I finished the 50K words by the end November. It was tough, exhausting, and exhilarating. I enjoyed every moment and made lifelong writing friends.
I went from a novice writer to finishing the first draft of my novel. It was mind-blowing to me. I was on a high for all of December. As a newbie, I wrongly thought I had made it. The novel was done, right? No, we all know that is never the truth. Our first draft is us telling the story to ourselves. After that comes months, sometimes years, of editing.
But I accomplished the NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in one month, and that was a tremendous leap for me as a writer.
How did I do it?
For me, it was a case of four key factors:
For my whole life, I had wanted to write and finish a novel. I had started so many ideas. I had filled my notebooks and folders on my computer with half written stories but never followed through. Somehow, I always reached a stumbling block. Often wrote myself into a hole. Or life just took over and threw challenges at me that didn’t leave me time or creative space in my mind to continue. Divorcing and becoming a single mum left me little energy for anything else. My girls were my priority. At one stage when they were in primary school, I did an online course in ‘Writing Children’s Books’. I wrote at night when they were in bed and read my story to them the night after. ‘The Adventures of Wozzie Wombat.’ They loved it. Again, life took over, and we moved to Sydney where full-time work and motherhood left little space. Wozzie Wombat got put to sleep.
By 2017 when I again announced my dream to write a novel to my then much older girls, they both said to me ‘Mum, stop talking about it, just do it.’ That was the best writing advice I have ever received.
Combined with my stubbornness to do it this time, to prove to them I was more than just talk, I started writing.
The year flew and by September, I needed a miracle to finish. That miracle was NaNoWrimo.
I enrolled, determined to get over the finish line. There was no way I was letting myself or my girls down. I wanted them to be proud of their mum and to show them when you want something bad enough, you can do it.
My day job is planning. That means lots of analysis, spreadsheets, and a need to plan the weeks to ensure I execute the monthly workflow when needed.
As a writer I am a very much a pantzer. I love letting my imagination take me where the story needs to go. Very little planning. At least in the first draft.
But for NaNoWriMo I needed my planning skills. I had to device a solid plan that would get me there. The week before commencing the giant task, I sat down and devised my plan in a simple spreadsheet with five columns.
My Nano Tracker. Screenshot of Canva Image of Excel generated by Sal Gallaher
At the end of each session, I would update the word count to make sure I was tracking ok. If I fell behind, I made myself make it up over the weekend.
That’s an easy one, right? But when I say writing, I mean writing with no editing. That is hard for many writers, but you just do not have the time to go over your work and still get the words down. No time for perfection. At least not for me with a full-time job and only writing after hours and on weekends.
I would start each session by reading the last sentence. Nothing more. Then just go straight into writing the next scene. Never once did I allow myself to go back and check grammar or sentence structure.
The daily routine amazed me. Many a night I felt tired and would normally not have sat down to write. But I realised the mere act of sitting in front of my laptop somehow brought the muse to me every time.
For me, it was essential to join other writers on the same NaNoWriMo journey. The organisers behind it made it so easy to join groups online and to chat to other writers. We would find writing buddies and after each session would upload our word count online after and cheer each other on. The little messages each day were so motivational and I looked forward to logging into the site after finishing my writing.
I also joined real live events at our local library once a week where we would spend part of the time speed writing and last part chatting about our struggles and accomplishments.
Both online and real live events made me feel part of something bigger and pushed me across the line.
Some of these people are still in my social groups online and we touch base from time to time and talk writing and bookish stuff.
For me NaNoWriMo was a fundamental change. The draft I finished has been polished and changed since, and I am now querying with agents and hope to find a home for it. You can read the synopsis for my novel in this article.
I loved being part of the NaNoWriMo challenge and would highly recommend it to anyone needing a bit of motivation and a solid push to get to ‘THE END’.
With my 2nd manuscript at its early stages, a small part of me wants to join this year’s event. Maybe I will. It is a big commitment and I’m still weighing up whether I have the time and can prioritise a full month to it.
I hope you find my tips useful.
Would love to hear from other writers who have been part of NaNoWriMo or maybe you are joining this year?
Thanks for reading till the end.
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