Making NaNoWriMo Work For You.

A week from today is November 1st, and the start of National Novel Writing Month. I participated in NaNoWriMo two years ago, and am wondering if I should subject myself to this painful experience again this year. Maybe others are contemplating similar questions.

Two years ago, I had no clue if I could write anything longer than 5000 words. NaNoWriMo was a personal challenge. And I met my goals and got two things out of my 2009 gambit: a) I learned that under deadline, I could write a lot, even while staying on top of parenting and work responsibilities. b) I also realized the value of turning off my inner critic during the first draft.

Before that NaNoWriMo experience, writing 1000 words in a single day was a like pulling my own teeth. But because the daily average needed to reach 50,000 words was nearly 1,700, and because I only wrote half the days, I kicked out three, four, five thousand words on many of my active writing days. My record was 8000 words on one Saturday. And cooking meals, folding laundry, and clocking 40+ hours per week at work were no longer valid reasons to not write.

I’m not sure how many NaNoWriMo participants do this, but I had about a dozen subscribers who expected at least weekly updates from me. This focused my writing towards an audience, but I somehow managed to turn off my inner critic anyway. My harsh super-editor seems to be worse when I’m the only reader anticipating my work.

Fast forward to 2011. My have the self-knowledge I gained from my first NaNo experience. I’m on the verge of writing a new novel. I still have a lot of ideation and maybe even outlining that I’d like to do. But I’d also like to get this story out of my system. I’m thinking of attempting NaNoWriMo again, but I wanted to hear about the wisdom you gained.

So, here are a few questions for you NaNo vets:

  • Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year?
  • How many NaNovels have you completed?
  • What have you learned from NaNoWriMo in the past?
  • If you plan on doing it this year, what specific goals to you hope to accomplish? (I’m assuming that writing 50,000 words is a stepping stone to something more)
  • What advice do you have to help other writers like me to have a successful NaNoWriMo experience?
  • If you’re a NaNo veteran but have chosen not to do it again, what keeps you from returning?

Thanks, in advance, for your wisdom!

(My profile page is here–feel free to share links to your profiles below.)

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  • Definitely doing NaNoWriMo this year. I did it last year as well. I didn’t finish my project last year (twas Twitter fiction–I felt experimental), but learned a lot from it, mostly about brevity, brevity, brevity. The goal this year is to get a good 60% of a first draft done on the sequel to my first novel.

    My best advice is to set some time each day and stick to it. I have 2 1-hour commutes each day on a ferry, so that gives me time and space to crank out 2,000 words. Making writing a habit will make it easier to sustain.

  • Jack Graham

    My difficulty with NaNo is that I’ve never had an idea for a novel that would actually fit into 50k words, and it’s damned frustrating ending up with a fragment of one at the end of November. And December is a terrible time to continue a push on a novel, thanks to the holidays. Maybe I should be starting in October…

  • I just posted a question on the nanowrimo forum about time commitments, and 2 hours/day (average) of *writing* time seems like a good rule of thumb. (Doesn’t include whatever other time might be needed to plan the days work or whatever.)

    I agree with R.K. that setting a time and sticking to it is a good tool. I’ve used an online calendar before to keep me on track with long form writing projects — actually having an alarm go off to tell me it was time to start and stop writing — and strangely, that seems to work. I suppose because like many of us I’m conditioned to operate in terms of making/keeping appointments, so I naturally respond when my computer tells me “time to do x.”

    As far as your other questions — I’ve only tried once before, in 2006, and I fell flat on my face after the 5th day. Not sure I really learned from that experience; I’m more confident about my chances this year mostly because of what I’ve learned by writing the two other novels I’ve finished since then.

    It also helps that I have a story that I’ve been noodling since I self-pubbed my last novel this spring — long gestation period, like a dust kitty it’s been getting bigger the longer it’s drifted around under my couch.

    My main NaNo goal is to just get 50,000 words in a file. Subgoal: be less of an edit-as-I-go writer. 

    My strategy is not to outline, exactly: I am creating characters, a setup, have some themes in mind, and some events I can hurl down like Zeus from time to time to keep things interesting.

    When it comes time to write, I plan to set everything loose and write what happens. It’s kind of like pantsing I suppose.

  • I’m planning on participating this year!

    But I’m not really planning on following the rules as strictly laid out. I already have an outline and a good deal of words already written. I’m hoping to use the month to apply the ole defibrillator to the book. For me, having the goal of words per day is more important than the ultimate 50k.

    I agree with Jack, though, momentum on the book will be hard to maintain through December with all the holiday distractions, but I’m ready to press on. 🙂

  • Luna Flesher Lindsey

    I tried to add you as a buddy on NaNoWriMo site, but I think they’re revamping their buddy system at the moment.  I’m lunalindsey on there.

    I’m totally doing it again this year.  It works out to be perfect timing, as it’s time to write the next new draft anyway.  I try to keep two drafts in rotation, that way one can sit “in the drawer” for a few months before edits.  I’ve done NaNoWriMo once, and my other novel I wrote in six weeks.  So it’s perfect for my work mode of fast drafts.

    I hope that last year I learned to chill out.  I also learned to study plot and story, so that hopefully this year my draft won’t need so much revision.  I am trying to plot as much of it as possible beforehand, using Scrivener — though I’m a bit of a discovery-writer, so the prohibition against starting now is annoying.  But hopefully my brain is re-wiring to gain a few new skills because of it. 🙂

    I hope to accomplish the 50,000 words, and hopefully also reach the denouement of my novel, even if it’s 50k+.  (I was able to do that last year.)  I’m also hoping to complete a viable sequel to another piece that I’m completing revisions on now. 

    Advice depends on you.. but I’d say get as much research and plotting, idea-generation and character development done ahead of time.  Also, go to at least one sit-in, because otherwise what’s the point?  Also, participate in the chat room — because, while it’s distracting, you can brag.  Also they have time trials in there, and those are fun. 🙂

  • * Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year?
    Yes, in a modified form: see below.

    * How many NaNovels have you completed?
    Novels in 04, 05, 07, and ’10; a novella in ’08, and several novelettes in ’09

    * What have you learned from NaNoWriMo in the past?
    That I am willing to wear cat ears in public with shockingly little goading.

    * If you plan on doing it this year, what specific goals to you hope to accomplish?
    I’m using NaNo to third-draft my current project.

    * What advice do you have to help other writers like me to have a successful NaNoWriMo experience?
    Since you asked specifically about writers “like you”–which I take to mean writers with some successes, an existing writing discipline, and nothing to prove–I’d suggest you approach NaNo on your own terms. It’s easy for the parameters of NaNo to do as much harm as good: you might blow through a novel quicker than you would have, burn out, or get depressed that your first draft is less awesome than it could have been with a little more attention, and it’s not long enough to sell anyway. If a 50k quick draft is really what you want to end up with, that’s fine, but think about what you might like to end up with instead. An edit of something else? Half of a slower draft? A bunch of short stories? You don’t have to go by the rules. Nothing to prove, remember? Make NaNo work for YOU.

    Use the forums and go to the write-ins and meetups, because I’ve never gotten a piece of writing out of NaNo that was worth more than the people I’ve met there.

  • I’ve tried — and failed — many times but I am doing Nano again this year. Like Andy, I’m not strictly following the rules this time. I’ve been planning this novel for a couple years (my failed Nano attempt in 2007 was set in the same world). I’ve done a lot of world building and research, and have a rough outline ready to go.

    Doing Nano this year gives me a hard deadline to stop researching and start doing. I don’t know if I’ll end up with the first half of this novel, or a really, really detailed outline that I’ll need to go back through and flesh out. Either way, the single longest piece I’ve written was around 7,500 words and my comfort zone is around 4,000 so this will shock me out of that.

    When December rolls around, my pace may slow but I’ll keep plugging away until I finish. The holidays are a small monkey wrench for me, but not much more than every day of every other month.

  • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

    Thank you all for your comments–they’re providing me with a lot of good food for thought.

    Synthesizing your advice so far: – make NaNo work for you, not the other way around.
    – meet other NaNovelers!
    – schedule daily writing time.
    – at least do some ideation ahead of time.

    Also, participating in NaNoWriMo is like being pantsed while wearing cat ears? Did I get that right?

  • John Dewey Nakamura Remy

    Adam: I think one of the best things NaNo provides is the structure of a serious deadline. But I didn’t realize you’ve never written any longer works! Go, you!

  • My answers:
    – Yes.
    – Six.
    – I tend to procrastinate; write-ins are fun but not as productive for me as working alone; I am best motivated by external forces.
    – Shooting for 100,000 words again.
    – Avoid distractions. Just write.
    – (not applicable)

    I’m “CKL” on nanowrimo.org; feel free to add me as a buddy when that feature starts working again. 🙂