I made it through my first National Novel Writer’s Month intact. I succeeded in my first goal: fifty thousand words in thirty days, but failed to reach my second goal: finishing the novel in that same thirty days. It will take another ten to fifteen thousand words to finish.
So, what did I learn?
Writing every day is possible
I can write even when my muse isn’t sitting on my shoulder. Sometimes it’s hard, awkward, even painful, to force myself to write, but I can. And since every professional writer I’ve ever heard discuss the subject says that they do write every day, I intend to make this my pattern.
Writing two thousands words a day is rough
Though NaNoWriMo’s suggested goal is 1667 words a day, I made my personal goal two thousand because I wanted a buffer. I wanted to be able to miss a day, spend Thanksgiving with my family, or have a sick day without getting way behind.
This goal was reinforced when I looked up Stephen King and discovered that he writes two thousand words a day.
I didn’t always hit that goal, but my average words per day stayed above two thousand, so overall I’m calling that a goal met.
Without a goal, I was less motivated to work
I met my fifty thousand word goal on November 25th. Even though I still had the goal of finishing the novel in November, I quite promptly flaked out as soon as I “won” NaNoWriMo (completing the fifty thousand goal is considered winning). I went a couple of days writing a couple hundred words, then finally got motivated and picked the pace back up, but I wonder if I might have succeeded in finishing in November if I hadn’t taken those couple of days off.
Sometimes you have to outsmart yourself
The “comment” function saved me. In the past, whenever I came up with a sudden new idea – Oh! What if John was her brother! He’d have to have green eyes, though. – I immediately have to go back and re-write entire sections to match the new idea. The ability to just stick a comment in the margins – John is brother. Remember to change his eye color to green – and go on with my writing saved me from myself.
If you’re stuck on a word, a phrase, a brilliant analogy or moving description, you don’t have to stop. There’s brackets scattered throughout my work with comments like [need a good analogy to foreshadow death]. Again, this lets me move on the business of writing without getting hung up on a minor detail.
Don’t be afraid to skip ahead. If you’re getting stuck on a boring scene, first, ask yourself why it’s boring, but then move on to something exciting! If you’re frustrated because you can’t make your fight scene work, move on to the steamy scene where the lovers consummate their lust. You can come back to the boring scene – and make it not be boring! – later!
Give your mind a rest
At various points during this NaNoWriMo, I stopped to write other things. Two pieces of flash fiction, a couple blog posts, a quick outline for another story. And you better believe I counted those words towards my total! But it gave my creativity time to look away from my novel, to take a rest from it so I could come back to it refreshed.
Step away from the word processor. I quite often have a flash game loaded up in my web browser. When I’m pausing to make a decision, I will tab over to that flash game and play some simple, mindless little game. Quite often, your subconscious just keeps on working on that decision and when you come back to it, you may find the answer waiting for you.
Where do I go from here?
I will set myself a slightly more modest goal – perhaps fifteen hundred words a day, but strive to continue the habit of writing daily whether I feel inspired or not. I will keep that goal in mind, to keep myself motivated. I will continue to develop tricks to avoid getting stuck or bogged down, and I will make sure I have another project to switch to, or a simple little game to distract myself.
I still need to figure out a way to keep my emotional state from affecting my ability to write. Perhaps I could try writing a scene that fits with my mood?
I also need to learn how to write with distractions. Right now, I need quiet, but this isn’t a quiet world. I need to find a way to tune out distractions and keep working.
From NaNoWriMo I learned that I can write every day, set goals and meet them, and find ways around so called “writer’s block.”
What did you learn?