Lessons from NaNoWriMo 2015

This year, in spite of knowing I had exams in the first part of November, I entered NaNoWriMo. Now, usually, I bomb out and don’t complete my 50,000 words, and this year, I wanted to get started on a 90,000-word novel, but I was busy with study and kids and housework, so, when November 1 came around, I had nothing in my head… and I started writing anyway—and I’m very glad I did.

For a year now, I’ve been toying with the idea of going full-time with my writing, and I had no idea of what that might entail, or how I might go about it, or even if I could. I knew it was something I wanted, but I’d planned it for my retirement. With events last year culminating in my then supervisor forcing me to choose between completing the degree I had work permission to start, or working while being denied the working conditions I was entitled to, and which would enable me to complete my degree.

I’m still doing my degree, and that’s been hard, and I’ve been lucky to have my family’s support, for there were times when my faith in myself and my chances of future employment was very, very low. I spent most of the year trying to keep up my writing and trying to study, and doing an okay job at both. I entered the university summer break determined to study languages, study some of the stuff I’d need to know in order to get grades next year, AND to write.

So, when NaNoWriMo started, I jumped in with nothing in my head, and began writing. At first I aimed at 2,000 words a day, and then I took five days off for exams and studying for exams. After that, I decided I needed to write 3,000 words a day—and I did that for most days.

I was comfortable with writing 2,000 words on a single project, and I found 3,000 words on one project a stretch, but it got easier, especially once I’d written a partial outline to help keep me on track—which happened at the 10,000-word mark. On the 20th November, I decided I might see what it would look like if I gave being a full-time writer a go.

I dropped the extra study, and cut my language study back to a minimum, and I discovered it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. And I started to organise my writing day, so I could get the writing done, as well as organise the publishing side of things. It took me a week to make enough time in the afternoon to start to be able to the administrative and editorial side of things, but it happened, and NaNo was part of the process.

Did NaNo teach me how to organise my day? No, but it gave me a reason to write a set amount, and then another reason to write more on one project than I was usually comfortable doing. It taught me that I could, if I set my mind to it.

Did NaNo teach me how to format and edit? No, but it gave me something to format and edit once I’d finished it. And it gave me a reason to do so. I don’t just want to write; I want to publish what I write.

Did NaNo teach me how to do my administration? Not really. That was something I had learned in a number of different day jobs over the year. What NaNo gave me, was the habit of recording my words at the end of each day, which was something I’d let myself get a little slack on, in the past. No more… well, not regularly, anyway.

And what else did NaNo teach me? Well, it taught me the following:

  1. to defend my writing time more fiercely—and that it’s okay to do so. By which I mean, I learned to say ‘no, not until…’, and then to stick to that timeframe, and to insist on my family, or whatever distraction, sticking to that timeframe as well;
  2. to write by hundreds. By which I mean, I learned not to quail before the idea of writing 3,000 words, but to write to the next hundred instead. For example, to notice I’d started at 24,457, and then to write to 24, 600, and then 24,700, and so on. No story is too daunting if approached that way;
  3. that I needed to have instrumental music playing in the background. I write better to instrumental rock, techno and upbeat classical. Who knew? Also, the headphones were a visual warning to family that I was writing and shouldn’t be disturbed.
  4.  to write by hour. And to take a break each hour. It’s amazing how a sticky point stops being sticky after a short break… and you can get the dishes done, or the washing hung and not have those chores hanging over your head, which helps with problems of conscience.
  5. to write by thousand, which actually means writing the next thousand and rounding it up to the next hundred. For example, starting from 24,457, and writing to 25,500—and then taking a break, unless the words are really flowing fast. The reward here is getting to take a break early, if you write that thousand in less than an hour.
  6. that keeping an outline and updating the outline at the end and beginning of every writing session is worth it;
  7.  that I need to keep an outline. Some people don’t, but I do. It helps me hold the plot together better than I can just in my head.
  8. that I don’t need to know anything about a story when I start it. The story will come.
  9. that I don’t need to know the whole plot when I begin, but that, by outlining regularly, I can work out the plot as I go, but also that I should have a vague idea of plot by the time I’m a third of the way through, and that I should know where I want to end up, by about the half-way mark as that’s when I have to work my way towards it.
  10. to set reasonable word goals for myself, and what wordage I’m comfortably capable of.
  11.  that it’s okay to stop writing for the day, even if there is a lot of day left—there are other aspects of life that need taking care of: family, laundry, household tasks, gardening, friends, health regime, and yes, even relaxing.

A the time of writing, it’s November 24, and I’m sitting on 32,900 words, so I’m not sure I can finish this year. I’ll update this, the day it goes live, and let you know if I made it this year, or if I let real life get underfoot, again.


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