Thoughts on NaNoWriMo…

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November fast approaches. Time to decide who’s in…. and who’s out. What are your thoughts and are you ready to buddy up?

Last year was my first encounter with National Novel Writing Month. I’d heard the hype, seen the sponsors and figured 50,000 words in a month can’t be too hard, can it?


 

The answer is absolutely not if…

  • Your story doesn’t die after 10K.
  • Writing is done every day and daily word count targets are met.
  • Accept absolutely it’s first draft mode; no stopping to edit, rethink, ponder grammar or tautology. Nothing matters except words on the page.
  • Plan. Not the novel, but life around the writing. Time scheduling is everything, those groceries won’t fetch themselves and the kids might like to eat now and then.
  • Plan. The novel, if that’s what you need to do. But don’t start November in this phase, that time has passed. Personally I don’t plan in detail, I write. It works or it doesn’t.

 

My own take on the above is subject to variation. We don’t all approach writing the same way. I go lengths of time doing none, but know I can hit up to 5000 words a day when I’m in the zone. I could probably do more if I ignored everything else.

One day I might write that post about how I go about it. I have not forgotten a few people have asked…

Returning to the bullet points.

Never treat NaNo as a win/lose battle. 50,000 words might, or might not, be a full novel. I tend to target mine at around 70 to 90k, so November for me is about getting a book really going. Afterwards there are plenty of CampNaNo months to finish things off, if that’s how you choose to target things. The first one next year tackles editing the November draft and finishing the novel. The great thing here is you set your own goals instead of being allocated one. Used regularly Camps can get you into a consistent writing frame of mind.

Also, be prepared for the story to die on you. I’m not saying it will, but if it starts to lose appeal, NaNoWriMo is unforgiving. Get to 10k and find its going sour and there is no time to start over and realistically hit the magic number. This is where I diverge from it and return to not treating it as win/lose. The important thing is words, any words and manage how you actually think about the process.

Consider a story that flops at 10k. You can drift into a chasm lined with failure, can’t write, lost the challenge, waste of time…

Or, you can turn it round. Better to explore an idea and find it doesn’t hold you sooner rather than later. Personally, I’d like to know that after 3000 words, but 10k is my outer limit. It means I’ve tried something and decided to slush pile it. Pushing on when it won’t gel is about accepting that. It’s actually positve. Exploring an idea, rather than no words at all. A perceived failure is therefore a real writers boon. I don’t know ANY writers of note that start some stories and think, “Nope, this one is not going anywhere.” In NaNo, this does happen. Accept the potential is there because you’ve not written this book yet.

Better still set a personal success criteria. I do this myself. 20k is my target. If I go above this then I’ve “won” in my thinking. If the story is really working then the targets thereafter grow in 10k increments. 50k is just a bonus…although I’d like to have that winners mug…

Planning. Multifaceted this one and not all about wrtiting. Life exists too and curve balls do get thrown into the mix. More so if you have children. I’m sure every parent knows they are silent until you are doing something for you. Never put the writing above them, it ends in disaster on all levels. Flash anger at interruptions, guilt at putting writing first, anxiety at dropping the word count to deal with things…the fallout can be legion and it will affect the mindset making NaNo that little bit tougher. My advice is to plan the day in chunks. Identify the best times to write and work everything else around that. Do not neglect things if life has demands you can’t put aside without feeling guilty for doing so.

Set a daily wordcount and stick to it. Easy to say, but if you don’t then two weeks in will see the required rate rising rapidly. There comes a point where it gets impossible to catch up. Again, not something to catastrophise about. It happens, just keep going and aim for your personal target. In reality the total wordcount is not important. The fact you have one to worry about is. You can’t edit a blank page. Even 10k is better then nothing.

Accept it’s a first draft too. Nothing matters except getting the bones of the story down. You can plan forever, but it’s the words that matter. Remember there is no time to sit and rework material. Plot, story arc and characters are known better at the end than they are at the start. Editing will turn the draft into the real deal. That’s the CampNaNo project. Words matter, thinking about words after the start doesn’t. That moment has gone and it’s time to write.

Buddy up too. This is essential in my opinion. There are plenty of bloggers here that do NaNo so reach out to them. On your dashboard you can monitor their progress too. Some will soar off, some will falter due to reasons above. It helps you stay calm. If you do start dropping off then you won’t be alone. If someone soars it can also motivate you too. Writing alone is tough, buddies are a great way to interact. Use the forums, join the blog hops and do not stress if the 50k begins to disappear into the distance.

The real deal is challenging yourself. Several chapters rather than no chapters, new friends and not looking at any wordcount lower than 50k as failure.

Above all else, have fun and write on!


 

As for me, I have announced my novel on the NaNo site. This post was supposed to do that here, alas I digressed so the next one will do that. I’m still undecided on tackling it this November. I know the novel is ready to speak, and some of you might be interested to know it’s a follow up to last years book The Bequest. Not that I have allowed anyone to read that yet, but some of the characters featured are in my short stories here. The full series never appeared on my blog so the paranormal brothers Carmichael need their tale completing. The short stories need re-writing and their journey must continue.

Anyone wanting to buddy up is welcome to do so. Even if I don’t do it this year, you will be on my dashboard for next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

116 Comments

  1. Excellent advice here, Gary. Especially the bit about planning your life around writing — I think that’s where I trip up the most. Life gets busier and writing gets sidelined. I sometimes struggle to find the time to keep up-to-date here on WP! (Thank the powers that be for the ability to schedule posts ahead of time.)

    As mentioned in one of our other chats, even when life gets busy, I’m sure I have time to write somewhere, as long as I curtail my less productive habits (goodbye Facebook!).

    The mindset of “any words are better than none” is also a great one. I read a good quote, somewhere, I wish I knew who to attribute it to: “The worst thing you ever wrote, is better than best thing you never wrote.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Joshua. This was written when I was very productive… in a previous reply I mentioned 1500 to 2000 words a day. I was hitting that five days a week and grew four manuscripts in two years with other WIPS going too. Since then I’ve slipped big time!

      Thing with tripping up is if we aren’t mindful then it happens, time management grows flaws and fills the spaces with other things making it feel like there’s no time. I’m at the stage where I’m annoyed at me now for not seeing that happen! BB has me back on the blog so that’s a sign things can be recovered! Facebook I used regularly a few years back to promote here. I ought to use that medium purely for that and stop messing about there!

      That quote nails it too! I think I’ve seen that on GoodReads somewhere too. Success and failure are both mindset concepts too. How we look at them defines mental state. We learn through failing. We fail when we let failure stop progress. The interpretation sits in the billions of neurones inside a skull too…now there’s a frightening thought…. Corona was right…we’re just biological machines that have become self aware!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is an impressive feat, Gary! Four pieces in two years is incredible. I think maybe inertia is the hardest thing with that sort of rhythm — just getting into the practice in the first place.

        Yes, BB has been very good for me, too! As have the Reedsy contests. 5 short stories a month, 4 x 3000 words and 1 x 1000 words. As mentioned before, with the prompts I try to write the piece in one go, as soon as possible and as fast as possible — I’m trying to train myself, and it might be working… The Reedsy prompts come out every Friday, and the last few I’ve finished by Saturday morning. I guess we’ll see when NaNo rolls around…

        Yes, learning through failing is crucial. I think in many ways, failure is necessary — it can be a great way to learn. My first few WIPs were (and still are) hot messes, but I learned so much about how to go about this whole thing, that I don’t consider them to be wastes of time. Perhaps there’s something salvageable there, once I’ve finished my current project.

        Speaking of Corona, I still have to read your story for this month! I’ll pop over at some point this weekend — I’m looking forward to reading it!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, I want to get back to that pace next year too. Inertia is the core problem along with teenagers and school runs at irregular times thanks to sixth form oddities. Mind you that all ends next year too. Might get time back there!

          It sounds like between the prompts and Reedsy you’ve got quite a word count going now. At the very least a solid habit just to achieve them. Equally impressive methinks!

          No writing is wasted either. Once the craft is better I’d go back to those early ones and write them again. More so if the base storyboards are there, even if you think they are hot messes! Definitely not a waste of time!

          No rush with mine either. I’m not totally convinced by the path it took. Then again it aired a few of the characters from a WIP that started muttering!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah, yes, I remember that time fondly! Feels like it was yesterday I was in sixth form, but it was actually ten years ago… As they say, time waits for no man.

            Thanks! I’m hoping that the step up from the current word count to that necessary for NaNo won’t be *too* difficult, but we’ll see…

            I quite like the ideas that I started, but they are a bit “rambling”. Perhaps I need to chop up the story, and focus on particular elements. I think I was “kitchen-sink-ing” the stories — probably far too many sub-stories and character arcs going on. Might be enough material to make a series out of each, but I’d have to really get down to work for that!

            I’ll be having a read today! Busy weekend, university balls to attend and such.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Best not to dwell on decades past and a time when 30 seemed positively ancient and one felt invulnerable!

              As per other comment. If the pace word count gets tough to maintain, drop it to nearer 1k and ensure that imprints as a default. Even if it’s five days a week that’s still 5k or 20k a month.

              16 weeks and you’ve got a book if the aim is around 80k. Heck that doesn’t actually sound hard put like that 😳

              It might be you needed that earlier work to get to now. Going back you’ve got the tools now to unpick it, decide a framework and tighten it. Sub stories are often due to plot rambling. Sometimes they scream more than one book too. Hard editing will condense it back to a single story arc that might flow into one or more books. Then again you may go back and think stuff this, Ive got new ideas now.

              Always remember though…The Gunslinger sat in a drawer all by itself for years waiting for progression!! 😊

              Liked by 1 person

              • I think that’s a good suggestion, I may approach it with a 1k a day “baseline” and anything above that is just a bonus. 16 weeks for a book… It does sound fairly simple when put in those terms! 😀

                I definitely think that early stuff was necessary to get me here. I shall see when I finish this piece — I don’t want to get ahead of myself! There’s lots of fat that can be trimmed, kill your darlings and all that. A lot of pruning will be necessary.

                King’s story as a writer is the stuff that we dream of, isn’t it? It’s so down-to-earth. Him trashing Carrie, his wife persuading him to give it another go, and then bam, huge success!

                Liked by 1 person

                • 1k is really doable. It’s just a BB story everyday for a month in real terms, but as a book. My model when I was doing it properly was a chapter average of 5000 words. Ergo a chapter a week. Sixteen chapters in as many weeks. That was my 80k words. Of course that’s just the base line model. Some chapters shorter or longer, sometimes more chapters and variance about the final word count. Point being 5000 a week was a good target Monday to Friday. I also had a long range alpha reader then that saw them off the bat at the weekend.

                  Err…forget the fat to be trimmed, this is a NaNo lol. Editing culls it. Remember Kings equation.

                  Second draft = first draft – 20%

                  Can’t edit without a first draft and editing on the go reduces word count speed. I’m on your NaNo case 😂😂

                  Not sure if you’ve noticed, but I think King has a formulaic system. Engage the reader with normal people. Once we character associate hit them with an extraordinary circumstance. Watch them try to overcome it and relatively quick end. Fits perfectly into the beginning, middle and end system. It’s something I try to do too. I didn’t find his method until reading On Writing where I finally realised my approach to writing was validated as “unconventional.” If it works for King then whose to tell me the only way is character sheets, story boards and Novakovich methods??

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • 5k is a good weekly target — that also allows for some days off and downtime! I may adopt a similar approach — I’d like 1k every day, but that might be a bit too much… I’ll see how it goes, I won’t push myself to the point of burning out, but I want to achieve a respectable pace!

                    Yes, I’ll keep King’s equation in mind! I am a bit of a terror for editing as I write — something in me cries out to do it, but I must just write, write, write!

                    I have noticed that! I think one of King’s strongest points is how he writes people — he really understands humans and we think and act. It’s all very believable and easy to form a connection with them, and then comes the horror. If we didn’t care for the characters, the stories wouldn’t be half as scary. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it — and all that. 😉 If it works, then it works — you can’t argue with results. If the end product is a great story, then who can fault the method you took to get there?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Downtime is essential IMO if building up the habit after a lay off. Last thing I want is bull in a china shop and burn out or excessive internal pressure getting ahead of itself. When the habit starts up I find it seeks time to write itself. 500 words soon becomes 1000. More so if it’s a book I’m enjoying writing. Plan now is April NaNo camp. Maybe throw a post on the BB site and see if we can fill a cabin.

                      Ha, I knew you’d be an edit as you go writer from the discussions lol. I’ve given that up as it ends up being too slow. Logic being you know both plot and characters better at the end so anything you’ve just spent eons editing might well need doing again anyway. Write the words… stick it above your writing desk 😂😂

                      So agree. Reader identification. If characters don’t have that then nobody empathises later on and they get bored. Get the character identification right and hit them with an extraordinary event and they are hooked.

                      Like you say…can’t argue with his formula. It sells millions each year. Now… must start writing…. this all makes it sound dead easy 🙄

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I know what you mean — it sort of snowballs, naturally!

                      Haha, is it that obvious that I’m guilty of such practices? 😂 I know it’s the wrong thing to do. As NaNo starts tomorrow, I can’t do that anymore, or I’ll risk falling behind!

                      Like we mentioned somewhere else, with zooming out and looking at the big picture. Looking at writing as a whole, it seems rather easy. 1-2k a day, and bam, there’s a book in a year. But to get there, we need to write one word at a time… That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? 😉

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • And here we are, Nov 1st. My project live and going back to a WIP from years ago to reinvent. Rash and probably destined to reach maybe 20K. What’s you handle there so I can start recreating my buddy list. I said before it’s been purged… that said it’s not always loading past projects either at the moment.

                      True, it does seem easy when you take stock. I think we both know it’s reachable too with tighter time management and less procrastinating! Do or do not, there is no try. Wise words from Joda 😂

                      Liked by 1 person

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  3. Hey there! I’m new to your blog, and I’ve been just getting back to blogging and writing consistently. This was a very nice post and the comments are cool to read now that I’m doing nanowrimo again too.

    It is an effort to put in the time and *get something written* daily. But I find I like 2-hour word sprints and a good timeline to follow. I still haven’t done 10k Like i thought I would for week 1, but I still have faith that I will reach my target this month for 50k. I don’t know how, but I am committed to making this happen as I have done this successfully twice before with much less time. Thanks for writing this.

    Would you mind telling me about your experience with camp wrimo? I’m not exactly sure how to benefit from it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Apologies for the delay replying Lila, been sacrificing social media time in exchange for NaNo. Doing both is odds on for a grim time! Really pleased you enjoyed the post and great to see new people joining in with comments.

      It is a huge commitment time wise as you well know by the sound of it!

      Camp NaNo’s run very similarly to this. One month with a target or goal except we set that rather than the organisers. The buddy system is replaced by cabins which are regional or created by individuals accessible by friends. They can be used to finish projects, edit, create new projects and so on. I intend to use then more next year because I am a terrible procrastinator. For me, it will help keep momentum and forge a better writing practice. Once I know the date of the first one I will be doing a specific post on it. You aren’t alone in asking about them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • A case of been there and actually did buy the T-shirt! I’ve spoken to a lot of participants, both “winners” and those affected by a dead story or just not enough time to fully complete it. To me it’s about words rather than no words at all. It’s one reason I’m shouting out quite a bit about the NaNo Camps. Less onerous as we can set the target. I aim to use them all next year to get a consistent writing habit and hopefully gather a few buddies for the ride too.

      Many thanks for taking the time to read nd comment too. Much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Gary. I enjoyed a winning streak for a few years, but always just felt great just getting any words generated in the process. Haven’t tried a Camp, but sure did enjoy the Word Wars during NaNoWriMo. Something about the time constraint and metrics loosened up some writing velocity. What a great program.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sounds to me like you’re the NaNo pro! Are you doing it this year too?

          I looked at Camps last year, but wasn’t able to participate properly. I’m aiming to correct that next year and make time to finish a few projects. Hopefully combined with the main event it should raise my game. I seem to work better to deadlines. Always have so this certainly fuels that somewhat. That said, it’s day two and so far I’m on track. Just navigating life to open up the best times to write!

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          • Yes, unfortunately I haven’t been able to rejoin for a couple of years now. The way I dove in just didn’t go well with family life. Nice to connect with another deadline writer, though. And to hear you are on track! If you haven’t already, I heartily recommend giving a Word War sprint a try. Hoping some NaNos still run those every 15 or 30 minutes. Fun to see how your word count compares with others. As for making the time to write: that’s an age-old question, isn’t it!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Apologies for not seeing this one sooner, had quite a few email notifications and some slipped the net. Agreed wrt family life. I see lots of posts and very few seem to mention family or life impacts. It’s like they shut everything out and just write. With kids that’s just not possible. Even an event like this has to have life balance…although living with an author is tough at the best if times IMO. You just can’t write solid characters without it affecting your own state of mind for a while. Same with being interrupted when lost in the imagination. It tends not to be received well. Which all goes back to that age old question…time. Odd thing is when I’m not writing there seems to be loads of the blasted stuff!

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              • I agree… Even before parenthood the writing was a strain, not to mention navigating Thanksgiving without fretting family regarded it as an anti-social stunt! The first year was exciting for everyone, but the novelty and the expectations seemed to change places after that. The fact I still want to do it again must say something, right? I’d rely on a few 30 or 15 minute sprints a day in forums to reach 1,700. I do vaguely recall some carpal tunnel concerns after awhile, though. ☺️ What I also want is to edit some of what I came up with during good years. That “time” stuff you speak of would come in handy there!

                Liked by 1 person

                • That’s where I stumble at weekends, balancing writing against house full of people. That said I usually have a social media routine in the afternoons from a blogging FB group that shares posts and media all over. If I can lose that and write instead it might pay off. Thing is that’s easy to dip out of if something crops up, writing absorbs me too much to permit that. I guess I’m reduced to what you said really, any spare minutes to throw words down. Let’s face it 2000 isn’t exactly a monster wordcount…or so say non-writers. Trying to keep plot flow, consistency, non-naff phrases requires a shade more than just bungling words down. Although, that’s me reducing editing on autopilot methinks.

                  I’m detecting from you that deep down you want to write. Often that comes out as a conflict of interests as a parent. However, if it’s the dream (hobby, publishing aim or otherwise) I’d say do not lose it or give up. It’s who you are so and stopping will fuel problems down the line, particularly regret and self esteem. The wish I’d done that scenario. I’ll throw you a challenge. If you’ve got stuff to write or edit then come onboard with a Camp Nano(s) early next year. Setting your own goals, less intense and such like might help structure time so it’s balanced with everything else. Just a thought. It leaves this side of Christmas to think about which edit to do and mentally gear up for doing it? I’m aiming to post a few things relating to these once festivities are over and may use the #ISWG group to throw it out.

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  5. I have never heard of this concept before this year and I felt I just could not add another 50k words on top of my normal blog posts and writing. Congratulations to everyone who has the tenacity to attempt this. I thought your advice was good and very helpful to people who are participating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not alone with those thoughts. Many writers drop social media for this event for that very reason. November is the main event with 50K, but also be aware there are smaller NaNoCamp months where it runs the same, but the writer sets a personal target as high or low as they want. I’m aiming to do them too 🙂

      Thanks for your kind words too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This got caught too so again my apologies. If you want to buddy up on NaNo, leave me your username and I’ll link up. Support is always a useful thing and might help us both with the mind gremlins 🙂

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  7. I have to admit, since signing up for NaNoWriMo (my first time doing so), I have alternated between feeling confident and stressing out. Today was a stress day, so your post was quite helpful with putting things into perspective.

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    • I don’t think, if people are absolutely honest, anyone gets a perfect novel from NaNo. There is simply not enough time to do anything but first draft. Well, for those of us with lives and kids that is. I really do believe its about getting words down that might not otherwise be written. Pushing a project on as you say. Your competitive edge sounds perfect for NaNo Camps too. I’m aiming to do those next year and will be looking for buddies there too 🙂

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  10. Great informative post dear Gary. I’ve heard about this project a few months ago, but didn’t take the time to look into it. Not my cup of tea…yet 😉
    Hope all is well at your end. Here enjoying the ‘summery’ days, nature surprised us with 🙂
    XxX

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Crumbs, that’s why I tried hard to emphasise never look at is as win/lose. Self targets and breathe lots. Ever tried NaNo Camps? They are excellent for habit forming and you set the target for you. In fact I’m looking for people to do them next year…

      Just don’t think of that falling behind as an avalanche destroying all hope 😕

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I admit, I’ve heard a lot about NaNoWriMo, but never knew quite what it was. Your post enlightened me with just that, AND now I know what to expect too. Novels are something I haven’t tackled yet, but I plan on writing at least one in my life. Maybe NaNo can be the beginning of that new journey. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve done NaNo for the last four years but I’m having a break in 2017. I’ve got to submit a manuscript on the 10th Nov and I’m doing a Christmas market throughout Dec so it’s too much to take on at the moment. I love everything about NaNo as it offers me the motivation to get that first draft out of my head and down on paper. Good luck to everyone who is taking part.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, maybe next year then Shelley. But fair play re the manuscript. That’s what’s making me thinking yes then no to it. I have a manuscript looking for a publisher and I should be sending it somewhere. If I tackle NaNo then that’s on hold for a month… well, pretty much everything is lol. Must buddy up if you come back next year though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Umm, I don’t think there was anything on it having to be fiction so… umm… if you have a factual book that needs doing then… nothing I an see that’s says NO 🙂

      You might find, should I do it, that participants drop out of social media for a month or so (often mental recovery afterwards so maybe six weeks in total). It is a fantastic project idea, but under sold are CampNaNo’s that go on throughout the year. They are less intense, but excellent for upping writing rates. You might see a few post event posts knocking about too 🙂

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    • I’m guessing a lot of that is part of blog post writing. Write, edit, post. Short stories too role on that cycle. NaNo and novels (to me at any rate) are get the words down and worry about what it looks like afterwards when the editing to second draft begins. Treat it as a personal goal thing and if you hit 50K then BONUS 🙂

      And if Lorna is in on that promise then, err…umm… I think you just dug yourself a hole and might have difficulty finding the way out now! Go for it and link up with anyone on here that’s also doing it too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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