Disclaimed: I didn’t do NaNoWriMo. In fact, I haven’t done it in years. While in the past I’ve lied to myself, saying I would write every day in November, hitting 50k with the greatest of ease, I didn't even bother this year.
Hi, I’m Julie, a failed NaNoWriMo participant.
I have never, since my first try in 2007, hit the 50k mark. The most I ever did was 30k. Odd, since my latest project, a writer for hire deal for a film studio, came in around 50k and I completed it in a few weeks. So why can’t I win in November?
I’ve blamed it on the time of year. Like I only write in certain months, November just isn’t one of them…A crap excuse. What else? I have too much going on to write that much in a month…Considering I had 5 days off last week from my day job, that excuse doesn’t hold any turkey. Writing is hard, I whine. Again, not so much when I’m not kicking and screaming like a big baby. I sprained my index finger and since I type like two-year-old…
You see my point? I have a million excuses as to why I don't write. We all do. If I could only add this energy to writing, I’d have a book out every week.
And yet, I’ll continue to have reasons why I can’t succeed. It’s easier to never try than to fail. But all my time doing NaNoWriMo, that’s my greatest takeaway, it’s okay to fail. This is what I do because I love to do it. If it becomes a forced chore, like hitting 50k in November, I might reconsider.
How about you? Did you NaNo? Did you hit your word count? Have you failed at a project before? And finally, what’s your best/lamest excuse for not writing? Give 'em to me so I can use them next time I fumble with my own BS.
Happy Holidays! I'll see you again next year (unless I get hit by a bus or sprain my finger...or if I....).
Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:
Finish the book
Don't ever give up.
Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.
Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.
Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.
Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count. If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.
If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.
And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.
I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.
But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.
Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.
Look what I ran across the other day:
Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.
I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.
My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.
Don't give up.
Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.
Inspired by the RMFW conference, my critique partners and I are participating in a writing challenge this fall. In an effort to develop the daily writing habit, we declare our intentions, much as the NaNoWriMo participants do. We challenge ourselves with so many words a week or so many pages a week, with a goal to write daily.
I’m sure you’ve heard the comments by NYTBSA’s like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, et al, who, when asked about their daily routine, stress that real writers write. They write each and every day. That consistency is what helps them release over three and more novels a year.
Slacker me, I crank out one when I have the perfect combination of inspiration and time, zero when I don’t.
A cartoon circulated about ten years ago depicted two rooms full of writers, all typing away on their keyboards. Under the cartoon on the top, it read “Unpublished writers.” Under the identical cartoon below, it read, “Published Authors.” The message was simple: as a striving-to-be-published author, one needs to work hard to learn the craft. While studying writing components such as plotting and characterization are necessary, learning only occurs when the principles are applied, i.e., during the writing.
And as a published author, your fans and your publisher will want you to produce at least one book a year, preferably more, so one should write, and write frequently.
If we write to be rich and famous, we become dependent on external validation to make that happen, and without it, it’s likely we’ll lack adequate inspiration to write every day.
If we write to please ourselves, the writing is intensely personal and there’s less pressure. I write because it's a joy, and it's extremely entertaining. I also enjoy sharing my work, and it delights me when others enjoy my words, so I write to publish.
Must we write every day? I propose that the rule need not be so absolute. There are days of accidents and heartaches and legal difficulties and the flu. Let’s not allow that little voice inside to deride us and sap our confidence if we miss a day here or there. I haven’t set a daily rate for each week within this challenge, but I’ve set a goal that requires, if not daily writing, most days writing.
Because I’m a confirmed plotter and hopeless editor-in-progress, NaNoWriMo is a fantastic program that I’ll likely never try. Adapted to my needs, however, it can serve as inspiration to get me there.
So far, it’s working well, and I’ve made my goal for four weeks straight. I’m beginning to feel the rhythm of daily writing, and it makes the story I’m writing much more exciting. I would love making sufficient progress to eventually release a book every six months.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo or a modified version with your critique buds? What are your goals for November?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a frenzy of writing with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.
NaNo is a fantastic opportunity to push yourself as a writer. It’s all about quantity of words, not quality. It’s vomit writing, spilling your guts, taking an idea and running with it, sans editing, revision, and second-guessing. It goes to the core of the creative process of writing: putting words on the page.
The official NaNoWriMo was created by author Chris Baty in 1999 and is now run by the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers have participated over the past sixteen years, writing billions of words.
Roughly 14% of those who sign up actually complete NaNo successfully.
That amounts to thousands of writers who wrote novels in just thirty days. So it can be done. But why would you want to?
The NaNo organizers say the aim of NaNoWriMo is to get people to start writing using the deadline as incentive. I say there’s even more to be gained. NaNo forces you to focus, put writing higher on your priority list, and say “no” to distractions – habits you may carry over into life-after-NaNo. It helps you build other good habits, like writing every single day and shutting up the “inner critic” so your story can flow out uncensored and uninhibited. It’s also a great way to try on a new idea without investing months or years to see if it will hold water. Overall it’s a short-term investment with a BIG payoff: one month of crazy-busy writing that results in a 50,000 word novel and the knowledge that you can do it.
Of course another reason to do NaNo is that you might be one of the lucky few whose NaNo book gets published. Some of the more recognizable titles to come out of NaNo are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, both of which spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. This is a rarity, so it shouldn’t be your primary reason for trying NaNo. But heck, if you’re crazy enough to do NaNo, might as well reach for the stars.
The official NaNoWriMo is free! So if you’re inclined to sign up for NaNo’s 17th year or just want more info, visit www.nanowrimo.org.
If you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015, there are things you can—and I argue should—do to prepare. I call this “NaNoPlanno.”
Schedule. Take a critical look at your schedule for November and move or eliminate everything possible. Re-schedule doctor appointments, put off coffee with friends, cancel your weekend ski-getaway. If your day-job allows, take some vacation or personal time, compress your schedule, or reduce your hours. Find writing time wherever you can. Be creative. Can you move your Thanksgiving celebration to December 1st? Or at least move it to your sister-in-law’s house? Can you forgo Black Friday shopping just this once? Can you limit yourself to watching only the last quarter of the football game? Once you’ve eliminated all non-essentials, take that nearly-empty calendar and block out time to write every single day. Only you know how many hours it will take you to write 50,000 words, and your output can vary from day to day. When in doubt, budget for more writing time than you think you’ll need.
To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you must write an average of 1,667 words per day (or about 2,000 words per day if you take one day off each week).
Support. Let the people in your life know about the monumental task you have planned, and enlist their support. There’s a lot of time—and peace of mind—to be gained when your loved ones buy in to your crazy November endeavor. Maybe it’s as simple as them agreeing not to tempt you with fun outings or ask for favors. Or maybe they’ll take on some of your non-writing duties so you have more time to write. Why not trade cooking with your roommate or spouse? They cook in November, and you cook all December. Or December and January. Don’t be above bribery. Offer your kids a big reward in December if they agree not to interrupt your writing time in November. And don’t overlook hiring help—someone else can walk the dogs, do carpool duty, grocery shop, etc. You may think you can do it all yourself, but in my experience, your odds of finishing NaNo are a whole lot better when you have help and support.
Space. Where will you write? If you don’t have a private writing space, now’s the time to get one. It doesn’t have to be big—a friend turned a closet into desk space when she didn’t have any other option. So find, make, or clear out a space. Do it now! Next, create a sign to let others know you’re busy writing. It can be anything from a literal “do not disturb” sign to a hat you wear. Just make sure it’s a clear signal that you’re not to be interrupted unless something is on fire. If you can’t write at home or prefer not to, scout alternate spaces. Libraries and coffee shops are great, but what about house-sitting or using the conference room at your day-job after hours? Figure out your physical writing space now so you don’t spend precious November moments looking for it. Likewise clear up your virtual space: make a plan for turning off your phone and email, and even hiding your Internet browser from yourself during writing time. The official NaNo site has lots of resources to help you, but these, too, can be a hindrance, so use with caution.
When your writing space is littered with opportunities to “connect,” you can lose a lot of productive writing time to interruptions, distractions, and temptations.
Story. The official NaNoWriMo rules say that you can’t “count” any writing you do prior to November 1. But prep is okay. So prep away! Create characters with vast backstory, clear goals, and driving motivation. Plan out a difficult journey for your protagonist, complete with insurmountable obstacles, impossible conflicts, and terror-inducing villains. Build your world, do research, think about theme and character arc and all that good stuff. There’s no limit to what you can plan during this time, so take advantage of it. Even if you don’t normally “plot out” your story, spend time daydreaming about your characters. If nothing else, give your story a destination: where is it going? If you don’t know the end yet, that’s okay. Simply pick a spot between here and there. A midpoint, a hurdle, a victory. This will give you something to write toward. Once you reach that destination, chances are you’ll know where to head next.
As for me, I’m already NaNoPlanning for another November as a “NaNo Pirate:” writing like mad but not exactly following the official NaNo rules. In the past I’ve used November—with all the great support and benefits that the official program provides—to revise a novel. This year I’ll be attempting to add 50,000 words to my work-in-progress. I’m such a rule breaker.
Whether you join the official NaNoWriMo or engage in NaNo piracy, I encourage you to take November to push yourself as a writer. Do your own NaNo, whatever that may be. There’s a lot to be gained for a small investment of your time.
If you’ve tried NaNo, please share what you’ve gained in the comments. If you’re considering doing NaNo for the first time, post your questions and concerns so NaNo veterans can guide and support you. Then get to NaNoPlanning! November is coming up fast.
(Hey…even though I can’t see it, nodding in agreement is not very nice).
Let me change that a bit. I am a NaNoWriMo loser. A multiple one. I’ve played for five years, finally taking a break this year in order to keep my sanity. I’ve never won. Never came close unless you count 30k close.
For those who live under a rock, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens each November. A bunch of crazy people each writes a whole 50k novel in a month. Yes, a WHOLE FREAKING NOVEL. Are these people crazy? Well, yes, they are writers so that’s a given.
However, these writers are also my heroes. Win or lose. Anyone willing to try and write a novel in a month deserves respect.
If you’re one of these crazy writers, I have some advice for ways to keep sane over the next month.
Don’t worry if you’re not on the road to a win. It’s not like you win a prize at the end (the web badge aside)…you know, other than satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Like that means anything in this business.
Even though it feels like everyone in the world is getting more words, don’t ever judge your count by others. We each have our own pace. Some people get to the saggy middle and hit a brick wall. Others run toward the end at full force, and after typing the end realize they have a steaming pile of NaNo. And others will hit 50k with a week to spare. Damn them. I, on the other hand, hit 50k about six full months later.
NaNo is the perfect time to try new things, to stretch your writerly muscle. Normally write vampire sagas? Why not try an action adventure cat story? Experiment. Be brave. Be reckless. Be the writer you were meant to be or at least copy someone you love.
Leave your expectations on October 31. While I hope you write the best novel ever, the odds are, in a month, the pace alone is going to make this novel less than perfect as a draft. We need time to dream; time to arrange plotlines and characterizations in our minds, to percolate on what comes next. That’s why we spend so much time staring at the ceiling not wearing pants. At least this is what I tell my family and friends. So after you hit your 50k, and are feeling damn good, take time to congratulate yourself and then put the novel away while your mind has a chance to mull it over.
Don’t rush to publish. December and January finds a mess (literally) of NaNo novels popping up on indie pub sites. While I respect indie publishing, there is something to be said for the amount of time traditional publishing takes. The process of editing and revision, cover design, copy editing, formatting and uploading takes time. I’m not suggesting you wait 2 years like a traditional publisher, just don’t hurry the needs of your work. Same goes for querying. Honor what you’ve accomplished by making it the best it can be.
I could list plenty other tidbits from the NaNo trenches, but you don’t have time to read them. You need to hit your word count. Heck, what are you even doing wasting time reading this?
If you’re participating in NaNo, please share your username and your word count so far. I’d love to see your progress, and maybe we can get a RMFW support group by friending each other.
Best of luck!
To all those who’ve served in the armed forces, thank you for your service on this Veteran’s Day.
If you are hitting your daily word count (about 1,666) for National Novel Writing Month, by the time this post is published you’ll be nearly about halfway through your 50,000-word goal and sailing into the middle stretch of your novel.
This is where the story gets complicated. The middle passage is the longest section of your novel. The plot should thicken, the stakes should increase and your protagonist(s) should be thwarted at every turn. Your narrative arc should be more mountainous than curvy, and climbing steeply.
This is also the point where your story is most likely to stall. If you’ve been "pansting,” the honeymoon with your big idea and great beginning may be over. Even plotters can lose their confidence and momentum in the middle passages.
If you find yourself bogged down or stalled altogether, here’s a few tricks to get you going:
Look How Far You’ve Come
Instead of contemplating how far you have to go, look at how much you’ve already written. Print out your manuscript to give it some heft.
Don’t Start Revising
There’s nothing more tempting than revising when the path ahead is murky. After all, rewriting is an important part of writing, right? Yes, but not when you are drafting. You’ll have plenty of time to revisit those first few chapters after you plot a course through your first draft.
Create Some Go-Getters
One of the biggest story stalls is characters who are merely responding to events in the story. If your characters don’t have desires, they don’t have goals and a plan of action is out of the question. The easiest way to figure out what happens next is by giving your character some volition. The hero’s journey only begins by answering the call to action, not by hitting the snooze button.
Raise the Stakes
Now that your characters have a plan, ask yourself what happens if they fail. If there are no stakes—personal and public—then there’s no reason for your character to keep going. Until your characters have a real reason to pursue their goals, your writing is going to feel like rolling a boulder up a mountain.
Set Incremental Goals
The end game may be clear to you, but how is your character going to get there? Consider the smaller steps that need to be taken before the story’s climax can occur. Frodo and Sam don’t just go waltzing to Mount Doom with the Ring; first they need to escape from Orcs, traitors, spiders and other dark creatures and trek through some terrible terrain with a sketchy guide.
Arm the Opposition
If your characters are not thwarted at every turn, if their incremental goals are attained without much effort and everybody in your story world is getting along swimmingly, then you don’t have a novel, you have a really long, typed daydream. Examine your scenes to see if they are conflict-free or conflict-riddled. Is your main character only fighting internal demons, or is there some external opposition, a worthwhile antagonist? Once your characters have someone messing with them, the story will pick up steam. In the Sookie Stackhouse world created by Charlaine Harris, even lovers aren’t a girl’s best friend and bosom buddies can be out for blood.
Get Your Characters Out of the House
If your character is the literary equivalent of a shut-in, get him or her out and about in the world. Or, bring the world busting into the house. The Harry Potter series would have fell flat had our young wizard sequestered himself in his closet under the stairs.
Give Your Characters a Project
If your conflict is all about the internal world, give your characters a project to externalize the problem. If you are writing in certain genres, you might call this project a quest. Either way, giving your characters something larger to do, something to obsess over, makes the writing less episodic. In The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Pankhurst, the main character is a linguist who spends the book trying to teach his dog--the only witness to his wife’s death--to talk.
Stop While You Still Have Steam
Your writing sessions should end while you still have some steam, not when you are stalled out. That way, getting back to work will seem like less of a chore. As Ernest Hemingway said: “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
What other strategies do those seasoned authors among use to push through the middle passages of their novel?
Lori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times and Arizona Highways. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.