How I survived (and won) NaNoWriMo 2011

Remember when I was heading into this mammoth undertaking and I said I was scared because this time around it felt different?  Well, almost everything about this year was different.

This was my fourth “NaNo” (as people in the know call it) and my second win.  But, I had several epiphanies this time around which will be the difference in getting the first step of this multi-year project finally finished.  It is the hardest step I believe:  Finish your manuscript.  A first draft must exist in order to edit and polish and make pretty enough to convince a publisher to take a chance on your book.  It’s something that no matter how many times I’ve started I haven’t figured out how to do.  Before now.

No, I’m not finished, don’t get all a twitter just yet!

But I am still writing in December which has never happened before.  Even the first time I won I digressed into word padding shenanigans and let my characters do whatever they wanted to regardless of where I wanted the story to go or what I thought their motivations should be.  In all honesty, it was long ago and I don’t even think I realized they NEEDED motivations yet.  That year all I wanted was the sheer volume of 50K to say I’d won.  And December first came and I abandoned the entire thing.  That year I never even got out of the beginning, let alone the dreaded middle.

This year I treated NaNo like I had a second job.  Everyone in my life knew that my writing was happening at a specific scheduled time (9:00-11:00PM) and let me do it without interruption during that time.  If I’m ever going to be a published author without quitting my day job that’s the way it’s going to have to be.  And guess what – when I started living like I already have what I want, it was easy to do what I needed to do to make it happen.  Epiphany #1: writing every day is possible regardless of what you have going on in your life. It’s just like anything else – if it’s important enough you’ll find the time to do it.

Writer’s block aside, which I dealt with the second week and already wrote about, I stuck to marching my characters down the road I had mapped out for all of them in my plot structure/outline.  This got me through the middle before I even realized it.  Epiphany #2: it doesn’t matter what advice other authors tell you, the only way to be successful is to figure out what works for you personally.  I thought I was a discovery writer because my favorite author said that’s how he writes.  So I spent a couple of years forcing myself to be that, without the success I thought was inevitable.  Then I continued to learn and grow as a writer and explored other possible ways of doing things. I morphed several things that struck me as interesting to work for my own personal style and in the end found my own unique method.

One of the benefits of being an official, registered participant in this event is getting weekly pep talks from published authors who have been where you are every step of the way.  I got one that hit home as we headed into the final stretch.  Basically it said that 50K was not ever going to be a completed novel but the important thing was to finish the story and be able to write “The End” by the time you got there.  To do this, you pick key scenes you already know are going to happen and you don’t care about tying them cohesively together, you just write each of them until you get the basic story down.  Then, you go back and fill in the parts between them that have to get the characters from each big scene cohesively.  Ephiphany #3: a rough draft is never going to be anything but a diamond in the rough so don’t get bogged down in getting every single thing perfect.  Just write – and ask questions later.  Without this little gem, I would have gotten bogged down in not knowing every single little detail of what happens in the story leading up to the finale and gotten stalled out.  Instead, I wrote the scenes I knew and had already pictured in my head.  And I found out that, by doing so, many of the details of how to get the characters there were answered after they arrived.  And on at least one occasion, I found relationships had changed on the way to that point which will make going back and filling in the blanks that much better.

One of the things I wish I could have changed was not getting so far behind.  I wrote eighteen thousand of my fifty thousand in the last five days.  FIVE. DAYS.  I don’t recommend this to anyone – especially if you have a full time job!  I was up until three in the morning for several consecutive nights trying to work and stay awake to do it all over the next day.  I wrote during my lunch hour at work and for the hour I would normally have gone to the gym in the afternoons.  I lived on coffee – pots and pots of it all day and all night – and food that was not good for me.  The worst part is I was so exhausted that even if I had time to work out, I didn’t have the energy to do it.  I’m still afraid to step on the scale and see how much damage has been done, I’m already feeling the effects of the caffeine withdrawals, and I’m pretty sure in my delirious state on November thirtieth I said things in a staff meeting that were wildly inappropriate.

I did take an hour the second to last evening to attend an event at a friend’s house.  It was exactly what I needed – to see the majority of my writer’s group who cheered me on and were as excited about me being out of the middle as I was.  They gave me that extra boost of encouragement I needed to see me through the last INSANE twenty four hours.  If you ever decide to do this yourself, make sure you tell everyone and then shout it out to Facebook and Twitter for good measure.  All the people in your life cheering you on makes those bleak and dark hours when you don’t think you have it in you to continue never more than fleeting in the grand scheme of things.

All that aside, I survived – and I’m still writing – and when I look back I hope this proves to be the year that all the pieces finally fell into place.  Someone said that NaNo (or any rough draft) is like filling the room with straw that later you use to spin into gold.  I think of it more like all the hard work of finding and digging up a big, ugly chunk of rock.  When you’re done, you’re left with something that hopefully you can polish and cut into a beautiful gem.  To all of you who stuck with me and cheered me on and said you knew I could do it: Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you!

About terraluft

Writer; wife, mother, survivor, and impulsive bitch rarely capable of saying no. Fueled by coffee, yoga and sarcasm. (She/Her) View all posts by terraluft

One response to “How I survived (and won) NaNoWriMo 2011

  • Meghan

    18K words in 5 DAYS?! I can only imagine your entertaining comments due to lack of sleep at your staff meeting. 🙂 Congratulations again! Especiallythat you're still writing and are going to finish this thing!! I loved this quote you included in your post: “any rough draft is like filling the room with straw that later you use to spin into gold.”


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