Category Archives: National Novel Writing Month

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!

Your latest NaNoWriMo WINNER!


With thirty minutes to spare – and 50,205 words at time of validation!

Now I need to sleep.  For a week.
And then finish the story which isn’t done no matter how many words I busted ass to pull out in the last month. This first rough draft demands to be finished.
Stay tuned, you know I’ll tell you all about it…

The home stretch stress

Five days left of November and I’ve written 32,783 words since the beginning of the month.  I should have ten thousand more than that but I got derailed this past week with the holiday and family responsibilities after I had gotten caught up from my first sidebar into the weeds.  I’ve got characters who have taken me places I hadn’t thought of, characters who I’ve had to re-invent to work better with the world and story I’m building as things develop.  Despite all of that, I’m pushing hard for the end.  I have five days left and at this rate I have to write more than three thousand words every day in order to win NaNoWriMo.  I haven’t given up yet – I wrote two thousand words between the end of a family party last night and going to bed this morning after two AM.  And I still have two more days of a long weekend to do some major catch up.  I’m not going to lie, I get anxious about my chances of winning when I look at the daily numbers.  But I’m still on track and  still have the basic idea of how things are going thanks to my fabulous plot structure and I’ve still got great momentum.  I have not yet resorted to word-padding shenanigans (which I have done in years past).  As long as I can find the energy and drink enough coffee to stay awake long enough every night to hit that target word count I’ll be golden.  Ready or not, here comes one of the craziest week of my life!

New beginnings in unexpected places

Here we are in week three of NaNoWriMo.  And what a wild ride it has been.  I thought a couple of times that I might be sort of cheating this year since I’ve *technically* been working on the same novel I originally started with back in 2008.  But I used the following rational to counter that:

  1. I had scrapped every piece of shitty writing I’d done to date and had no plans to even look back at any of it for reference.  (yes, it was that shitty!)
  2. I had plotted out a structure for the entire story complete with several subplots all neatly tied in with each other
  3. I had even changed the main character’s name since we named Baby Sister the original character name when she was born

With the new plot and new character motivations I knew the book would be far different than I had envisioned when I first came up with the idea.  But guess what?  I never needed to rationalize a single little thing!

I had a rough start after I got through the prologue (which hasn’t really changed much over each iteration of attempts).  I wrote myself into a corner where I knew my character would never be stupid enough to do what I was trying to make her do as a means to get her physically from one place to another.  I wasted days of writing more crap dragging one scene out and never getting anywhere but behind in my target word count. I was honestly getting worried.  What if I hadn’t prepared enough?  What if I couldn’t figure out how to translate a plot to a real story?  What if I failed?

Then I went for a run.

And I had the best run of my life – five miles in a hour which is insanely fast for me!

I must have shook up my brain with all that pounding of treadmill because I came off that run with a shit-eating grin glued to my face AND a way to get myself out of the corner and fix everything!

I rushed home and wrote like a mad woman.  I was able to salvage most of that original crappy chapter and after adding seven hundred or so words I was back on track toward where I needed to be heading.  I was even on my way to the next mile-marker plot point.

And I know I was still high from that amazing run when the next morning in the shower I had the one piece of unknown I’d been trying to solve SINCE THE BEGINNING IN 2008 just fall into place.  It was so earth-shattering when it happened I expected to feel the earth move beneath me.  But it didn’t.  One minute I had this question of “how does that happen that will make sense and be believable” playing over and over in my subconscious.  And the next it was clear as day how it would all work.  The last loose end was no longer loose!  Plus, it was so fundamental that it changed everything.  Including the title which had been the one constant from the beginning.

I wonder if anyone else who embarked on this journey is experiencing anything similar.  Because it is crazy how unbelievable it all is and I’m only half done!

Easy-peasy… that’s what SHE said!

We are officially nine days into November and when I finally went to bed last night, I felt amazing. I pushed past head-nodding and what I know is crappy-writing-that-will-have-to-be-edited-like-crazy to hit the ten thousand word mark for this year’s NaNoWriMo. Well on my way to that fifty thousand needed to get me a winner status by the end of the month. Sounds great, right? Except the little stats page on the official site is telling me that “at this rate” I’ll finish well into December because to date I have *only* been averaging 1,121 words a day.  So much for that buffer I started with when I stayed up on Halloween to write for two hours when it officially became November, huh?
But guess what?  I DON’T CARE!
This year’s progress tracker on the NaNo website – which for those of you contemplating participating at a later date makes registering as a participant worth it alone – is much better than in years past. I say this because I am a numbers girl.  I need the data at my fingertips, calculated for me, so I don’t obsess and waste valuable writing time assessing for myself just how much writing I have done or have left to do. As in years past, it tells you what your target word count for each day is if you write slow and steady and do the recommended 1,667 words a day.  But this year it tells you what you personally average every day and how many words a day you personally need to do at any point in order to finish on time.  Whoever thought of this improvement should be kissed.  Sloppy and loud — on the mouth — with tongue!
Here’s why.  November fifth is my wedding anniversary.  I take that entire day off from writing every year. But this is well enough into the month – almost a week – that we are already into some serious numbers on the daily word count targets.  Those daily 1,667 words add up quickly, kids!  The target for the fifth day is 8,333, but instead I stagnate an entire day at only 6,666.  Then when I go back to it on the sixth day and my word count target for the day is 10,000… well, you can imagine the stress and head games that go along with those two numbers and how far apart they are.  The pressure imposed on catching up such a deficit, I admit, completely derailed me the first year I attempted this crazy adventure.  But I don’t have the option of not celebrating my anniversary!  Hubby is super supportive of my writing but even he would have issue with that…
Fast forward to this year when the same thing happened.  PLUS, I had to work last Sunday when I would normally have had plenty of time sitting in front of a football game on TV to catch up on my word count.  AND I’ve been unable to push myself to stay up super late this week without falling asleep on my keyboard.  Or worse, writing incoherent crap that I have to delete the next day.  Which results in my only having 10,092 words out of yesterday’s target of 13,333.  
But guess what!  My super duper nifty stats page tells me that all I have to do is write 1,814 words every day from now on to make up the difference and still finish on time.  That’s only an extra 147 words per day from the original daily target or only about 700 more words a day than I have already been averaging this month.  And totally doable when presented in this fashion.
My stress level for NaNoWriMo this year is more manageable all because of someone somewhere (who probably doesn’t get paid for helping on this non-profit adventure) who is a numbers person like me.  Wherever that person is, whoever she or he is, I hope someday they stumble upon this blog and know just how much I appreciate this one stroke of genius.
If there is one piece of writing advice that I have found to be universally true no matter who asks it, it is this:  Write.  And write every day.  I’m at ten thousand plus words in a week just by carving out two hours a day, every day except my anniversary.  If I can do it with a full time job and hectic home life when the only time I have to devote to writing is the time I’m awake after my kids go to bed, then anyone can!

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo – take four

It’s almost November and, like many writers, that means I’m gearing up to embark on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  This will be my fourth attempt to write 50,000 words – FIFTY. THOUSAND. WORDS – between November 1st and 30th.  Nothing else in my life is slacking during this month.  I don’t get to take a sabbatical from work or being a Mom or being a wife.  I just have to add this gargantuan task into the already crazy mix.  I know it can be done – I “won” the year I was pregnant with baby sister after all.  Although I could argue that life was way less crazy back then with only an eight year old in the house to care for.

In anticipation of the event, my writer’s group met this week and I laid out my rough ideas and got tons of great feedback, as always.  We discussed things I need to remember to think about.  Hard questions were asked, ones I hope I have answers for stewing around in the soup of my subconscious where this story’s been brewing. Brainstorming for things that could happen to make the story different and unique that I’d never considered were thrown around.  I don’t know what I’d do without those three women…

This NaNo feels different.  I’ve got a plot structure and my version of character studies that double as story lines that feel much like a plot.  ME!  A PLOT!  I’ve sharpened my tools and laid them neatly in my writer’s toolbox.  And I’ve committed to both myself and my writer’s group that once I start writing come November I’m not stopping until I’ve got a completed first draft.  Time to step up, grow a vagina and put my money where my mouth is about this writing stuff.  Which I’m sure is why things feel different this time.  It’s the anticipation of knowing that something big might be happening… and hoping you don’t fuck it all up.