Things I learned in November

Writing desk

This November I did NANOWRIMO—50,000 words in 30 days.

Friends have been trying to convince me to do it for years, but I balked at the idea. Writing 1667 words every day for 30 days sounded like hard work. I had other excuses too. I was always in the middle of another project and November is when I usually buy gifts to mail to my family who don’t live in Canada.

But I REALLY wanted to learn to write faster—and Nanowrimo seemed like the perfect mechanism for doing that. So I set aside my current middle grade writing project, delayed the gift buying (sorry family!), and dug out a book I bought with good intentions this time last year (Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden).

Then, on November 1, I sat my butt in the chair and opened a new Scrivener project. I decided not to worry about story structure, to just write a scene or part of a scene every day, in random order if need be. Get to know the characters, I told myself. Scary stuff! No outline, no plot, no conflict. Just a couple of characters and the idea that I would use alternating points of view.

Over the course of the month, I learned:

  1. It takes persistence—a goodly amount of it!
  2. I have to set strict rules for myself: no editing, minimal research, and most importantly, lock my inner critic in the garden shed.
  3. If I have a clear idea of where the scene is going, I can write quicker.
  4. Even though I’m an outliner, I can write by the seat of my pants if I’ve left myself no other option.
  5. First drafts don’t have to be good, they just have to be done.
  6. Making time to write means saying No to other things I want to do.
  7. I don’t enjoy writing words for the sake of meeting a word count goal. I prefer short time goals.
  8. No wine until the final 500 words of the day.
  9. Just write 100 words, and then another 100 words, and another. 100 words at a time adds up to 1667 or more.
  10. Some days are easier than others.
  11. It helps when dinner magically appears in front of you – thank you Patrick!
  12. Knowing friends are doing it too, and watching their daily word counts, is motivating – thanks Karen, Lisa, Annie, Pauline, and Aven for being there with me!

Did I make it to 50,000 in 30 days? YES! That makes me a Nanowrimo 2015 Winner!NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

Did I learn to write faster? YES!

Would I do Nanowrimo again? Maybe. If I had a solid outline.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, but only if you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. It’s hard work (really!) so it helps if you have a goal that’s more specific than writing 50,000 words. What’s motivating you to do it? Knowing that will help you face the page every day.

Can you read my Nanowrimo story? NO! At least not until I’ve edited it and given it some structure and rounded out the characters and figured out what the central conflict is and learned some of the genre conventions and… yeah, it needs a lot of work. For now I’m putting it aside to finish my middle grade novel.

Have you ever participated in Nanowrimo? What did you learn?

12 comments on “Things I learned in November
  1. Cathy says:

    I am so delighted that you accomplished this huge feat jenny! I wold like to try this a at least a couple times a year to get the shitty first draft of potential publications done. I have stopped doing fresh writing in favour of focusing on editing chapters. And I miss that morning writing routine that I worked so hard to develop over 2 years!

    You are an inspiration to me!

    • Jenny says:

      Aww – thanks Cathy! One thing I was trying before I started Nano, was keeping a writing journal. It’s like doing morning pages, but focused on your current writing project. I was really enjoying it but it fell by the wayside in November. I wonder if that would work for you? Every morning before you start your editing you could write about the things you’re struggling with, what’s going well, and what you plan to work on that day.

      • Cathy says:

        I am going to start tomorrow Jenny. I think it might clear my head…and my fear…and open the way for good editing. And the idea of making a plan in this way is really clever.

        I watched the movie “Limitless” the other night. Have you seen it? The notion of having just one clear pill that would release the plethora of stuff stuck in my brain is really appealing. But maybe you have found a healthier way to access and waken those neural pathways! If I could edit 1000 words per day, my dissertation would be finished in a few months!

        • Jenny says:

          I just watched the trailer for Limitless – looks intriguing!

          Let me know how the writing journal goes. I’ll be writing in mine tomorrow morning too!

          1000 words a day? You can do it! It’s like Ray says, it’s just like a brevet. Just do 100 words, then another 100, then another 100. Have you thought about using a spreadsheet to track how many words you’ve edited? If you Google “Nanowrimo spreadsheet” you’ll find a bunch. Here’s one for example: If you set your goal for 1000 words a day, then keep the spreadsheet open and update it every time you pass 100 words, you’ll see yourself inching toward your goal. That really helped me break it into manageable chunks, like riding to the next control on a brevet.

          • Cathy says:

            Thanks so much for your encouragement Jenny. I used to keep track of my word count when I was strictly doing fresh writing. Now the messiness of patching together the full dissertation and discovering the holes is a bit groundless. Where i am desperately trying to find structure there seems to be a muddle of disconnected bits, especially as I need to rearrange chapters and headings in order to pull the threads of arguments through the whole thing. I can be so aimless in my writing, and tangential, and wordy, and want to say everything…that I end up going in circles of overwhelm!

            My aim to start with a bit of journal writing, as you suggested, will hopefully quiet that mean chatter and clear the way for more effective editing. I am doing this on paper though, with coloured pens, because that makes me happy and less like the words I write are boring!

          • Jenny says:

            Yay for paper and colored pens! You can do it! Every step is a step closer to completing it.

  2. That sounds incredibly like randonneuring, except sitting at a disk. Congrats on finishing!

  3. Congratulations! Aw, the exhilaration of writing by the seat of your pants. And discovering that nothing terrible happens if you don’t have an outline. That is so far above your usual word count, it must have opened new neural pathways in your brain. I’ve finally gotten rolling myself to write 1500 – 2000 words a day. Getting rolling is part of it, and knowing where the story is going definitely helps.
    I totally agree with #8, having lost big chunks of work in the past after too much wine.

    As Terry Prachett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

  4. Zan Marie says:

    Go, Jenny, Go!

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