Monday, November 16, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 15 (Lessons on NaNoWriMo from an Amateur)

Here we are on November 16--a little over halfway through November mind you--and I'm writing a sort of recap of NaNoWriMo. To some of you readers out there, a recap might sound odd. Why in the world is she writing a recap when the month is only half done?

That's because I'm done with NaNoWriMo. No, I didn't put my participation aside for something else. I finished word number 50,093 of my novel on Saturday, November 14th. I hit the word count goal. I hit the goal of having a story from start to finish. Mission accomplished, right? So at least for a little while, I'm done with it.

Don't go thinking I'm some sort of writing badass, because I'm not. I'm a regular person with a full plate (four kids, five animals, a part-time teaching gig, a part-time subbing gig, and a very part-time editing gig; a house, friends, a husband, and many other things that most of you already know about that take up my time) who decided to tackle a goal and went after it full force. If I can complete a first draft of a novel in 14 days, then so can you.

And yes, I really think you can, if you remember what I discovered over the last two weeks. (I'm sure some of these tips overlap what all the other NaNoWriMo experts have to say. But remember this: I AM AN AMATEUR. Sometimes it's easier to think we can do something when we know that someone like us just did.)
  • It's good to go in with a plan. My story, The Chocolate Garden, started on paper back in June 2014 on the way home from Walloon Lake. I remember scribbling a rough outline on notebook paper while Tim drove back to Ohio. When we got home, I spent a bit of time putting the thoughts into Word, and then I began a first draft. I picked up that draft on November 1, 2015, and added just over 50,000 words to it. But here's the thing. June 2014 was a good year and a half ago. All that time, my mind had the ability to think about what the story should say and where the story was going. I had thought so much about what needed to be said, that when the time came to write it, the words flowed. (I realize that this sort of planning ahead can't always happen, but do give some time and thought to your story. Try to find a general outline of what you want to say and think about your characters--who they are, how they might talk, etc. The more ammunition you have, the better off you might be.)
  • Set aside time to write every day. If you say you're going to participate in NaNoWriMo, then make sure you commit fully. Tell your family and friends that you'll be busy for a month. Most people will wait and they will support you. So support yourself by making sure you find time to write. For me, that meant getting up at 5 a.m. or a little before (every morning!) so that I could meet the minimum word count by 6:30 a.m., when the rest of the family had to get up. Any words written after that time of the day placed me over par, and gave me incentive to keep going.
  • Do not revise your sentences. The days that I sat down and simply wrote were my most successful days. But I had a handful of days where I sat down with the intention of writing and then tried to go back and revise what I had written to make it better. I quickly trashed the idea of revising because I would get caught up in things I didn't need to worry about just then. Don't do it. Get the story out. Once the story is on paper (or out in cyberspace somewhere), you can revise what you wrote. (Is the story I just wrote the best I've ever produced? Heck no. I have hours of revision ahead of me. But a story arc exists and I have a beginning, a middle, and an ending to The Chocolate Garden. 'Nuff said.)
  • Limit your time doing nonessential things. If someone had told me before NaNoWriMo that I waste a lot of time during the day, I would have laughed in his or her face. I mean, I get a lot done during the day, whether I'm teaching that day or working around the house. But I realized that by taking a Facebook hiatus and only checking email for important messages, I had so much more time to write. I also didn't peruse my usual time-wasters, such as People, CNN, Mother Jones, and a few literary sites. (I'm certain none of them missed me.) And I cut out blogging--while I enjoy it, I didn't want to have the pressure to write a good post on a daily basis. Nor did I want to take the time to do it. Less wasted time = more time to work on the novel.
  • Take your writing instrument with you everywhere. On November 2, I signed up to sub at the high school, all day. I had to do it again on November 4. I wondered if I'd get any writing done on those days. I took my computer with me to the school and lucked out big time on both days, in particular that second day. I had three 50-minute periods in which the kids were scheduled to watch a video lesson. Which meant 150 minutes of writing time for me. Score!
  • Believe in yourself. Yes, I know that statement sounds really trite and corny, but there's no room for self-doubt in NaNoWriMo. I went into the whole thing knowing that by the end of November, I'd have a working draft of the novel. So use what you need to get you where you need to go: Dr. Seuss, The Little Engine that Could, or my personal favorite, Duffy Moon from the old After School Specials (see below). You can do it, Duffy Moon! is all you need to tell yourself every morning of NaNoWriMo, and you, too, will have a story in your hands. 

So good luck, writers! Buckle down, settle in, and think to yourself about good old Duffy Moon.You still have plenty of time to make your goal.

No comments: