You’ve prepared through all of October to start your novel on November 1. You’ve got your character charts, plot outline, and major settings worked out. You will reach 50,000 words by November 30. You just know it. This idea has been bubbling in your mind so long you just have to get it into print. On November 1, you exceed your word count for that day. On November 2, you do it again. But in a week you’re behind. And around the 15th, or 20th, or 23rd, you quit. You don’t know what’s wrong. You have everything so well planned. I offer a question. What if NaNoWriMo isn’t for you?
November is a terrible month for an American writer to attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. At a minimum, we lose one day to Thanksgiving, but most likely, it’s two or three to various family festivities. And after that holiday, we’re thrown into preparing for Christmas.
Because of those conflicts, I had never even considered tackling NaNoWriMo. When I mentioned to fellow author Theresa Van Meter that March was a much better month for me–not much happens in March–she agreed to write with me for our own personal NaNoWriMo. We would call each other once a week to see how we were doing.
I was very excited about focusing on my next novel. All the marketing I’d done for first novel had put a serious dent in the amount of time I could devote to it. So March 1, I started writing Chapter 1. I didn’t get far because three days later, I was at a state park with my family for a long weekend.
When we got home, I began again but felt my writing was stale. Pushing through the next chapter was like pushing against a mountain. I switched to writing my last chapter because I tend to think of my climax first. That helped give my story a goal, but when I returned to the first chapters, I stalled again.
My goal had been 100 pages. By the end of the month, which was interrupted by spring break for my kids, I’d written 50 and only 40 were worth anything.
Theresa had similar trouble, and we both concluded that the kind of work style demanded by NaNoWriMo just didn’t work for us.
Don’t Fight Your Working Style
This experiment taught me that I can’t blaze through a first draft from beginning to end. After I’ve written the first draft of five or six chapters, I feel like writing any more would be like climbing too far out on a thin tree limb. I just don’t feel confident that any more chapters will be any good. So I type the five or six chapters I’ve written–I handwrite my first drafts–editing as I type and see if I’ve written anything worth keeping. I’m almost always pleasantly surprised that my first draft wasn’t nearly as awful as I thought.
Now that I have a sturdy foundation, I can write the next five or six chapters. This may not be the fastest way to write, but it’s the only way I can write with confidence.
Although it may take some experimentation, find out what working style works best for you and stick with it. Does setting aside one weekend a month to crank out 10,000 make the most sense to you? Does writing every day on your lunch hour? No style is wrong except the style that dictates to only write when you feel like it. Once a writer has a deadline, he or she has to learn to write whether they feel like it or not.
Because of the demands of my family, I’ve found working in short spurts works best for me. As friend and author Bettie Boswell said, if I make myself to sit down and write one page, chances are I’ll write more and accomplish more than I thought.
What writing schedule works best for you?