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.
For more posts on NaNoWriMo, click here.
What writing schedule works best for you?
I remember reading about Writing a Novel In a Month, when Chris Baty started NaNoWriMo before it was called that. The project took place in July, 1999. The objective was to go into the project with no thought of plot and write until he and his friends had 50,000 words by August 1. His philosophy was to write freely and let the plot happen without any thought or plan. I jumped on board in its third year after he moved it to November. It was a fun exercise and after seven years, resulted in drafts with huge plot holes to be fixed in later drafts. During that time, I learned that the project always failed for me when I tried to write a story with smaller plot holes and tight syntax. Even Baty confessed in his book, No Plot? No Problem, that the secret of finishing NaNoWriMo successfully is to write without a plan and let the story happen, even if it has no ending and makes no sense by December 1. Though I only wrote two short novels during those times I participated, many of my short stories came from the failed projects. And I ended up doing what you suggested, though my NaNoWriMo is in January and starts on the second day. It makes dealing with Old Man Winter and blizzards more bearable.
Thank you! I didn’t know all that history of the movement. And I didn’t realize that the founders didn’t want to prepare to write. I read that some writers call October “Preptober”, so they can plan before they start writing in October.
I’ve heard about Pretober too. Also, about prep classes you can take in July to gear up for November. But the idea was to free your mind, write a story for thirty days in a row. and then work on plot and editing in later drafts. The freedom to write without rules was what I liked best when I participated.