The time was 11:58 AM, the date November 30th. My contacts had dried in my eyes a few hours ago, but there had never been an instant to take them out. I had to stay focused on the computer screen in front of me, on the words my fingers were rapidly typing as the minutes flew past, careening towards the 11:59 AM cut-off point. Most importantly, I had to submit my NaNoWriMo word count for the final time.
If you read my last article, you’ll know that NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual event that pushes writers to compose 50,000 words during November, with a goal of 1,667 words per day. You’ll also know that this year I decided to participate.
So how did I do?
Me starting NaNoWriMo:
Me finishing NaNoWriMo:
I’m just kidding. Partially. Finishing at only 27,237 words, I unfortunately did not reach the 50K goal by the last minute of November 30th. However, I still count this experience as a huge victory, because around 25,000 words went straight towards my original novel idea, and because that’s 27K words that I didn’t have at the start of the month.
And I’m only going to keep going.
First, though, I’d like to share what I learned about the writing process and myself, as well as encourage you to set your own writing goal for yourself.
1. Write Everywhere
So, I did a bad thing in order to reach my word count: I wrote at my day job in between customers. Can you blame me? When an idea strikes, you can’t just hope that you’ll remember it later. You have to write it down.
Therefore, you should always carry something around with you that allows you to jot down ideas quickly. (Eventually, they will make something that you can take with you in the shower, the incredible fount of creativity that it is.) For some people, it’s the trusty pen and notebook. For others, it’s digital notetaking. (And hey, if you’re already on your phone while you’re at work, why not go the digital route?)
A lot of people swear by Evernote, but I don’t like that I have to have an internet connection in order to use it. (My workplace has no Wi-Fi. #Sadness.) So I’ve stuck to Microsoft OneNote, which you can use offline and it will keep your notes updated across devices in real time.
2. Do Research as Early as Possible
No matter what you’re writing–historical fiction following Chinese mythology, a guidebook to entrepreneurship, an article about changing U.S. politics–you’ve probably been inspired by something or someone else and will certainly need to do your research on the subject.
Do it. As soon as you can, before you start your writing gauntlet, create a document that contains all the research and previously written ideas you’ll need to craft your own work–and always record your sources. Obviously, you will miss something, but nothing will slow your writing down faster than you having to Google search fact after fact to ensure you’re staying accurate to the original source material.
Plus the internet is a blackhole of distractions. The more you can stay away from it, the better.
3. Tell People About Your Idea
I chose to tell a few select friends–whose writing styles I know as well as they know mine–along with my CYC boss, Elisa Doucette, that I was doing NaNoWriMo. (Word of warning, when you tell Elisa you are doing something cool with writing, she’ll get all giddy and make you promise to blog about it.) I even revealed what the broad idea behind my novel is to some people.
I was met with overwhelming support and enthusiasm. Quite a few friends gazed at me hungrily and said, “I get to read it when you’re done, right? On December 1st, right???”
It was a catalyst. Their excitement fueled my own and pushed me not only to write, but also to craft the best product possible, even with a first draft. I wasn’t just doing it for myself; I was doing it because I realized I had a wonderful idea, I wanted to share it, and–extraordinarily–I already had people in my corner who were dying to get their hands on it.
Without that outside motivation, I don’t think I would have pushed myself as hard as I did. So confide in someone you trust. It’s much more fun and rewarding to be excited with other people than it is to just be by yourself.
4. Start a Pinterest Board
There really is a Pinterest board for everything, including your writing idea, and a board can serve you well if you’re writing either a novel series or if you consistently write for a particular niche.
I originally got the idea from following Sarah J. Maas on Pinterest. Author of the Throne of Glass series and A Count of Thorns and Roses (please read it!), she has several boards dedicated to her novels and other ongoing projects and consistently updates them with fantasy artwork and other pictures that inspire or reflect her ideas.
When I created a private board for my novel, I didn’t expect to find as many things to pin as I did–and now the ideas aren’t stopping! My biggest issue now is how to incorporate them all, and what a good problem that is to have!
5. Life Happens and That’s Okay
As the days passed and I fell further behind on my word count average, I had to let go of my disappointment in myself, realize that there were bigger events happening in my life, and accept that I couldn’t control everything.
It’s not like I had all the time in the world to write, after all. In reality, I work two jobs, eat two square meals a day, shower, exercise (there are attempts), sleep at least six hours a night, and insist on having a social life.
That’s just the daily grind. Life has a way of putting a wrench in your plans, especially the ones you make special time for. Over the course of the month, I experienced unexpected computer issues, after-work meetings and delays, bad news phone calls, obligatory family time, and the Thanksgiving holiday. And that’s all I care to remember.
The point is, whenever you get delayed in your writing, don’t feel bad or discouraged. Even if you fall behind the goal that you’ve set for yourself, it’s not the end of the world. As long as you return as soon as possible and keep writing, it’s not the end of anything. You’ll do just fine. I promise.
6. Back Up Everything
I think it was around 16,000 words where I started to get paranoid that I might lose everything I’d written thus far. I’ve had my computer for close to seven years now, and honestly, I’m just waiting on the day.
You’re probably already in the habit of backing up your most important digital work, but in case you’re not, let this be a grim reminder: back up all your work. Do it whenever you can.
I’m lucky that I have an external hard drive to assist me with storing all my files and documents, but it also doesn’t hurt to have a backup for your backup. For documents, I’d recommend using Google Docs or any kind of Cloud storage that you can access from any computer. That way, if your personal computer goes kaput, you can still access it from other sources.
Keep Calm and Write On (Even If There’s No More NaNoWriMo Motivation)
So did NaNoWriMo ultimately help me as a writer? Irrefutably. I may not write every day yet, but I’ve certainly noticed a change in my writing habits lately. For one thing, I am writing more often, and I’m writing faster. I’ve also discovered that turning off my internal editor really isn’t that bad–it’s actually marvelously freeing!
Moreover, I’ve now got 25K words to work with–and there’s more on the way. I’ve spent the last few days since November 30th away from my first, unfinished draft to give myself some distance before I start on it again. But it looks like I’m going to return to it sooner than I thought; my fingers are itching too badly to let it sit for long.
If you also have an idea you’re itching to get on the page, don’t wait until next November–unless you do want to write a novel and wish to experience that kind of writing environment and support. Regardless, I recommend you give NaNoWriMo a try when it comes around again.
But if you’re impatient like I am, then go ahead and get started. Set yourself a weekly or monthly word count to reach, something challenging to push yourself, and write like a fiend.
What’s your next writing goal going to be?