For the past 18 years, writers of varying levels of sanity have endeavored to write a novel in a month by participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In a recent article by Publishers Weekly, it’s projected that 350,000 will participate in NaNoWriMo and that roughly 600 will be traditionally published. Certainly, writing and finishing a novel worthy of publication is the dream, but there are consolation prizes for those who don’t finish. After a week of “chasing the dream”, I’ve learned a few things that –whether you’re writing for NaNoWriMo or are just committing to writing, can help you on your journey.
Lesson 1: Writing is Hard
Writing well in general is a hard skill cultivated through extensive practice and lots of reading, but writing a novel and writing every day is extremely hard. It’s like raising children, making Thanksgiving dinner for a family where everyone has different dietary needs (would you like the meatless, gluten-free turkey or the turducken?), or wrestling bobcats.
To circumvent this, I committed to just letting the words flow in each writing session. I also rationalized that if Stephen King can sit down and write for six hours a day / session, then the two-to-three hours I’d carved out at the end of each day should be a breeze.
That precious, naïve fool from a week ago is dead. Here were actual thoughts from my first day of writing:
- Oh, that’s clever.
- Huh, I hadn’t planned on that character. Will need to think of how to use this person later.
- What was I going to name the best friend? (Checks notebook for reference.) Ugh, that’s horrible. **changes name**
- Oh God, I forgot setting!
- Relax, you can fix it in editing.
- What would Jesus do?
- Surely I have like 2,000 words by now. Seriously, 500? Holy crap, this is hard.
I stupidly thought that because I’m used to writing content –lots and lots of content—and editing books and novels that finally writing one I’ve been thinking about and planning for about a year would be a breeze. As it turns out, it’s not.
Lesson 2: The Self-Doubt is Real
I can’t tell you how many works I’ve abandoned because I start to think about them. I think, “This is stupid,” or “This is cliché,” then I start to think about all of the infinitely better works (the finished works) that I admire. This is an especially dangerous move because compared to a finished, published bestseller or phenomenally written work of course your first draft looks like a steaming pile of dog crap.
When those thoughts creep into my head (like, every time I pause and think, “Okay, what should happen next?” or, “Man, that’s a lot of dialogue so far.”), I tell myself that this has the potential to be good.
I think of those scenes that I can see so clearly in my mind—the climax and the turning point, the moment the protagonist loses herself entirely, and I keep writing for those moments even though the road getting there is comprised of an incredibly tumultuous terrain.
Lesson 3: Life Goes on if You Miss a Day
Sunday night was the first day I stumbled off the road less graveled entirely. I’d cleaned the house and cooked dinner for my in-laws. By the time they left, it was 7:00, and the kids still have to be put to bed. After that, I had to finish grading papers for my writing students. This was also the night that my 21-month-old rainbow baby had epic-level night terrors and didn’t want to go to sleep at all and only wanted mommy.
So, I sat there with a 30-week baby bump holding a toddler on my lap while she watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on YouTube Kids on my iPhone, and I graded papers. It was after midnight by the time I was finished, and my brain was shot. The last thought I had before I went to bed was, “Well, it counts if I at least think about my story.” Cut to black. End scene.
Lesson 4: Planning Days Still Count
Because children have no mercy, my little one woke up at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. My brain felt like instant pudding; my eyes burned and were a little red. I felt like I had a raging hangover (minus the headache, thankfully). Monday morning, I wrote out some scene ideas to help move the story along. I feel really good about those ideas, and I think when I move forward tonight, taking a day for a planning session will end up being a good idea.
I had every intention of writing last night, but by 11:11 p.m. when I’d finished some other work and would normally have started writing, my 21-month-old woke up (no night terror, thank you, God), and I was mental mush. Guiltily, I acquiesced to a second night of no writing (a dangerous pattern to get into); however, I acknowledged that I planned, and that counts. Or so I’m telling myself.
Lesson 5: Nothing but Good Will Come of This
Tonight, come hell or high water, I will write because I know that at the end of the day, nothing but good will come from doing NaNoWriMo (#NaNoWriMo2017). I will probably not finish my book unless the time-space continuum opens up, and I’m allowed longer writing sessions (and am able to make myself sit and write for longer than one or two hours at a time…that takes training!)
No matter what happens, I’m already 5,000+ words further along in my novel than I was a week ago (cool!). By the end of November, if I’m halfway through the novel, I’ll be happy. I’ll also be in the habit of writing, and some other projects will have wrapped up, so I’ll be well on my way to finishing and to publishing the manuscript before the end of the calendar year. After that, I’ll put my own polish on it before finding an editor (because a second set of eyes really does work wonders for a novel).
If you’re working on your novel or want to dive in and start now, join the NaNoWriMo fun at NaNoWriMo.org. Track your words, get motivation, and meet fellow authors. It’s a great community, and like I said, there’s no downside to pursuing NaNoWriMo if you have the right attitude. Afterward, contact me for help editing your manuscript. I work with memoirs, contemporary works, mystery, and romance, and I have solid contacts in other genres who I can recommend to you if I’m not the right fit.