What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

Drafting a plan (Soure: Image by Pexels from Pixabay)

November is known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. I’d heard about the event for several years, but there was always something keeping me too busy to participate. This year, as I found myself self-employed, time was abundant. I finally took the plunge and aimed for the 50,000 words to get a book started.

Since I’d never done it before, I had no idea how to prepare. I’ve never been much of a planner or outliner as a writer, but I thought for NaNoWriMo it might be best to go in with a blueprint. For the first time ever, before endeavoring to write, I made notes for a general idea of the novel and created character charts for the most important new players (I decided to write the sequel to my current work in progress).

I planned out chapters, which is the extent of preparation I usually do when writing. I can’t see so far ahead in my story that I know exactly what happens in the middle and how it’s going to end. But if I take it one chapter at a time I don’t feel so overwhelmed.

However, since the goal was to reach approximately 1,667 words per day, outlining chapters didn’t give me enough momentum to work with. Instead, I took some advice from a writing workshop I’d attended led by Janice Hardy. She spoke about scenes, what they were, how they were structured, and how to create one.

Once I broke down the chapters by scene, getting to my daily word count became easier. Then about a week and a half passed and reaching my word count got harder. Not because I didn’t have the outline to guide me, but because I kept lacking the focus and energy.

That’s when I switched to breaking my daily word count goal into smaller hourly goals throughout the day. I still had my freelance writing gig to consider, so trying to hammer out nearly 2,000 words for NaNoWriMo and another 1,000 for each article I wrote for work took its toll.

I started dividing my day by three-hour intervals. In the morning I’d write 600 words and take a break between meals. Then I’d start my writing for work and break for lunch. After that, I wrote another 600 words for my novel and took another break to hydrate or just veg out. I finished my work article and then broke for exercise. When I was done with exercise, I’d write the last 600 words for my NaNoWriMo day and finish with dinner.

This worked for another week and a half, but I found myself losing steam halfway through week three of the writing challenge. I stuttered out at the end, managing about 1,00o words on a good day and 300 on my worst. What happened?

Writing every day. That’s what happened. I wasn’t used to it. When I wrote my last two books, I grew accustomed to mashing out a full 5,000-word chapter over a weekend. But I’d never challenged myself to write every day. I thought, “Oh, I write for a living. How hard can doing it for fun be?” Turns out, incredibly hard.

It starts off easy, the excitement and adrenaline propelling you forward. But much like exercising, the endorphins only motivate you for so long. Working out every day or at least three to four times a week in the beginning is harsh. You start off determined and ready to get fit. It lasts for about a week, maybe two, but soon life makes its presence known and before you know it, you’ve fallen off the wagon and gone back to a sedentary lifestyle.

Writing is similar. During NaNoWriMo I was expected to write every day, so naturally life started getting in the way again. It became harder to make time for it. I still managed to get just over 35,000 words in the end, which for a beginner I think is decent. But now that I’ve done the challenge, I understand what it takes to train for it.

Like a marathon runner, I have to spend at least a few months in advance getting my mind and body used to the idea of every day. Beyond that, I need to learn what works to keep me in the habit, not just make the habit. I’m not sure if I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again (ask me next year). But I do feel better equipped to handle writing on a daily basis now.

Have any of you participated in NaNoWriMo before? Was this year your first year also? What are your techniques to get through the challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Where to Go to Write

where_to_go_to_write

I’ve been trying to find new environments to place myself in for getting writing done. I don’t currently have an office space in my house (that’s changing soon though!), so I just make a little nest for myself in my bed using a pillow chair, blankets, and stuffed animals. It’s not the most comfortable though for a writing session that goes on for more than 2 hours.

My go-to location when I’m getting cabin fever is my local library. I find an empty desk or table near an outlet (for charging when I get low battery), and set to work. I’ve found that the moslty quiet with faint noise on the first floor of South Regional does wonders for my focus. I have just enough stimulus to keep me energized, but not so much that it distracts me from the task at hand.

I don’t always want to stay indoors though when writing. That’s when I go to the beach. However, those sessions don’t tend to last very long, because living in the Sunshine State, the glare on a screen makes it near impossible to see what I’m doing. I try going with good old-fashioned pen and paper, but the beach is a windy place, even on calm weather days.

Of course, I’ve done the cliche coffee shop writing session, be it Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks. DD is my usual go-to for these outings as it’s much closer to me than my local Starbucks. The problem with this though is that I don’t feel comfortable staying at a place like that for so long without frequently buying something, because I know I’m taking up valuable real estate that could be used for other patrons. And there’s only so many pastries and so much coffee I can consume before I explode.

This brings me to the question I want to ask my fellow writers: Where do you to go write? I can’t think of other environments to try out for a good hours-long writing session. I’m open to places that don’t have access to electricity, as I can always bring a pen and journal with me for some old-school writing. I just need some suggestions for new places to go for writing. Let me know your ideas in the comments!

Dealing With Imposter Syndrome as a Writer

Notepad with crumpled pages for the trash (Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay)

I may have mentioned before how I work full time and go to grad school part time. So, when does that leave time for writing? The answer is virtually never, and it kind of eats at me sometimes.

There are some nights after work and studying that I do have a couple of hours to myself where I do have time to write, but I don’t take advantage of it. Instead, I catch up on TV or reading. Does this make me a bad writer?

I don’t practice my craft as often as I should. I know I shouldn’t get too down on myself for this because the truth is, I’m mentally exhausted after work and studying, but is that just an excuse? Then again, is it fair to my characters and stories and poetry if I try to work on them when my brain is fried?

I recently completed a poetry chapbook manuscript that I’ve been working on for over a year. It felt so strange to finally finish something that it left me with a sense of doubt as to if it was really finished and ready to be sent out into the world.

Maybe the full-time worker/part-time grad student is the excuse I give myself to procrastinate on finishing something, because once I’m done, am I really done? Is it really ready? I imagine even full-time writers have this anxiety.

Artists never truly feel like their work is ready for the world to see. Or maybe we just feel like the world isn’t ready to see our work? How many times do we see a look back on some work and see critics say, It was ahead of its time? Nobody wants posthumous recognition.

So, here I am with a completed manuscript, and I haven’t done anything with it since I finished it a week ago. Granted, I spend 10 hours working, including the commute. Then, I have to take a break when I get home, otherwise I’ll lose my mind. Then it’s off to read or answer discussion questions or research current events or work on a term paper, and by the time I’m finished it’s 9 p.m.

That makes me seem like an old lady, but it’s close to bed time and all I wanna do is read my book club book because I borrowed it from the library and I gotta finish it within a certain time frame. How did I even finish that manuscript? Oh yeah, at the pace of an animal I’d imagine as a hybrid between a sloth and a turtle. Slow and steady wins the race?

Is it a race? I know I shouldn’t think of it as such, but when I just turned 27 and I’ve considered myself a writer since high school and I’ve barely had anything published, does that make me a loser?

For anyone experiencing what I am, I’m sorry I don’t have clear answers for the questions posed. I suppose there is no right answer though, and everyone has to come to their own conclusions to get them through the writers’ process. That’s different than the writing process, as the two are not the same. Writing and being a writer that is.

How do you all deal with the existential dread of calling yourselves writers?