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!

Meagan Reads Fiction: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This is an older novel now, but I read it for my coworkers’ book club. I went with Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed because I’ve read his other two big novels (Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns) and loved them. Spoilers may come up in this article, so if you haven’t read the book and plan to, proceed at your own risk!

hosseini blog

The novel takes place across the U.S., Greece, Paris, and Afghanistan, throughout different storylines from various characters and family ties. Each family’s story creates an echo of the one that came before it. While every character dynamic creates a glimpse into the messiness of life and the relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and siblings, each on its own, together they weave a rich tapestry that converges all their stories.

From the very beginning, readers are warned that this isn’t going to have a happy ending. As Abdullah’s father tells his children the story of the div that takes a village’s children, only not for as vile a reason as they at first believe, we see the foreshadowing of what’s to come for Pari, Abdullah’s sister. In a time and village when raising children is difficult, Saboor, their father, makes the hard decision to give Pari away to Mr. Wahdati, his brother Nabi’s boss, so that she may have a better life and survive, even if it means breaking Abdullah and Pari apart.

But life with the Wahdatis is imperfect, as Nila, Pari’s new mother, struggles with depression and oppression in a society that demonizes “bad” women. Meanwhile, Mr. Wahdati hides his secret love for his chauffeur Nabi, who only comes to know this secret after he becomes the man’s caretaker after suffering a terrible stroke. Nila flees to Paris with Pari, where life for them there ensues in such disarray.

In and out these stories go, jumping from Markos Vavaris, who becomes friends with Nabi and discovers the secret of Pari’s past, and must now find her to reunite her with her brother, to two other cousins who visit Afghanistan in hopes of recovering their family’s lost land and encounter Markos and his friend Thalia.

It’s hard to lay out the details of all the stories, as after a while of reading, they bleed into one another and the lack of chronology makes it hard to tell one story without jumping back into another. This, of course, is Hosseini’s intention with the way he’s structured the novel. It’s all one story told from varying perspectives, and yet each perspective is its own story in its own right. The difficulty in retelling the whole point of the novel in fact reflects the book’s main theme: that life happens all at once in a kaleidoscopic field, and there maybe isn’t an actual point. It just is.

Hosseini’s prose is lush and poetic, reflecting the characters’ culture’s penchant for storytelling. Though the chapters grow longer as the book passes, time never seems to be an issue when reading it. The beauty of the Hosseini’s language makes this heavy and heartbreaking read easy to devour. Simply put, it’s just well written.

If you’ve read this book or other Hosseini works, leave comments! Did you like them? What were your thoughts?

This post was originally featured on The Misadventures of a Media Journalist blog.