Although no one brought me coffee during November, or afterwards in celebration, I managed to win National Novel Writing Month and set a new word record for myself. 52,083 words over the course of 15 writing days in 21 documented hours that don’t count my short free writes.
Considering this is where I started, I can’t believe where I ended. I’m really proud of myself. And tired.
I relearned a lot about myself as a writer and person over the month, more than I had anticipated. I don’t want to bore anyone with the finite details, so here are the writing lessons I re-remembered over the month that I think others (and my future self) will find fruitful:
Let yourself wander. Outlines and plans are marvelous things, I wouldn’t have succeeded without either, but you have to let yourself deviate from them. This is one of my biggest issues, I always worry about the amount of editing I’m possibly creating for myself later on when I wander from my outline or that I’m not getting to where I need to be fast enough. Those worries have no place during the initial writing process! Writing is part plan, part organic creation for me. I need to give myself permission to simply write, to let the words lead me where they will. I’ve talked about this topic before, here, and I need to keep reminding myself.
Have a side project to cleanse the writing pallet. I made sure I had other story ideas ready to go before NaNo started because one of my biggest concerns was hitting a wall with my main WIP and not being able to climb over it. However, I worried in fear. I had one day where I worked on a different story for 40 minutes before I returned to my novel. At no point did my words stop flowing mid-writing session. I still think it’s important to have a different piece to work on in order to clear your head space, especially if you’re handling difficult topics or emotions. Whatever keeps your flow going, do it.
Creating is exhausting. Writing is exhausting, period. It’s rewarding, but nothing drains my mental batteries like writing. I can’t do anything that requires thinking after extended writing. Planning ahead if you suffer from this is a must.
Stretch and move. Getting out of your chair and getting your blood flowing are essential to the creative process. If writing is mentally exhausting, it’s just as difficult physically. Just think about the your basic writing position: back arched over keyboard, arms and shoulders folded tightly inwards, eyes almost unblinking and laser focused on small print, neck held stiff with your head titled forward. It’s hard on your body. Be nice to your body.
Breaks are undervalued. See the two points above? Mental and physical fatigue come hand in hand with writing for me, and I would assume you? Breaks are not only important to schedule so that you have an opportunity to stretch, but your mind needs the boost too. Plus activity boosts brain power! I found the days that I started writing earlier and allowed myself more and longer periods of rest turned into my highest word count days.
Be tired and unmotivated, but write anyway. In all of November I skipped one non-voluntary designated writing day because I was genuinely ill and it just wasn’t happening. But there were other days over the course of the month where I felt beyond tired and completely unmotivated to write. I sat at my desk, stared at my computer and said, “I really don’t want to do this today.” However, I made a deal with myself. I set my timer for 30 minutes, my regular sprint time, and I’d see how things went. Guess what? Once I started, I hit my goal on each of those days. Starting is the hardest part, but you get into it, and it’s really not so bad. Even if I’d only ended up writing for the first 30 minutes, those would have been words I hadn’t had before. Every word counts.
Set the bar low, but aim high. This point is all about my mental perception, and it won’t work for you if you’re not a writer who sets a daily word goal. I find that if I set aside a day to write without any set goal to accomplish I get absolutely nothing done. Nothing. NaNo was all about the math and hitting small writing day targets in order to hit the big goal for the month. I have learned the hard way that every day I set aside to write I need to have a goal in mind. And it must be a goal I know I can crush but feel satisfied with when I make it. That happy endorphin buzz I get from winning cannot be undervalued –positive reinforcement goes a long way. Challenge yourself, but don’t place the bar out of reach.
Work writing into your schedule, don’t schedule around writing. This is something that counters a lot of writing advice I hear regularly, but it’s one that fits my reality. I have a day job, chores, and social engagements that take up a lot of my time. I can’t get out of them. Even if I were to someday write full-time, the other aspects of life would still get in the way. The first NaNo I did in 2013 involved me working my whole month around word goals. Monday to Friday every week I had huge numbers to hit, and I did because I wasn’t working at the time. I did the same this time around, allotted myself extra time by taking a week off work, but I’m not going to have that opportunity every month going forward –and damn straight I want to keep up my writing now that I’m in the habit of it. I can’t schedule my existence around writing. It’s not conceivable for me at this time, but I can squeeze it in, and that’s going to have to work for now.
NaNoWriMo was long and exhausting, but far more rewarding than I anticipated. Not only did I write 2/3 of my starting WIP, I wrote 1/3 of book two in my series. My big picture plan came to fruition in that the challenge got my creative juices flowing, I’m jonesing to get back to my two manuscripts and I don’t recall the last time I felt this way. I desperately want to hold onto it -that’s my major win.
How did your NaNoWriMo 2015 challenge go?