Welcome back, Kathleen, for another guest post! (I can not thank her enough for everything these guest posts do – mainly, give me time with my little one and time to figure out how and when regular blogging fits in this new normal. ♥)
Happy National Novel Writing Month! Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days? Challenge accepted!
Have I accepted this challenge before?
Okay, yes. I’ve accepted this challenge five times since 2006. I only ever crossed the 10,000 word mark that first time, when I won—and took the challenge with two of my school friends.
We lived in each other’s pockets, pretty much, and every night we’d meet in M.J. King’s apartment and hammer out our daily word counts.
Living with people who were also striving for those daily 1,667 word counts was the reason I completed NaNoWriMo in 2006. Have I touched the novel since? No. Was the novel itself complete? No. But the sense of accomplishment I got from finishing was amazing.
I’m what Barbara Sher calls a “Scanner”, someone with jack-of-all-trades interests, and no desire to master—or commit to mastering—most of them. We’re akin to honeybees: it feels pointless for us to stick with one flower forever, because our goal is to visit all the flowers. Scanners like me often feel like flakes nowadays, like we’re defective because we don’t have One Burning Passion to commit to, to the exclusion of all others. While writing is my umbrella passion—one all my other interests feed into, because everything a writer lives and learns can be used as inspiration—it’s liberating to find out you’re actually perfectly normal for acting like a honeybee and not a specialist…but that’s a post for another time.
The point of bringing up being a scanner is this: I started NaNoWriMo in 2006 with the fear that I could never write a novel, the fear I couldn’t commit and stick with such a huge writing endeavor long enough to actually finish such a project. After all, I never had before, and I’d begun plenty of novels, all of which seemed to shame me with their incompleteness as they languished in my writing folder.
But magically, miraculously, in 2006, I met National Novel Writing Month’s challenge. By 11:59pm of November 30th, I’d written 50,000 words of brand new novel, and had written out solid plans for the scenes I’d skipped or not gotten to yet.
Finishing NaNoWriMo that year assured me that, if I committed, worked hard and stuck to it, had an external deadline, and surrounded myself with the necessary support, I could actually finish a novel-length project. In other words, if the circumstances were right, even I could commit to and follow through on a long-term, novel-length project. I prefer to write in sprints, but if I wanted to, I could write in marathons too.
In the years since NaNo 2006, the circumstances for novel completion haven’t been write right. No in-person support, no impetus to write every night, life circumstances not conducive to that level of commitment, projects decided on a whim. I’ve used NaNo write-ins to help further writing goals that weren’t novels to decent effect over the years, but for the most part, every other year I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been certain 50k just wasn’t going to happen. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps. 100% accurate? Yes. Tellingly, I was never upset by losing those years, because I wasn’t fully committed to winning—that would’ve felt like setting myself up to fail.
Enter 2017. I have two novels to finish, and I’m committed to getting this first one out of my hair, preferably before 2018. I have a friend in town who’s big into NaNo, and who invited me to her kickoff write-in (which I rocked!). I also live with a friend who wants to finish her novel…though we’ve been trying to write at home together since summer, with little follow-through or success, as we are both highly distractible procrastinators.
Still, in October, I told my housemate, with confidence, “Let’s do NaNo together and finish our novels!”
If she agreed to throw down with me, I knew this year I would win.
To understand my certainty, I compared my 2017 circumstances to those of 2006. Committed to the project? Check. Ability to work hard and stick to it? Check—I managed once, and could manage again if I prioritized and stayed on track with the target word counts for each day. Bonus: because of joining Dreamwith, I was on my laptop daily, just as I had been in 2006—and was thus automatically positioning myself to write when I got home. External deadline? Check. Surrounded by necessary support? Well, I have fellow NaNoers in town, one of whom lives in my back pocket, so: Check.
And that…? That’s everything I need. I am perfectly situated to complete National Novel Writing Month in 2017—and, given where I am in the pre-existing project, completing the novel draft.
I’ve finished novellas, but never a novel, so I’m pretty excited. That excitement’s definitely helped so far…Because I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo 2017 for a week now, and it’s going well. I’ve written four out of seven days, and finished Day 7 ahead of schedule despite not writing that night.
As a writer, my ideal is to write in four-hour stretches, but not necessarily every day. As someone with a day job who needs lots of sleep, four-hour stretches are only possible on weekends. So what I’ve been doing is trying to keep abreast of the target word count for each day, if one is writing 1,667 words per day, and either catch up or jump ahead on weekends.
And it’s working. As is mapping out scenes in my head on my commute and as I’m going to sleep, so I have words to write when I can finally sit at my laptop to get them down.
I’ve modified the challenge in that I’m counting story notes too, not just words added to the novel. Words on the novel are words on the novel, and I plan to write many tonight to unstick myself from the lamentable over-outlining I did on Day 6, which has my brain convinced I’ve already written the scene in question. So! Day 8’s writing will begin with the notes I’ve planned to help me get unstuck; Day 9 will hopefully find me finishing that scene; and the weekend will get me long writing stretches and, if all goes to plan, at least six thousand words ahead of schedule for the coming week’s daily targets.
But I’ll let you know what actually goes down when I do a Week 2 check-in.
In the meantime, why not consider the circumstances you’d need to win NaNoWriMo—and try to put some in place now?