Read Part 1.
Thirty days have never flown so fast. The unrelenting daily countdown and pitiless check-in timer, like a less cheerful Miss Minutes proliferating your daily word count and time spent reaching said count, results in a bar graph (or line chart! Or histogram! Why so many graphs, people?!)—charting the progress helps the time go even faster. And once those numbers start to plateau, or even worse, slump a little, causing your daily word-count requirements vs. days-left ratio to be even more daunting, well … all you’ve got left is the mind games.
How do you trick yourself into believing that you can still do it? That you should keep going even if you know deep down in your soul you’re not going to “win” anymore?
But the whole of the creative process is a mind game, isn’t it?
That NaNoWriMo graph can become either the best motivator in the world, or the thing that makes you realize you’re never actually going to write fifty thousand words in a month.
Or, there’s a third option.
It’s the thing that motivates you to keep cultivating your process through progress and go with the flow.
NaNoWriMo started in 1999 as a challenge to “silence your inner critic, let your imagination take over, and just create!” For thirty days, every day, you simply sit down and write a first draft of a novel. Or not so simply, depending.
It’s marathon training, of sorts. There are milestones to be reached through routine and every time you sit down to write, it’s stretching the muscle and strengthening it just a little more to reach your overall goal.
This was my first year giving it a go, “officially.” Not like the time when I submitted a first draft (yes, I know) to a Big Five publisher of a novel I wrote in a month because the first chapter won first prize, and guess what? I hadn’t even written the thing yet—but the prize was a manuscript request.
So, here I am a decade later and still learning lessons. I’d like to think I’m getting better and honing my processes as well. In the case of NaNoWriMo, that lesson being to be far more prepared for next year. Oh yes, there will a second go at this madness.
The lessons I learned to help you win NaNo.
Maybe you can tell from the tone of this: I did not, in fact, “win” NaNoWriMo. As in: write 50k this month. But I still feel like I did. Sure, you either reach your goals or you don’t, right? Hold the cynicism just a moment, if you would.
I tried something new (pantsing my plot according to a general concept) and learned what truly works for me: Outlining like nobody’s business! Unless you’re a pantser. Fine, may the gods of Olympus be with you. But seriously, there’s a reason those NaNoWriMo preparation emails start going out *at least* a month in advance, and they hold entire camps at other times of the year in prep for this one month so you can know your characters, your world, and where you plan to take both during the month of November. Your characters will thank you for giving them the time and space to grow having all that prep done prior.
More importantly, I learned that I can, in fact, write every day. It’s strange how you can find five to fifty-five minutes in a day (or more!) when you really want to.
People always used to tell me that if I really wanted something, I’d make it happen. Especially when it came to my writing. Man, the excuses I could come up with as to why that wasn’t true. I did want it bad enough, but it wasn’t my fault; there was never enough time to write. But you know what? And please don’t tell them I said this—but it’s true.
You want it bad enough, you gift yourself the time.
That’s what I won doing NaNoWriMo this year: the gift of time. I used time waiting in the carpool line, thumbing out lines of dialogue on my phone. I balanced my laptop on my knees during my kids’ extra-long soccer practices while balancing the emotions of my heroine in her journey on the page. I discovered that like my school days, I’m a night owl when it comes to really going the mile on the page.
Again, all those stats NaNo tracks came in handy after all to show me some things beside word count.
I was also lucky enough to be introduced to a small group of NaNo writers who supported each other daily, sending quotes and personal words of encouragement and commiseration. Writing is so solitary, knowing I wasn’t alone in this pursuit was also a gift I wouldn’t trade for word count.
NaNoWriMo is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. It was a milestone year for me, too: a big birthday, my first 10K, and now NaNo.
I enjoy power-zone training on the bike when I’m in an exercise phase, not just for the miles, but the mind games; power zones define the distinct energy demands on the body as your physical output—effort!—changes. It’s a long-haul training method, building physical stamina, as well as my stamina for sitting down daily to write for an industry I’ve not quite cracked in the way I’d hoped. I’ve hit some markers that I’m proud of, but I haven’t reached the elusive goal yet. Much like this past November’s 50k.
Except this time I don’t want to wait a whole year (or more) to see if I can. I’m on a roll, and like coffee before breakfast, I’m in routine. I owe it to the progress I’ve made to keep going. That’s all this crazy writing industry is. The ones who keep going, who find the courage to publish and self-publish and pitch and keep writing rather than give in. They’re the winners.
*Feature image by Cristina Conti (Adobe)