I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. Between work and blogging and work and family stuff and work I just didn’t have the time to commit to it properly. And that’s okay. I’ve learned my lesson from past years when I’ve tried to do it just as things were getting crazy and it destroyed me.
DO NOT BE DESTROYED, MY BEAUTIFUL MONSTERS.
I want to talk to you about this NaNo thing, because it’s something I have a bit of experience doing. I’ve done 10 total NaNoWriMos. While I’ve always hit the word count (#bragging) I’ve also finished 8/10 stories during the month. It can happen. But there are some things you need to know about it.
NaNoWriMo is stressful.
This is because deadlines are stressful. And you have daily deadlines. Sometimes your day gets away from you, and you are a zombie shambling towards your bed and that dreaded thought occurs to you “I didn’t write a single word today.” CRAP. Now what? You can say “screw it”, tack the words on to tomorrow, and fall into your blissful pillow-laden heaven OR you can make a REALLY BIG mug of hot chocolate topped with marshmallow fluff, sit down in your writing space, and trudge through.
EVERYONE FEELS THIS WAY ABOUT NANOWRIMO.
So many people put on smiling happy faces and say everything is perfect. While this may be true in the beginning I can assure you that by day 11 (today!) everyone has that crazy voice in the back of their mind saying “THIS WAS A REALLY BAD IDEA GUYS.”
It’s okay. Keep calm and carry on.
Plotters Do Not Write “Better” Stories Than Pantsers.
I always found this concept absurd (probably because I’m a pantser). So lets talk about this. Plotters know where their story is going. They have a steady outline, daily in-story progression goals, and probably character sheets. Pantsers dive in with a vague story idea, some characters, and don’t look back. They let the characters and story drive them and are just as surprised about the ending as their eventual readers will be.
In the real world, plotting is a better thing to do, but NaNoWriMo is its own beast.
You’re giving yourself 30 days to write a novel. Okay, so people write novels really fast all the time. Prolific writers, usually. Kiersten White, C. G. Drews, Stephen King. BUT THOSE ARE NOT THE SAME NOVELS YOU READ. They are drafts. All first drafts are a mess. Maybe a beautiful mess, but a mess all the same. Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, you’re going to have to go back and basically rewrite your entire story anyway. Maybe your precious outline doesn’t hold up. By the time you’re editing, where you began doesn’t matter.
This is not a competition.
The minute you start seeing your friends’ stats rise while yours are faltering, you will die a little inside. Or maybe your numbers are fine but you have NO IDEA where you are going. Everyone writes at their own pace. Maybe you’re a prolific writer, but not a strong plotter (*raises hand*). Or maybe you’re a slow writer, but have a really clear direction. Both of of these are fantastic. You don’t have to be as far along in your story as someone else. You don’t have to hit all those daily word count goals. Support each other, but more importantly, support yourself.
Burnout Starts Now
Are you feeling like the sun may actually fail to rise tomorrow? Or that with every word you write, you’re losing a little bit of your soul? Welcome to “halfway through November”. If you’re not feeling it now, you’ll probably start feeling it within the next week. THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL.
DON’T GIVE UP.
NaNoWriMo loses most of it’s participants in weeks two and three. When people realize that this is crazy. It is crazy, but that’s okay. At this point, you may feel like you’re not putting out good work. Honestly? You’re probably not. THAT’S OKAY (see above about how this is only a draft). Muster through.
The NaNoWriMo when I wrote Sparky Jones: Life on Shuffle, I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going. I had a vague idea that Sparky’s dad had invented a device that altered the personality of a person when they listened to music on it, but there was a lot of shambling around. Then I learned about the Traveling Shovel of Death. It’s one of the many amusing NaNoWriMo Easter eggs. I incorporated it, and it gave me the turning point of my plot. Burnout is a good time to do something crazy in your story, like the Traveling Shovel of Death. Add an element you didn’t plan and suddenly you’ve got your spark back.
You may not finish your novel.
This one kills me, because even though “winning” is technically only 50k, I feel like I haven’t really won unless I’ve hit the end of the story. BUT YOU MAY NOT FINISH YOUR STORY.
This has happened to me twice. The first time was with The Story Collector a couple years ago. I’m currently sitting pretty on 120k words and it’s still not done. This is one that will need LOADS of editing someday.
The second time was this last Camp NaNoWriMo, with The Land of Dark and Broken Things. I got halfway through the story and realized that the plot didn’t work at all and I needed to outline and go back to it. And I did. I have a Ulysses doc with every single chapter outlined. And when I have the time to go back to it and give it love, it will be much better. I’ve had to make myself okay with not finishing because NaNoWriMo is an exercise in discipline and a time to experience group writing. It’s not there to make you a perfect writer.
It’s an experience.
NaNoWriMo is hard and you are killing it.
As writers, we are so quick to judge ourselves. We don’t have enough words. Our characters are bullshit. Our setting is bullshit. Our plot is bullshit. Everything is bullshit.
Once we’re all done channeling our inner Nancy (#StrangerThings) we have to admit that writing a book is hard. And we are taking action. WE ARE DOING IT EVEN THOUGH IT IS HARD. And we are awesome – YOU are awesome – for doing that. In some small way, you are letting your idea out into the world like a little baby sparrow for more people to love. You are ensuring that it won’t be forgotten, because now it is words!
After a few goes at NaNoWriMo, I decided I was going to reward myself if I had a finished novel at the end. I created a cover, I formatted the book, and I printed it through LuLu. This may not be for the faint of heart (formatting things for print is not fun). I am still super aware that the stories are really, really, REALLY rough drafts. But having that physical book really makes me feel like I accomplished something.
So make sure at the end that you reward yourself. Whether that’s a printed copy of your beautiful mess of a novel or a hot fudge sundae (sundaes are delicious, recommend) – you worked hard and you got SO MUCH DONE. You’ve brought at least a piece of your imagination to life and that’s something you should be really proud of.