A few weeks ago, I posted that I was beginning my journey through National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time, and I am happy to report that I won! Winning means that I wrote 50,000 words towards a novel, and I did it.
The story isn’t complete, and I will probably get rid of half of what I wrote in the revision and editing processes, but I’m glad I did it.
Starting off nine days into the month definitely put me behind, and I will never, ever start late again (if I can help it). However, starting late and the whole month in general taught me some good lessons, and I thought I would share them with you.
Lesson One: Find Support
Hufflepuff won second place, and some tasty (and not so tasty) beans as a result. On the right, you can see how far my word count graph bar jumped as a result of the Harry Potter write-in.
I would have never finished NaNoWriMo had it not been for the constant support of my husband. He kept me going to the very end, and his words of encouragement kept me sane.
I also have my local NaNoWriMo writers to thank for my victory. We scheduled regular meet-ups at Starbucks, Panera Bread, and local bookstores. At these write-ins, we would share our struggles and triumphs, discuss plot lines, write together, “compete,” and have a lot of fun. Everyone encouraged one another, and we had a blast.
My favorite write-in was one that was Harry Potter themed. We divided ourselves into houses, and held timed races where each word written counted as house points. (My team, Hufflepuff, came in second place to Slytherin). Besides the scramble to the finish on the last day, I wrote more words that day than any other day during the month.
Also, if you’re looking to publish your novel, write-ins are a great way to network and get advice from other writers, which sort of leads me to…
Lesson Two: Writers are Readers
Many times have I heard the phrase, “Writers are readers,” and never before had I understood that phrase completely until I started NaNoWriMo.
As I wrote, I found myself thinking of what worked best in novels I have read. I found myself thinking of what I found interesting and what I found boring.
I thought about character development and what characters I had read about seemed most genuine and believable.
I thought about the world my characters lived in and what helped me understand the worlds of other characters.
I thought about dialogue and what sounded best.
I thought about what, as a reader, I wanted more of and what, as a reader, I wanted less of.
I thought about the times I was emotionally moved.
I thought about the morals and lessons the stories taught me inadvertently and how they pulled it off.
It’s amazing how much I have learned about writing just from reading, and so my advice to anyone that wants to write is to read lots and lots.
Lesson Three: Silence Your Inner Editor
I cannot tell you enough how freeing it was to tell my inner editor / perfectionist to shut it. At university, I developed this habit of editing as I wrote. Looking back, this was a good habit for me to get papers done in a short amount of time and still have something legible at the end of the day, but it’s not effective when trying to write 50,000 words of fiction in a short amount of time.
Silencing my inner editor was the best thing I did throughout the month. Generally, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of fiction… not to produce a novel that is ready to be published at the end of the month. It doesn’t matter that I will eventually edit and revise and trash a bunch of what I wrote.
The beauty of NaNoWriMo is that it doesn’t matter how awful the writing you produce is; at least you’ve written more than you had at the start of the month, and at least you’ve started a habit of writing regularly.
Editing can come later; first you have to write, which leads me into…
Lesson Four: Just Start Writing
I ended the first post about NaNoWriMo with:
“I have accepted that I may not finish the novel by the end of the month, but I’ve found that the more I write, the easier it is to develop my ideas further. Maybe the concrete nature of writing helps to develop my ideas, and I’m able to flesh them out more once I write them down. Maybe a J.K. Rowling moment isn’t what I needed. Maybe I just needed to start writing.”
And I was right. I just needed to start writing. Part of the way through the month, I realized that I had formed an idea that could span several novels.
If someone had told me in October that by the end of November, I would have the material to write several novels and have been 50,000 words into the first of them, I would have told them that they were out of their minds.
Now, however, I find that I do have the potential to write several novels. When I let go of trying to form an idea and just started writing (no matter how the quality of the writing was), the ideas began to form and spread.
So, whether you want to write a short story or a novel, the biggest advice I could give you is to just start writing.
Don’t worry about what it sounds like. Just write words on the page until they start writing themselves.
Even though I drank too much Starbucks and stared at a computer screen more than I probably should, I found my first NaNoWriMo to be rewarding in so many ways and almost way too much fun!
The end of NaNoWriMo 2014 isn’t really the end for me; it’s honestly the beginning. I plan on finishing and revising my novel, participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, and doing NaNoWriMo all over again next year.
Now that I’ve started, stopping seems impossible, and that’s a good thing. 😉
Keep Reading and Keep Writing!