Never say never.
For years, I’ve been shaking my head whenever the topic of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) came up. I couldn’t fathom the idea of writing 50,000 words in one month.
Madness…undue stress…why on earth would I subject myself to that kind of torture?
In a podcast with Stephen Campbell, I listed several reasons for not participating and assured him I would take my time writing any future novels. All that changed when I started imagining the plot for A Different Kind of Reunion, Book 3 in the Gilda Greco Mystery Series. Determined to release the book within a year of Book 2, I knew I had to change my m.o. If I continued to work at my present speed, it would take at least two years to write, edit, and release the novel.
And so I decided to participate in the boot camp that has inspired and motivated hundreds of thousands of participants since the event began in 1999.
Here are some statistics from 2015:
- 431,626 participants started and completed the challenge.
- 926 volunteer Municipal Liaisons (leaders) guided 633 regions on six continents.
- 1,012 libraries, bookstores, and community centers opened their doors to novelists through the Come Write In program.
- 87% of survey respondents said that NaNoWriMo helped them learn what they can accomplish when determined.
Having made the decision to participate in September of this year, I spent October in prep mode. I signed up for romance author Catherine Chant’s two-week course at the beginning of October: “Prep for NaNoWriMo the Bare Bones Way.” In mid-month, I attended a presentation by award-winning Canadian author, Terry Fallis at the Kitchener Public Library. Terry discussed his chapter-by-chapter outlines and shared other tips that have enabled him to write and release five best-selling novels since 2005.
By the end of October, I had a plot, a rough outline of 28 chapters, and brief descriptions of the twenty-three characters that populate the novel. Find out more here.
I also visited the NaNoWriMo website and read several articles about the process. Knowing myself and my energy levels, I concluded that some of the suggestions wouldn’t work. To keep myself sane and healthy, I have decided to focus on the following practical and doable tips:
- Announce your plans. At first, I wanted to keep my involvement secret, but after reading about the positive reinforcement that a support group can provide, I decided to share the news with everyone in my circle. In addition to other writers—online and offline—I also told the non-writers. I’m looking for encouragement, not advice. Simply asking: “How’s that novel coming along?” will help keep me on track.
- Write at peak times. To find a routine that works consistently, I need to write when the muse strikes. Since starting my writing practice in 2008, I have discovered that the following times yield the most creative results: 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
- Work ahead. Sneaking in an extra 300 words (or more) early in the month can build up word counts and compensate for missed days when illness and other commitments affect the quality and quantity of the writing.
- Turn off the television and all electronic gadgets during peak creative times to ensure there are no distractions.
- Embrace both linear and non-linear paths. While I prefer to write linearly—one chapter at a time—skipping over to a more interesting scene will help stimulate right-brain thinking.
- Relax and TELL. For years, I’ve heard editors and workshop facilitators repeat the mantra: SHOW DON’T TELL. What a relief to focus on getting the scene on paper in any form and then prettying it up later.
- Leave notes in the text. Plot and dialogue are my strengths while descriptive detail is one of my weaknesses. Instead of belaboring the setting and other details, leave notes about what’s missing. i.e. Description of waterfront or restaurant. Don’t stop to check the internet for anything.
- Journal when stuck. Throughout her course, Catherine Chant recommended journaling about our character’s feelings to elicit more details and move the storyline along. The character could write her response stream-of-conscious style or write a letter describing a problem. Even if the journal entry is edited out of the story, the words still count.
- Stop before the ideas run out. At the end of each day’s stint, write a sentence or two about what happens next. This will provide a starting point for the following day.
- Turn off the internal editor. I need to keep in mind Anne Lamott’s advice and “write a crappy first draft.” Forget about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Don’t delete anything. In short, give myself permission to write badly.