I never expected to fail National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) so spectacularly, but here we are, 21 days into November, and I have about 500 of 50,000 words written. Yes. The failure is that great. Sure, we have nine days left in the month; there’s still time! But no, it’s not happening, and I know why.
I started NaNoWriMo like I start my exercise binges: looking at pretty pictures of books and
wanting to be the skinny girl on the cover thinking, I could do that. Why haven’t I done that yet? I am currently 40,000 words into a project that has haunted me for the past six years. I cannot quit it, but I cannot finish it, either. This marathon month of novel writing was to be my final push past the finish line.
But after the initial buzz of November 1st faded, I realized I set myself up for failure in the worst way. I petered out early and I’ve had 20 days to reflect on it. Here are the five things I learned from this colossal whomp of a writing challenge:
1. Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail, duh. It’s a cliche, but an apt one for me. I began NaNoWriMo on a whim and, though I felt I could do it, novels need game plans. I did not carve out writing time. I currently write in the margins of my day, when I’m not working, mothering, cooking, or cleaning, or sleeping. I should have set aside dedicated blocks of time to do nothing but writing. And not tweet watch.
2. Research is Not Shirking. My writing project deals with the Black Power Movement in the 70s, requiring a good amount of side reading I haven’t done yet. Part of the reason for my stall is that I cannot write when I do not feel confident in my knowledge base. I picked up the books I need to read and have shifted my focus to gathering information.
3. Outlining is Not the Enemy. For six years, I’ve been writing by the seat of my pants. It’s gotten me over halfway finished with my project, but in a haphazard, non-linear fashion that exhausts me every time I think of fixing it. I realized that I need to create a skeleton to flesh out the bony parts of my narrative. No one can sink their teeth into a story with no meat to it.
4. Be Realistic About How Much Writing I Can Do. This blog constitutes the most writing I’ve done in years. It’s fantastic to do this regularly, but I didn’t realize how much effort maintaining a blog and trying to complete a book-length project would take. At the end of a 700-word blog post, I am ready to veg out, not write 2,000 more words of scene, setting, narration, and exposition. I get fatigued. The solution is to pre-write stretches of blog posts so I can focus on my project.
5. Use Editing to Turn the Corner on Writer’s Block. Going through some of my previously written chapters, I felt the fix-it bug niggling at me and before I knew it, I was rewriting scenes. This didn’t count toward NaNoWriMo because of the 50,000 word count. But in totality, it contributes to the finished quality of my manuscript. Writing is writing is writing.
I have come a long way from a year ago–I wrote nothing at all and really hated myself for dodging writing like an old lover I dumped. So, while I may not hit the golden 50K on this go-round, I did pick up some valuable tools that will allow me to pace myself. I won’t quit and not-quitting is the first step to succeeding.
Did you try NaNoWriMo this year? How did you do?