Do you see that wonderful banner at the top of this blog post? It means I wrote 50,000 words during November 2020 . Not only that, but I finished the draft to my romance Her Husband’s Return. A story idea that was just a collection of notes on November 1 is now ready to become a book on November 30. Euphoria is overflowing. I have never written a book so quickly. This exercise has instilled confidence for the future. What helped me to succeed?
The biggest reason I kept going was because I told so many people I was doing NaNo for the first time. I didn’t want to end up not finishing so typed on. So much writing advice suggests having rituals to prepare your mind for the story. I lit candles and played music. It really didn’t matter what music, although I lean toward opera and soundtracks, because once I become immersed in the story, I no longer hear it. My ears need something to block out. If the pandemic hadn’t locked everything down, I likely would have done well in crowded coffee shops.
In a previous blog post, I mentioned how I write in about 500 word chunks. As soon as I wrote out that block, I would pause to knit, sew, or even pray, since my theme focused on how love forgives. I would read from a Catholic daily prayer book, reflecting on the messages not only for myself, but for my characters. While doing something else, I planned my next chunk of words and conflict beats.
In my opinion as a plotter, to succeed at NaNo, the more planning you do beforehand the better. I could move at a good pace in the beginning and ending because I knew what to write. Halfway through the second act, I needed more problems for my characters. My critique partner helped me brainstorm. In the future, I will know how much trouble I need to have them undergo before I write the story. Planning and writing at the same time slowed down my production pace.
Some of the things I did differently than my previous writing. The biggest change was writing in complete scenes, instead of by chapters. In the past, I have cut scenes apart to have the chapters end on a cliff hangar to make the reader turn the page. When I revise, those chapter breaks will have to be inserted. I do have a list of XXX’s in the manuscript to be researched. That will be December’s project.
One extremely useful piece of advice came from Leah Cutter’s NaNoWriMo For the Rest of Us. She dislikes rewriting so uses a process she termed “cycling” to produce a clean first draft. She goes back through her manuscript while she’s writing it. In almost everything I read about NaNo, the suggested method is doing sprints where you write as fast as you can during a set time limit. No going back, only forward. Ms. Cutter says to write in that white-hot heat, but when it slows, start at the beginning of the chapter or scene without being critical. Fix the typos and missing words until you reach your stopping point. By then, she claims, your writing is ready to flow again, so type away.
She believes by cycling your writing in this method, you are telling your creative muse the words are important and valued. “If you write a messy first draft, and you tell yourself that it’s okay that you’ll fix it all later, what you’re telling your creative voice is that what it comes up with isn’t okay. That you don’t value what it does.” When this happens, she fears a writer’s creativity dries up.
This observation made sense to me. I dislike it when authors refer to their first drafts as “vomit,” but I couldn’t articulate why. Ms. Cutter gave me the reason. I did do a few sprints during my NaNo experience, but I chose to focus on producing my 500 word chunks, rather than track the time I spent writing. In one sprint I participated in, I wrote 311 words in ten minutes, which is a lot, but I never regarded my words as junk or vomit. I also know they’re not pearls of wisdom either, although I am glad to have them.
Right now, I am enjoying the sense of accomplishment in having a book written. There’s a long list of XXX research topics I need to investigate, and despite trying to write clean, I know the manuscript needs some revision. Still I’m glad I did NaNoWriMo for the first time.