April is Camp NaNoWriMo, so I should be writing like a maniac. But the truth? I haven’t even started my book yet. *shrug* I’m not too worried. It’s been a weird start to the month, and I can start any time. But, to get me in the mood for some massive word counts, how about a repeat of a post I wrote right after NaNoWriMo 2014, shortly after finishing Someone Else’s Summer. Good? Good.
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I spent the month of November joining thousands of other novelists in the mad dash noveling experience known as NaNoWriMo*. The idea of NaNo is to write 50,000 words in one month – for some that’s a whole novel, for others the start of a longer novel. Me being me, I set out to write a full book in the month, and I knew it would be longer than 50,000 words, because they always are. In the end, my shiny new novel came in at 71,996 words, all written at a manic pace last month.
(Someone Else’s Summer is 75,000 words now. Edits, y’all. They’ll do that to ya.)
So, now, in my sleep-deprived state, I thought I would give some sleep-deprived wrap-up thoughts and things I learned** from NaNoWriMo.
1. Outline, outline, outline.
I’ve written books with outlines before; I’ve written books where I’ve started at Word One and just punched keys until I had an idea where the story was taking me (ahem, 99 Days of Laney MacGuire); I’ve written with hyper-detailed outlines. Someone Else’s Summer is one of the latter. The idea for the book came to me way back in July. I tried, and failed, to put it on the back burner, and when it got so persistent I knew I had to write it, I started outlining. For this project, I used Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method. (I maybe didn’t follow his guide 100%, but it gives you an idea of how intense this outline was.) I spent more time outlining the book than writing it. (Outlining ran through August and September.)
(My outline for The Stars At Night – my Camp NaNo book – isn’t nearly this intense. In fact, it’s so basic I’m a bit twitchy about not having such a strong road map. But hey, different book different adventure.)
I used to worry – and have talked to many other authors who have the same concern – that such a detailed outline would kill the excitement of discovery in the first draft. But, actually, I found that it did the exact opposite for me. Having everything already figured out, the plot kinks and holes fixed during the outlining, gave me a map to follow, so I never got stuck wondering what happens next. Each scene still surprised me as it unfolded in the draft, and it made me realize: that’s where the real discovery comes. Not with the path the story will take, but with the how it will take that path.
My outline kept me going so I never felt lost when I sat down to write, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book so quickly without it.
2. Be madly in love.
It’s no secret how much I love Someone Else’s Summer. Ever since the idea first worked its way into my brain – on vacation, when I told myself I was going to leave all my writing behind, natch – I’ve been obsessed with it. So when I hit the middle of the month, and the middle of the book, and had the typical middle-of-the-book-this-book-sucks panic…it was short lived. Because the writing maybe isn’t great right now, but even during the panic I still loved my characters and my story. Even now, when the draft is done, I’m still so in love with it that I can’t wait to dive into revisions.
Writing is hard, y’all. There comes a point where it gets tough for anyone, and there comes a point when you realize that the past two pages you wrote just kinda stink. It’s easy to let that realization pull you down until writing becomes even harder…or you quit. But if you still have that love for your story, it’s easy to move past it. So when I realized that what I’d been writing smelled like a middle school locker room, I shrugged, told myself to fix it in revisions, and kept moving. Because it didn’t really matter, not much at least, when I adored the story so much still.
3. Maybe not every day.
I know, it seems crazy to not write every day when you have such an intense goal. Especially when the NaNoWriMo site breaks your goal into nice little bite-sized chunks. (1,667 words a day to hit the 50,000-word goal.) But, aside from the fact that I don’t write on Sundays for religious reasons, writing every day doesn’t work for me. I tend to really hit my stride after about forty-five minutes, and once I’ve hit that stride, I want to stick with it for a couple hours. As nice as it would be to be able to write for four hours every day, the reality just doesn’t match that. Not with a three-year-old crazy boy in the house.
(Turns out this is still true when the crazy boy is five instead of three.)
So I didn’t. My local NaNo group met every Tuesday and Thursday evening (except Thanksgiving), and Saturday mornings/afternoons. I wrote at those write-ins, and I didn’t even try the other days. That way, instead of being frustrated with my lack of productivity on a Monday evening, I got to relax and watch Castle and hit a big word count on Tuesday. I aimed for 5,000 words every Tuesday and Thursday night, and 10,000 on Saturdays. And for the most part, I hit those goals pretty easily. I think if I’d forced myself to write every day, I would have gotten frustrated and/or burned out. Resting days are wonderful.
4. Have a support group.
I have wonderful writing friends that I talk to regularly. Online. Because we live too far apart. For NaNo this year, I was able to find a group of local writers to meet with, and they have made all the difference in this journey. It is so nice to meet up with other writers, grab a few hot drinks (oh my commas, peppermint white hot chocolate will be the end of me), and set to work, together. To have people there to hear the ridiculous typos you make when they are still fresh and hilarious. Friends to cheer you on in your journey. It’s fantastic. I cherish my online writing buddies, but I hope to never ever ever be without a local group again.
5. Write for yourself.
You can revise with a mind for the market, if you want, but the first draft needs to be only for you. Nothing will stop you in your writing tracks faster than worrying about whether that chapter you just wrote will make it in NYC. To pump out the massive word counts that I did this month, I needed to be fully immersed in the story, not worried about whether it can nab an agent or publisher. Really, this is good advice for any first draft, but especially pertinent if you’re trying to fast draft.
6. Have a reward system.
Having a finished first draft is reward enough. Hahahahahah NO. Rewards are the lifeblood of my writing – as long as I have something to look forward to, I’ll keep pushing even when the doubt sets in. Our group met at a local bookstore/coffee shop. So each meeting, I’d get there early, set up my space, and go to work. Once I’d written about 2,000 words, I could go get a hot chocolate or tea. If I brought food, it wasn’t allowed out of my bag until I’d reached whatever goal I met. And this past Saturday, my last writing day of the month, the bookstore still had its Black Friday sale going on. All used books, $3 each. The cafe overlooks the Young Adult section – my favorite – with all those green Used tags staring me down. So I told myself that once I finished Someone Else’s Summer, I could wander into the book section and go a little crazy. I got my words out in record time, and then maybe bought a record number of used books. It may seem silly, a bit Pavlovian, but a reward system really, really works.
7. And so much more…
I could go on. And on and on and on. Because it seems like every time I sat down to work on this journey, I learned something new. But these are the biggies. Well, these and one more thing I’ll talk about later this week. But for now, I’m done.
*If you’re not with the lingo, that stands for National Novel Writing Month.
**Things I learned. As in, things that work for me. Because they won’t work for everyone,*** I promise.
***Case in point: I credit my intense outline with getting me through the month. Natalie Whipple credits her lack of outline with getting her through the month. Neither is wrong.