Surviving NaNoWriMo

March 3, 2011 § 15 Comments

I know it’s March, and emphatically not November. But regardless, some of us are WriMoing March away (and maybe April too). It’s a tall order to write several tens of thousands of words in a single 30-day period. It’s something of an endurance challenge, especially after the halfway mark. But it’s really beneficial.

Many people talk of writing a novel. Most people never actually do it. Why? Well, I’m a recent university graduate, and I know that the prospect of writing a five-thousand-word dissertation essay was enough to strike fear into the hearts of most of us (me included). How about a hundred-thousand-word piece of fiction, then? One hundred and fifty thousand words? The prospect of climbing a mountain that steep is daunting, to say the least.

And other than the horrifying workload involved, there’s also…

PERFORMANCE ANXIETY

Or fear of failure. This is what keeps you plotting and thinking and planning week after week, trying to refine your story ideas into a state of utter, beautiful perfection before you presume to write anything. Researching background info for the novel. Experimenting with characters. And so on. All of this stuff is important, but not if you do it forever. You can easily over-plan to the point where you never feel confident enough in the story to actually begin.

And if you  manage to force your way past this point, there’s the nagging doubt you feel over everything you’ve written so far. Instead of focusing on the scenes to come, you spend too much time thinking about what you’ve already written. Doubting everything you decided upon, horribly conscious of the poor prose, the inconsistencies, etc. The worst happens when you weaken to the point that you go back and start editing. Seriously bad news.

Eventually you painfully grind out a few chapters and lose heart. And there it lies forever: reduced to nothing but evidence of your inability to write a novel.

Quite a tale of woe. Anyway, having gone through much this process with  my first attempt at a novel, I decided to apply the general policy of NaNoWriMo to my second attempt, and that is: simply to write. It doesn’t matter how good it is: no first draft is perfect. It can be fixed later. I managed 35k in two months. Huzzah!

Now it’s time to turn up the pressure and impose a time limit. First goal: 30k in March. That works out to about 1000 words per day. If all goes well, I’ll keep it up through April and maybe up the target to 40k. We’ll see.

Company always helps, so I’m happy to be doing this alongside Andy from Sfad and Sara from Sara D vs. Reality. If anyone else is looking for a bit of encouragement, help and general motivation while you chase your writegoal, feel free to join in!

Here are the two immutable laws of NaNoWriMo from my experience so far.

One:

It’s okay to be crap.

No, really. I know it’s hard to accept. Your first draft will be riddled with flaws: it’s inevitable. Even if you have a meticulous, perfectly constructed plan, there’ll be things you’ll run into as you write that don’t work out as you expected. So throw it to the winds and just get the words down. If you’ve got even a vague idea for the next scene, don’t obsess over it: write it. A flawed but complete first draft is infinitely more valuable and useful to you than three perfect chapters.

Two:

DO NOT go back and read your work – not until you reach THE END of your draft.

Because while Rule One is absolutely true, it’s very hard to stand by it when you’re actually face to face with your own rubbish prose. You can lose heart very easily, and there goes your motivation to keep going. Don’t touch a word of it until you’ve got everything down! Then you can edit as much as you like. If you think of something you want or need to change, don’t go back and fix it immediately – leave yourself a note in the text to remind you later on.

If you’ve never yet written a complete novel (like me), then the most important thing to do first is to prove that you are capable of doing it. And we can, we just need to stop sabotaging ourselves with anxiety. Nor is it problem-free when you come to the second, or third long, long piece of work. Motivation’s an elusive beast and it needs coaxing, feeding with cookies and, if it comes to it, beating with a wet fish until it does as required (and that’s NaNoWriMo).

So: onward! Good luck to my fellow WriMoers: I look forward to hearing about your progress and to lamenting celebrating my own in due course.

Here is a cookie to get you started.

Cookies for being good.

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§ 15 Responses to Surviving NaNoWriMo

  • I’m sticking to my 192 words a day this year and see if that works. A novel a year is better than half a novel in a month and then nothing else 🙂

    Las time I did nanowrimo I got about 20K words of a YA novel down, and most of it is pretty usable, so I hope to pick it up again at some point.

    PS. Preferred the old blog layout – this one’s a bit … narrow …

    • Charlotte says:

      That’s a good point, indeed. In fact I chose a 30k goal for this month instead of the traditional 50k because I don’t want to end the month feeling so tired of working on my novel that I can’t stand to do any more of it. Overkill is definitely something to be careful of if the goal is to reach the end! 192 words a day seems a good steady pace (interesting choice of number?).

      About the blog layout, hm. I’m still searching for the optimum theme. I’ll give a few more a trial run, perhaps!

  • saradeurell says:

    “A flawed but complete first draft is infinitely more valuable and useful to you than three perfect chapters.” – YES!!!

    And also yes, it doesn’t get any easier with the second novel. 🙂 I’m having a much much harder time with this novel than I did my first one. Some of that is just how complicated this plot is, whereas my first novel was very straightforward, but it’s also just plain old lack of motivation some days.

    Good post – just what I needed today! Thank you!

    • Charlotte says:

      Ahhh raising the bar… I can imagine the temptation to do that right after the first novel (come up with a more complicated plot). It’s a great challenge but, no doubt, rather intense. Thanks for reading today – I hope our mini NaNoWriMo is a great help!

  • Ellie says:

    Stick with it! – Jealous I cant join you….I am one of those students still with 36,000 words to complete by May!!

  • aarongraham says:

    Wow…my head is still spinning from the rule of not being able to edit until the end. I think I would go insane and begin to attempt the first self-inflicted lobotomy with a chocolate fondue fork.

    My personal rule that worked for me was a dicipline of waking up every morning at 5:00 AM and writing for two hours before work.

    I’m glad I met you and I”m excited for your book to come out!

    • Charlotte says:

      Ha. Who knew that chocolate fondue forks could be so dangerous?! I’ve just taken the precaution of locking mine away in a chest in the attic and swallowing the key, just in case.

      I admire your discipline, in that case, because a morning person I am not. I think I’d rather attempt lobotomy with a chocolate fondue fork than wake up at 5am every day. Pathetic, isn’t it? I guess it’s true that everyone has a different way of doing these things, and the tricky part is just to find the best one for you.

      And thanks! Looking forward to seeing more from your blog.

  • I wonder if Tolstoy or David Foster Wallace ever gave themselves word counts…or James Joyce!? Everything about the writing process is fascinating.

    • Charlotte says:

      Good point. In fact continuing with that line of thought, computers are so convenient for the writing process that I sometimes wonder how some of these great classic authors managed with only a pen and no other option. Word count is a more convenient way to do it when the computer totals it up instantly for you. Maybe they did pages, or just X number of writing hours per day?

  • Dieannah says:

    It’s okay to be crap.
    Wow that’s a relief. I’m just getting started and already feeling the extra weight on my shoulders. Reading this, I’ve decided to enforce a few rules and create goals for my project to keep me on track.
    Rule #1: Do not go back and read your work until you reach the end.
    Great post – and a cookie – Thanks

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Dieannah, thanks for the comment.

      Actually I’m really glad you brought that up because I realise I’ve been slipping back into the attitude of thinking I need it to be really great the first time round. Unsurprisingly my pace has slowed considerably… I think I will hang the words ‘It’s okay to be crap’ in big, red letters over my desk.

      Glad you found the rather simplistic ‘rules’ helpful! Hope they work for you as well.

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