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3 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Another November, another NaNoWriMo complete! For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo means “National Novel Writing Month”, although it’s actually international now and it covers a lot more than novels. It’s for writers anywhere to commit to parking their butts and hammering out some words. The standard commitment is 50,000 words of new material in the month of November, although people use it for lots of reasons: to write a screenplay, to revise an existing work, to blog more frequently… I personally did 50,000 words on my new novel “A Jazzman Sang the Death of Stars”, and so I definitely failed on the “blog more” category.

This was my first time doing NaNoWriMo while also holding down a full-time job, and let me tell you, it’s a different experience. So let me share with you three things I learned from this NaNoWriMo.

1) I REALLY couldn’t edit along the way.

People will say “turn off your internal editor” when you write your first draft, and while there is some truth to that, like most ‘rules’ of writing, your mileage may vary. Personally, I would often edit as I wrote, and it worked fine for me. But this time, I wanted to make my daily word count while doing my job, commuting to and from work, and trying to have something approaching a life at some point, such as being able to talk to my wife when she got home from work. So I wrote in the morning before we left for work, usually getting about 500 words or so in the half hour I had at about six in the morning. I wrote for about 15 minutes at lunch time, getting in another couple of hundred words. Also, I owe at least six thousand words or so to my cat George, who likes to wake me up at about 4AM. Usually I go back to sleep, but sometimes during November I’d get up and write. Not great for my sleep, but good for the word count. I’ll let you know when I re-read the draft whether those words were any good, though.

2) It’s harder to get into it.

The biggest luxury of having time to focus on writing isn’t the time to hit keys. It’s the time to think. It’s the time to daydream of your characters, their situations, to explore music or movies or games or other books for inspiration, to just stare at clouds and let your imagination fly away. In this case, my imagination was a cart horse rather than an eagle. When I’m at my job, it was in the stable, or at least doing other jobs for my employer. And when it was time to write, it was time! Hitch it up, load the cart, let’s go! Sometimes it galloped. Sometimes, I stood in front of it and fed it carrots, tried to convince it to go. Meanwhile my mind tried not to notice either the time flying by or my words-per-minute count resembling the gas mileage of a Sherman Tank going up Everest.

3) Being fair helps, at least for me.

When I was writing full-time, I’d have some days when I’d do 5000 or 8000 words, even more, and there were others when I’d do nothing. However, I knew there weren’t going to be 8000+ word days, so I made a deal with myself. If I did 1667 words per day, and no less, I wouldn’t push myself to do massive amounts more. I wouldn’t burn through all of Sunday writing thousands upon thousands of words, and end up leaving myself mentally exhausted come Monday, when the alarm would go at 5:30AM (or George would at 4!) If my job was mindless, it might be different, but it isn’t; I work in Marketing and Communications for a massive company, so my job is creative a lot of the time and frequently itself involves writing. Starting Monday completely cooked wasn’t going to be good for the job or the novel. So I stuck to my deal. There was one exception; November 11 is Remembrance Day and also the anniversary of my friend’s death, so on that day I “cashed in” the days where I’d written 1720 or 1810 words. I only wrote about 400, and I was still making the 1667 average that would hit 50K at the end of the month. But other than that, I pretty much stuck to around 1700 a day.

So that’s what I learned. The other things, like writing is fun and hard and brutal and exhausting and amazing? Yeah, I knew that stuff already!


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