To NaNo or not to NaNo

If you’re a writer, then you’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Writers exist in a coffee-fuelled, sleep-deprived zombie-like state throughout the month of November as we attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days. That breaks down to 1667 words per day, which doesn’t actually sound that much – until you attempt it. Then, suddenly, everything from cleaning the oven to taking your dog for that long-overdue check-up becomes absolutely more doable than sitting down in the chair and facing that blank page.

This year will be my fourth NaNo. I failed miserably the first two times, not even reaching the 15k mark, but the third time’s success was so euphoric that I am now hooked for life. There’s nothing like seeing that little word count meter turn green when you finally, on the last day, crawl across the finishing line. One little word – winner – is enough to make the sleepless nights, the early mornings, and the other missed deadlines worthwhile. I did it, I’m a winner

“So what’s the secret to your NaNo success?” I hear you wonder. It’s a combination of factors, and here’s what worked for me last year:

  1. At 4:45 every morning, come rain or sunshine, I dragged my lazy ass out of bed and down to the study where I gave myself exactly until 6:00 (when it was time to get ready for work) to get 1667 words done.
  2. Because I only had an hour to write in, I needed to know exactly what I was going to write. Wasting time thinking about what happens next meant I wouldn’t be done in the allotted time, which was my only window for writing that day. So I not only needed to know where the story was going overall, but also where it was going that specific day.
  3. I made sure not to write more than 2000 words per sitting. Not only did I not have the time for more, but it also forced me to stop (sometimes mid-sentence) in the middle of the action, making it easier to continue the next day.
  4. I updated my word count on the NaNo site at the end of each session to watch my graph grow and give me a sense of achievement.

Against all expectations, this worked. I sat down and the words flowed out of me without any effort at all. Okay, sometimes there was a little effort, but generally it went pretty smoothly. Because I had the big outline to keep me going, I had the freedom to be creative with the little stuff. I now consider myself neither planner nor pantser, but a plantser instead.

There is one other factor that helped my success. The first two years I attempted writing novels, but the last year I wrote short stories, each more or less 10k words long. This meant that I was able to keep focus, because just when I hit that mark where I usually start losing interest in the whole process, my story was done and I needed to start with a new one. It worked out brilliantly.

(We won’t talk about the fact that it took me nearly a year to find the time and build up my courage to revise, edit and publish just one of those short stories!)

Is it worth doing NaNo then? For me, it totally is. Apart from the sheer joy of taking the time to write, it also gives me, an intensely introverted loner, the chance to engage with other writers. I forced myself to attend the weekly write-ins and, although they weren’t always that productive in terms of word count, they were wonderful opportunities to meet others who share my passion for writing and to hear about the stories they’re working on. There’s just something about the atmosphere of a room where a group of people are sitting in silence, typing furiously away at their keyboards while the clock counts a word sprint down, that gets the creative juices flowing.

Should you do NaNo? That’s up to you to decide, but I would definitely recommend trying it, at least once. It may not be for you, or it may turn out to be the life-changer it was for me.

Happy writing!

Have you participated in NaNo before? How did it go? Are you going to attempt this year? What are your secrets for success?

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