What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for several years now, and “won” all but one of them. And every year I come away with a new understanding of myself, my writing, or something else.

This year was unlike any year in the past. The words came easily most days. I would sit down at my computer, spill out my two thousand words for the day in an hour or two, and then walk away to do something else. Play games. Watch TV. Go out with my boyfriend. This year, for the very first time, it is December and I am not burned out from writing.

 

wordsHere is December for the last two years. See how, after I write 50,000 words in November, the numbers are almost non existent? Many days with no writing, and on the few days I did write I didn’t write much.

I always thought this was the cost of NaNoWriMo… the December burn out. I thought that because I wrote so much in November my brain needed a rest. But no… this was the cost of not making writing a habit.

 

Think of it like swimming. If you are not a swimmer, and usually just dip your toe in the water, then take a day to swim across a lake, you’re going to be tired the next day. You might even fail in your swimming and drown on the way across the lake. If your only a part time swimmer then you’ll have a good chance of getting across the lake, but you’ll feel like “I’ve done my swimming for the month” and thew next month you probably won’t swim much.

But if you swim all the time, and your body and mind are focused on swimming, then you’ll just keep swimming. Swam across the lake yesterday? Okay, what about today. That was yesterday, this is today, I need to swim today.

Writing is something I do, almost every day now, and I am not slowing down because I swam across the lake last month. I feel like 1500 words a day is a great place to start, 2000 on days when I’m pushing myself. That’s another 45,000 words a month, every month. I’ll be happy with 30k for a while. But that is more than I’ve ever written in a month outside of NaNoWriMo before. And yet… it seems right to me.

Something’s changed in the way I think about writing. It’s taken a few years, and lots of encouragement from those around me. But I feel like a writer now. Like I’m incomplete if I haven’t written something for the day. And that attitude shift…THAT is everything. That is something HUGE and I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the next year.

Don’t give up!

It’s nearing the end of NaNoWriMo. Just five days left, and I have 9300 words to go. That’s less then 2k a day. I got this!

But it also means that I’ve been really hard at work, and sometimes when I sit down at the computer I fumble through about three hundred words (words that I will just be throwing out) before I can actually get anything good down.

On one hand this is good. It clears my mind and gets me back into the writing motions. I’m okay with that. And the fact that I can recognize good writing from bad writing so fast, and still realize that I need to get it out before I can go back and fix it, means I’ve improved dramatically over the last few  years.

On the other… I have to throw out a bunch of words I just wrote. It sucks, however you look at it. Every once in a while you’ll see a tweet from me (if you’re following my twitter) where I say “just wrote 600 words and threw out 600 words. A day in the life of a writer.” And it’s true! Some days you have a bunch of drek to throw out before you can get to the good stuff.

But that’s okay. EVERYONE has those days. We all have a day where we don’t feel good, or we don’t feel like being creative, or efficient, or even getting out of bed. Sometimes we even give into those feelings. It’s okay, it’s normal. As long as the job still gets done.

I’m starting to think of writing as a job more and more. A job I love, but a job just the same. One in which you still have to show up and do the work every day or you don’t get paid. It’s not a hobby anymore, it’s something I need in my life, and I keep doing. Even on days when it’s tough. Even when the ‘muse’ must be tied up to the chair and force fed coffee to get her butt in gear.

So don’t give up. I know it can be tough sometimes, but don’t give up.

Getting started is the hard part

Yesterday I wrote 1200 words just before bed. It took me about an hour and a half to churn it all out. I went to bed feeling a little giddy with how quickly the words flowed out.

Today? I sat down at the keyboard and looked at the words and my mind went blank.

I think starting is the hardest part. Once you get moving your mind just tends to flow. The words come, even if they are terrible words, and you eventually find yourself with a chapter. Then another chapter.

That’s the problem tonight. I chose a particularly tough chapter to write and my mind just kind of balked because I knew that every word I put down was terrible and would have to be rewritten. But that’s the purpose of NaNoWriMo. You just put down the words and don’t worry about them. Come back later and polish them up, or throw them out and rewrite it. I’m not very good at that, I like to get the words (mostly) write the first time and when I know I’m having difficulty with a particular scene or chapter my fingers just don’t want to go.

I suppose this is just another one of those learning experiences I need. Get the words down, and come back for them later.

Now to write.

The Half Way Point

It’s day 18 of NaNoWriMo and a little over half way through the month. I’m currently at 25,800 words. Just slightly over half the 50k. And at this point I know I can make it, I’m actually farther ahead then I’ve been most years. But I am behind. Partly because of a huge storm that knocked out power for a day and a half. But the rest is all me.

Every year I do NaNoWriMo for the words, but mostly to learn something about myself, and writing in general. The last couple of days I learned that I have created a pattern for myself to write, and that if I’m knocked out of that pattern it’s really hard for me to get back on track. This is a good thing in that with a pattern I am able to sit down and write more. It’s a bad thing because you can’t always perform the same ritual every time you sit down to do something and that shouldn’t stop you from doing it.

My ritual: Sit down at the computer, put on my headphones, turn on some chillstep, and open scrivener. The chillstep playlists I use don’t have words, and I’ve listened to them so many time that I can tune them out, but they also help me block out everything going on behind me. I write in the living room, so there are children on the TV, Gregg at his leather working station, and a general hubbub going on most of the time. Even when I write in other locations I will use my phone to play some chillstep while I write. The music gets me in the mood. (I highly suggest getting a musical soundtrack to anyone who wants writing to be a habit. You just have to find the one that suits you.)

The storm came through and power went out. I sat at work slowly watching the sun sink, the office getting darker and darker. About thirty minutes before the sun set completely the one loan emergency light in the office also died. The battery is only suppose to last long enough to get people out of the building, and no longer.

My co-worker and I had only one little flash light. My phone was on it’s last bit of juice so I couldn’t even use it as a flash light. I did manage to sneak out and get a couple candles, but two loan candles don’t really light up an office much.

When I got home to a dark house with no TV, no computer, and no chillstep, writing seemed the last of my worries. It’s amazing how much the lack of light really bothers a person after a while. At least it bothered me. We lit a bunch of candles, and started a fire, but after a while of sitting in the dark not even reading my kindles was enough to distract myself from the utter quiet.

I think that was the worst part. The realization that lack of sound really bothers me. Odd since I work in an office by myself and there is no sound except the near constant vehicles driving by outside for 80% of the time. Even odder since I spent most of my life separated from the rest of the world, with no sounds other than the wind whispering though the trees, and birds singing from the branches. I lived on a farm well before Pandora, MP3’s or even Walkman’s. Music was a luxury, not an expectation.

I like to think that half the reason I like noise when I get home is simply because I just spent eight hours in an office that was extremely quiet. It’s good to have some noise to remind me that I’m not alone. I have always associated noise with my children and SO being there in the house with me. When I went to bed alone I always slept better if I could hear the video game playing in the background because I knew where my husband was. Now it’s the soft “tap tap tap” of Gregg punching designs into leather. Noise reassures me because I know where my family is, and that everyone is safe. And I’m not alone.

So last night I tried to write. I pulled out a notebook, not unlike all the spiral binders I have tucked away in my closet with thousands of words written on them, and tried to write. I scratched out a couple of ideas, wrote down the names of a few characters and…nothing. No more then twenty words and my mind just kept focusing on the quiet. The emptiness. The darkness.

I had to get out of the house last night. We went to the supermarket and had some deli food, sititng in the little food court with a bunch of college students charging laptops and phones since the campus was out of power. The noise, light, and people made me feel better. But I still didn’t get any writing done last night.

So it’s the next day. The power came back about 1pm today, and I have my music and my computer. My family is behind me doing their individual things, and my music is half drowning them out.

So why is it so hard to write today? It’s a good question. Gregg said to stop focusing on the fact that I’m 4000 words behind, and just focus on the next 200. That’s doable, right?

200 words, here I come.

A warm up

It’s day five of NaNoWriMo and I am at 5716 words. That means I need to write 2600 words today (and this blog post doesn’t count.) Can I do it? I’m hoping for another 1000 words tonight honestly.

So why am I here, on a blog, instead of over in my scrivener writing my novel? Because I find it cathartic to clear my mind and talk to everyone before I go rushing off to write sometimes.

So what’s happening, besides NaNoWriMo? Gregg is finishing new leather projects and starting to take commissions. He’s finishing his second one tonight for a wallet with a radiation symbol on the front. It looks pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

I just got my Made By Mommy craft challenge box, and that’s due by the 24th of this month (am I crazy? I didn’t realize it was due so soon. I’m NUTS!) But I have a couple ideas and might work on those tomorrow in between word sprints.

And I haven’t done the Tuesday Talks or Wednesday top five this week because of NaNoWriMo. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be able to do them this month because I am making writing a priority.

It’s been a great month, and I’m so happy with how much I’ve already gotten done in a week. I’m excited to see how far I can take this.

PS I’m a 6400 words now, and I have tomorrow to get in another 3000 words. I think I can handle that.

Recharging

IMAG0710Yesterday was an amazing day. I had such a wonderful time at Cirque du Soleil. Absolutely wonderful, breathtaking work. (Click the picture to go to the album of photos I took.)

So, today…. I rested. I sat back, listened to podcasts, played some games, and did nothing at all. Yesterday was amazing, today was good. Tomorrow… back to work I go so I’m recharging my batteries as much as possible today.

But it did get me to thinking, I wrote about taking time to enjoy the little things (or was that in a vlog?) like making cute little craft items. I also think you should take time to recharge and relax. Write every day if you can, but don’t be afraid to take a day or two off now and then. Relaxing for me is hiding behind shut doors, sitting around the house in PJs and just sipping hot tea. Maybe for you it’s a party, or a hike through the woods. Maybe it’s sitting beside a quiet lake in the sunshine enjoying a fantastic book.

Whatever it is, go do it. Relax, enjoy, recharge, and get back to the words tomorrow. You’re fingers, and your mind, will thank you for it.

Aaaaand DONE!

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileI finished writing 50,023 words for my book, “Mermaid’s Curse” at 8:35 am the morning of Nov 30th. I am kind of shocked that I was able to finish so early. Not only that, but I only had 1300 words to write that morning.

Every year that I’ve done NaNoWriMo before I’ve been faced with the last day rush to get words. 8000 one year, 10000 another. It got to the point where I just threw words at the page hoping to see what stuck later in editing, and most of it was terrible.

First drafts are suppose to be terrible. But it isn’t always good to feel like nothing you write has any value except words on a page either. When you’re so tired you are holding your eyes open with toothpicks, and your back and neck hurt from all the typing, all you want to do is curl into bed and sleep, that’s when your writing suffers the most.

So, this year I’m going to share what made a real difference. Why did this year feel different from every other year? And why doesn’t it feel like I am so exhausted and sick of writing that I can’t pick up the keyboard this month?

Practice and Reality

dataFor the last two years I’ve been trying to write every day. That hasn’t always worked. I could give you lots of excuses as to why this hasn’t always worked, and of course there are days when things came up, or I was sick, or there was a lot going on… But the truth is most of the days I failed to write I just didn’t feel like writing. I was lazy. I didn’t take my writing seriously enough.

In October, for the first time, I actually started realizing how important writing was to me. I wrote a bit about this earlier this month, and the two things that really seemed to help. This was my reality check. I had to decide this thing, this writing, was important to me. More important than the job I go to 5 days of the week. More important than video games, or board games, or long soaks in the tub. (not that I can give up or stop doing all of those things, just that I had to decide what was more important.)

Once I got the reality check I started practicing writing every day in earnest. That meant that when NaNoWriMo came along I was willing and able to take up my own challenge and slay some writers block demons. And do so with excitement because “This was my story, and I loved it, and I wanted to see it finished!”

Be prepared for distraction

Things will get in the way. My daughter made an unexpected trip home. There was Thanksgiving, and a day where I felt sick. I had a day when I was literally so exhausted I almost feel asleep at the keyboard.

These things are going to happen. Prepare for them. I did this by always striving for 2k a day from day one. I wrote 2k a day more than half of the month. That’s what allowed me to finish NaNoWriMo that morning without stressing over it. I only had 1300 words and two hours before work. No problem because I had already been putting in 2k a day most of the month. This morning it was just the pure excitement of “OMG I’M ALMOST DONE” that got me to do it so quickly.

Listen to your body

I had a few days where I couldn’t quite reach 2k for the day because I was so tired. Being tired does not help your writing. When I was exhausted I tended to write much slower, and the words I wrote were far more likely to be deleted the next day. The next morning I still had work, and I was still exhausted. When I got home that night I would get to write and find myself doing even worse than the day before.

About a week in I decided that I wasn’t going to play that merry game of chasing my tail anymore. Nope, time to listen to my body. My body said sleep, I was going to sleep, darn it, and forget about writing that day. Each time I got to about 400-500 words and started feeling my eyes start to droop I’d close the programs, turn off the PC, and go to bed. The next day I would almost always manage to get 2.5k words out in a few hours.

Small Steps

I also talked a bit here about how I would listen when my brain started to wander and then I’d go do something else. After a bit I’d come back and write some more.

I’ve learned that I can do about 500 words in thirty minutes. Then after a short break I could come back and do it all over again. Four thirty minute sessions got me the 2k words I wanted for the day.

They are small steps, each step carving out a little more of the story, sharing it. And adding it to the already piled up masses of FINISHED chapters.

Take Joy in Small Accomplishments

About a week and a half from the end of NaNoWriMo I started to have a few new challenges. I was getting to the point where I had lots of words, but nothing finished. The chapters were in pieces, with lots of connecting sentences that read “and they did this and this until this happened” before going on to the next scene that I had been able to write. I needed to finish those connecting pieces so that I had a complete chapter.

So I got out my scrivener file and I just sat down and started on page one. Working my way down the page I filled in all those little pieces, and after half an hour I had a finished chapter. I added a little asterisk to the title of that chapter and went onto the next chapter.

After a couple of days the asterisks started adding up. I am done with the first twelve chapters of Mermaid’s Curse 3, and the rest of them are mostly finished. Each time I added that asterisk that said “this is done, it just needs and edit” I felt buoyed and wanted to keep going. It was awesome.

Take joy in the small accomplishments, because they eventually add up.

I have about 15,000 words to go to complete this novel, and then I will have a completed trilogy to send off to the editor. I think I’m incredibly excited! NaNoWriMo was a success for me!

NaNoWriMo

I wrote about my strategy to pay attention to my bodies desires and write for a bit, get up and move around, then write some more. It was a fantastic plan, and I’ve been doing it regularly. The trouble is that things get in the way sometimes. I still have to write, of course, but those things make following my bodies natural rhythms difficult.

SLEEP

I haven’t been getting much. Plain and simple, I just am not right now. Part of this is that my boyfriend moved in, and our work schedules do not synced up very well. I tend to like writing at night after the house has settle down, usually from 10pm to 1am. He wakes up at 5:30am. This throws my sleep scheduled off a lot since I have difficulty going back to sleep afterward.

It’s okay for a while, but I’ve been finding myself taking naps after work lately just to make it through the night. The nice part is that his schedule will change soon and hopefully I’ll be getting more sleep.

Worse? Both of us have been working massive amounts of overtime at our respective jobs. This has left me less down time to just relax and have time to myself, especially since the one day a week I have off is devoted to dentist appointments, shopping, and other necessities of living. I’m tired. I’m writing anyway.

Family Obligations

A while ago I wrote about my daughter coming home and having to go pick her up from the bus. This was a huge sap on my writing schedule and I have been struggling to catch up ever since. I’ve written 2000 words on a lot of those days since then, but with the lack of sleep, and a few other things going on I just haven’t caught up. I’m currently 4k behind and it’s looking like I’m going to stay hovering at 3-4k behind till the very last day.

BUT!

dataagainNaNoWriMo, for me, is a learning experience each year. This year I’ve learned that writing 1500 words a day isn’t difficult, and I’m hoping to stay at that level even after NaNoWriMo is over. What really is amazing to me is that over the last twenty two days I’ve had four days of less then 1000 words. FOUR DAYS! That’s kind of amazing for me. And on those days I still wrote almost 500 words most days. That is extremely different for me and incredible in and of itself.

Before this month my average for writing was 3-500 words. That’s it. Some days less, some days more, but never enough to make me feel like writing could be a full time career. A writer needs to do one thing above all others: write. If you aren’t writing then how can you make a living writing? Does a swimmer swim? Does a musician play an instrument? If they aren’t doing that thing then how do they make the money?

So the fact that my writing has increased steadily, and that I now feel comfortable, almost elated to have so many words a day, is fantastic. I know that when I switch over to doing edits that word count is going to drop, but hopefully I can work on a project in the evenings and edit in the mornings. I’m not quite sure about that one yet, but I’ll have a perfect opportunity to find out after NaNoWriMo, and book three of my trilogy is complete.

No you can not write!

keep-calm-because-stuff-happensWe make plans. Then something happens. That’s life.

Last night I got a surprise call from my daughter. “I’m coming home mom. They shut down school because of a big blizzard coming through and sent us home. Come pick me up at the bus station”… at 10 pm.

Bus was an hour late late. Drive was 45 min each way.

I did manage to write 500 words yesterday, but as of this moment I am 3866 words behind. That’s 15.5 pages.

Can I write that much in a day? Probably not. I’ve got things to do today. But I will be working really hard over the next few days to catch back up to the daily goal so that I don’t have to write 10k words in one day at the end of NaNoWriMo.

So what did we learn? If you’ve got to sit at the bus station waiting for your daughter for an hour maybe you should bring a way to write for a little bit, even if it’s on your phone. I wasn’t prepared to do that.

Also, stuff happens. No matter how much you plan, how well things are going, stuff is going to come up. It’s going to side track you and throw you off. But you just keep plowing threw.

NaNoWriMo day 3

I can’t believe how well it’s going, and yet I don’t want to jinx it. It’s only day three, but I’m on target, and feeling good about this novel.

My secret? The best plot ever!

Plot it out!
I’ve always been more of a pantser then a plotter, but this time I did some really thorough beats. I was influenced by the guys over at SPP who showed how they did beats, and put out a TON of wordage every month. I want that wordage! So I beat out the story, since I already had a basic plot, and gave myself a more complete skeleton on which to work my writing magic. The results? Two hours. TWO HOURS of writing gives me my word count for the day. There is no fuss, no muss, and then I can spend the evening cuddling on the couch with my boyfriend. THAT makes plotting worth it.

EXCITEMENT!
I just finished Mermaid’s Curse 1 last week, so I had a bit of excitement left over from finishing that project. Then I finished a really fantastic plot for book three (kind of Lovecraft meets high fantasy) and I just loved it. The plot got me excited, and if I’m excited I’m more confidant that a reader will love it too.

Write what you love, people. Don’t just write whatever comes to mind. You love dinosaurs? Write about them. You love romance? Write that. You love tanks and battle fields? Write that! Whatever it is you absolutely love use that as part of your story and that love will come through.

Time
Time is a huge thing for me. In order to really get into the groove of writing I need an hour, at least, to get fully into it. That means no children waiting to distract me, no games, no email, no TV shows. Just me, the headphones, and some chillstep playing in the background on loop. I even listen to the same exact video on youtube every time I start writing because it just tells my body: okay, time to get down to business.

Time is sometimes the hardest thing to get when you’re writing. Some of our friends and family just don’t get why why are doing NaNo, or why we even care about writing in the first place. Some of our friends don’t even read (why are you friends with people who don’t read? kidding!). But we have to be firm, and unrepentant. This is important to us, for whatever reason, and it isn’t fair of them to try to take it away. How would they feel if we got in the way of their hobby/craft/work/etc?

In the zone!
This last one… The “zone” is not a muse waiting to give you her affection when she feels like it. No, the zone is a place you figure out how to get into, and then you do the same thing to get into it every time.

A runner who does marathons trains for months, if not years, until he finally slips into a ground eating rhythm that lets him run, and FINISH, a marathon. A singer trains their voice for years so that they can hold and sustain notes, sing at a consistent level, and perform in front of crowds for hours. Whatever the craft, these things take practice. It takes training the mind and body to do these things, and do them consistently. Why would writing be any different.

I found the things that made writing easier for me (writing at night, listening to chillstep, uninterrupted) and did them over and over and over while writing. It’s taken a year, but I finally feel like I could sit down and write just by setting aside that block of time, turning on my music, and going over yesterdays writing till something strikes.

It’s the consistent pattern, the butt in chair time, that make the zone, or the muse come to you instead of waiting for them to appear from thin air.

I really believe that if you can figure out what inspires you to write, and do them consistently over a long period of time, then you will be able to consistently write more and more.