For those of you that weren’t awake last night to hear the news: I have officially won NaNoWrimo 2017!!
This is an especially huge achievement for me, as it is the first NaNoWriMo I have ever entered. Also, because the beginning of this month was one of the scariest and most hellish weeks I’ve had in quite some time. In October, I was so confident that I’d win NaNo this year. Throughout the first week of November, when I had written exactly 0 words, I got worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Well, suck it, Universe. I won!
Now that the initial excitement has worn off and I have some time to reflect, I’d like to write an article about my experience with NaNoWriMo. This article is for a wide audience. People that won and want to compare stories; people that didn’t participate because of whatever reason; people that have never participated and want to know what it’s like; and people that just want to know what my experience was like. I’m sure there are more people that this article will help, and I hope to do my best in being comprehensive and enlightening.
I’ll mention briefly that I wrote a series called “PlaNoWriMo”, of four parts. I’ll link the fourth one here. The links to the first three can be found at the top of the first. If you’d like to see what my NaNo experience was like from the early planning stages, that’s the place to start! (LINK!)
Now, then… let’s get into the meat of it! (Or vegetable-based imitation: I’m a vegan, after all.)
What I Learned
1. Kill the Editor/Get Sloppy
We all have an internal editor that criticizes what we write. After all, we’re artists, and artists naturally tend to be overly self-critical. While that editor can be extremely useful in the editing process, it isn’t at all useful in the first draft. I learned to simply ignore that nagging voice that says, “This isn’t good enough.” Did I know that the words I was putting down were more akin to a garbage fire than literary genius? Absolutely. But, I can edit a garbage fire. I can’t edit words that don’t exist. Don’t worry about how awful that first draft seems. I promise: when you finally write The End and have a complete manuscript under you, you won’t care at all.
2. Starting is Hard—But Necessary
When you’re doing something hard (and writing a novel is hard), getting started is always the toughest part. Think going to the gym or taking a core class you hate. Typically, you want to reap the benefits without having to do any work. It’s only after you get started that you realize it’s easier than you thought. Writing a novel is exactly like that. Breaking it down, you could even say that writing every day is exactly like that. It isn’t always easy to sit your butt in the chair and start hammering away at the keys. But, by doing just that, the mind will shift gears and the words will start to flow more easily. All bodybuilders had to struggle with those first days in the gym. All master pianists had to practice their scales, even when they knew they sounded like crap. Novelists are the exact same way.
3. Set Realistic Goals/Respect Your Limits
Because of life stuff, I didn’t write a single word for the first week of NaNo. It terrified me. So, when I finally got to a position that allowed me to write, I wanted to make up for what I’d missed. Originally, I tried to push myself to do 10k a day during catch-up. I lowered that number to 5k when I found it difficult to reach that goal. I lowered that number too. I learned my limits, and I adapted to meet the goal. It’s okay to want to push yourself, but not at the expense of your sanity or your health. Do what you can do, and then try to do a tiny bit more every day. This method helped me achieve my overall goal: winning NaNoWriMo. I think that’s because I didn’t get too caught up in the little failures. That brings me to…
4. Keep the End in Sight
My goal for this November was clear: win NaNoWrimo/write 50k. I kept that goal in the back of my mind all the time. I didn’t let it take over everything in my life, mind you. But, when I sat down to write, I reminded myself why I was subjecting myself to such difficulty every night. My purpose was not to write every single day until my fingers bled. My purpose was to win. If that meant I needed to rest, then I rested. If that meant I needed to go a little harder than normal, that’s what I did. It was all about accomplishing the overall goal. I figure it’s the same as running a marathon. The goal is to finish. Do what you gotta do to accomplish that goal, but don’t kill yourself trying.
5. Praise Your Successes, Learn From Failures
I rewarded myself every night I accomplished the daily goal. Usually, it was with something little. A tiny celebration, just to remind myself that I am awesome and am accomplishing something I’ve always wanted. It didn’t have to be much. Sometimes, it was as simple as praising my own success on a post. (Sometimes, it was devouring an entire pumpkin pie.) When I didn’t meet the goal, I tried to figure out why that was. Was I too tired? Was I writing a scene I wasn’t excited about? Was I being too critical of myself? By learning from my failures, I was able to adopt strategies to mitigate them.
6. Listen to the Experts… Later
Most importantly, I learned to completely and totally ignore the advice of experts while I was writing. My story didn’t care about the most effective means of characterization. It wasn’t interested in the acoustics of prose or the importance of sense details. It just wanted to be written. Beginning to end. So, that’s what I did. Sure, there’s lots of things that I need to fix. There are tons of plot holes that need correcting. There are characters that jumped in out of nowhere and stole the show. There were whole chapters devoted to things I hadn’t even considered in my outline. And those experiences immersed me. They brought me into the world and made me look around. They fascinated me. Will I keep all these little quirks? Hell no. But, I had a hell of a time, and I know more about my process now. I also know more about the story itself—what’s important, and what’s not.
So, what do you do when your first draft is written? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, as every writer’s process is different. For me, I’m going to let the story chill for a while and work on some non-related stuff. It’ll give me a good break from the world of Reclamation so that I can enter the editing process with fresh eyes. I’m thinking I’m going to work on a blog backlog and do some prep work for the next novel in line.
Now comes the part of writing that I think will be the hardest: turning a garbage fire into a light show. The draft I currently have is rough, but there are lots of cool moments in it. As I go through my edit, I’ll be looking for ways I can strengthen those moments. Maybe a character death could be a little more powerful with some extra chapters meant to make the reader love that character. Maybe some worldbuilding stuff can get cleaned up or expounded upon in interesting ways. Maybe a conversation could happen in a more interesting place.
My first goal is to read through the novel from start to finish and simply take notes on what I find. I’m betting that a lot of things will jump out at me. I’m not going to concern myself with pretty prose or fancy words. Right now, my story is a bunch of bones that will ultimately form a strong skeleton. After the second pass establishes a sturdy structure, I can use the third to put some meat on the bones. Finally, during the fourth (and hopefully final) pass, I can pretty up the whole thing with some nice clothes and a fine haircut.
The most important part of being an artist—especially, an author—is to be humble. As much as I want to believe my story is the next great science fiction hit of the 21st century, it needs a lot of love before it can get to that point. There’s still a lot of work to do.
To those of you who didn’t win NaNo: don’t you worry! (As of this posting, you still have three days. So get to work.) If you’re reading this after November and you still haven’t won: try not to be too hard on yourself. You wrote words! That’s more than most people can say. Most people just want to write a book someday. You’re on the path to actually doing it! Set a goal to finish your 50k by year’s end. Push it further out if you don’t accomplish that one. The point is to write a novel—it doesn’t matter how long it takes.
To those of you who didn’t participate for whatever reason: don’t let life get in the way! There are plenty of professional authors out there who still work grueling 9—5’s, who take care of lots of children, and who have a hectic social life. You can do it. I waited for years to try NaNoWriMo because I was worried I wouldn’t complete it. Guess what? I did it on my first try. It is possible. And, you don’t have to wait until November to try! Make your own challenge month! Fit it into your schedule! You can do it!
I have lots of people to thank for helping me get to this point, so I’m just going to get right into it.
@whiterhinodiary for pushing me to keep going even when I just wanted to be lazy. You never let me ignore my responsibility, and you never let me get down on myself. I won NaNoWriMo in part because I kick ass at writing, but also in part because you kept reminding me of that. Thank you for all the times you made dinner so that I could keep writing. Thank you for all the cuddles you gave me when I met my goals (and when I didn’t). Thank you for being interested in my process. Thank you for always saying “You’re out of excuses—now go write!” (It’s the tag line of my favorite writing podcast, Writing Excuses.) Most of all, thank you for loving me. You are a blessing, babe. I love you so much.
@withering-wildflowers for cheering me on every step of the way! You’ve been excited about this story since I first started posting about it, and I’m so glad to have finished it for you! You asked when it’ll be ready: probably within a few months, after I’ve finished some major revisions. Keep reading to the bottom for a special announcement regarding that particular situation.
@stacywrites for constantly reminding me that I’m awesome and that I can win! You’re so amazing! Also, a double thank you for posting your own progress. It inspired me to keep going! You said you were really close to winning this year. I know that you can! You’re a great writer, and I have every confidence that you’ll reach your goals!
@frei-rancken for reblogging almost every single update I made during the month of November. Dude! Super awesome of you! Thanks to you, I gained even more followers that were interested in my writing, and that meant even more people that were cheering me on. You were a major influence in keeping me going! Thank you for your compliments on my writing, and thank you so much for the support. You’re so awesome!
To anyone else who reblogged my updates, encouraged me, or just plain cheered me on… thank you so much! It’s because of you guys that I was able to achieve this incredible life goal, and I’m so excited that I didn’t let you guys down. I know none of you would have really been disappointed if I didn’t win, but it feels really good to know that I can dedicate a finished book to you all!
A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT—CALLING ALPHA READERS!!
Did you like the excerpts I posted throughout November and want to read the whole story? Well, here’s your chance! I’m looking for ten dedicated readers to help me refine the novel and make it amazing! I’ve given myself to the end of January to complete the second major pass of the novel, meaning it’ll be in its third draft by 1 February 2017. If you’re interested in helping me by reading the whole story and providing your feedback, I’d love to have you! I’m looking to ultimately publish this book, so I need serious readers who are willing to invest real time and energy into this project. The more comments I receive: the better! I’m especially interested in people who read a lot (especially fantasy and science fiction), and who may also be writers in their own right. I can’t pay you, but you’ll receive an acknowledgment in the finished product for your help!
If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief synopsis on your reading/writing habits and why you want to help with this story.
Again, thank you all so much for all the help you’ve given me along the way! I truly wouldn’t be here without the amazing support I’ve received from all of you. I’ll be back on Friday for the usual posts. For now, it’s time to relax a little and enjoy some time off! Oh, to be lazy!
I love you all!
Do you have questions about NaNoWrimo that Ronin didn’t answer here? Feel free to message, comment, ask, or reblog those questions! Ronin will answer them as quickly as possible! You can also shoot your questions to Ronin on his Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and WordPress. He’s always open to conversation at email@example.com and on Discord chat, ID: roninwriting #6792.
Like, comment, and share to support this artist!