“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Seven years ago, I won my first NaNoWriMo. And what came next was the worst of times, a season of darkness, a literal winter of despair.
I'd started writing a few years earlier, but the book I wrote during that fateful November was the first full length novel I'd completed. And like the first boy who broke my heart, that first NaNoWriMo taught me some valuable lessons.
Still he broke my heart. And my brain. And my book.
While I ‘survived’ that NaNoWriMo, I lost the ability to spell for a good year. It was as if my novice writer-self had dived into deep water without an oxygen tank and I had physical effects from pushing myself too hard that first go. So bad was the state of my book after NaNo, that it required three rewrites and four more years before that manuscript won a contest and I landed my first agent.
Needless to say, I backed off from the NaNoWriMo scene. While it worked for other authors, I was not one of those lucky writers that discovered NaNoWriMo magic.
Fast-forward seven years. After pregnancy complications and giving birth, I hadn’t written in months. I needed something to give my non-writing butt a good kick.
NaNoWriMo walked through the doors.
He’d changed since I last saw him seven years ago. More toned and muscular with a flock of friends following him around. He gave me a come-hither grin and even curled his finger, beckoning me. “Wanna give it another go?”
Uh, no. No, no, no, no, no.
But I took a step forward. With each passing day, I crept closer and closer. The scent of his coffee cologne was intoxicating. The talk of his friends, telling me all the wonderful things about him, rustled around me like a fall breeze.
I bite my lip. I’ve grown in my writing, I tell myself. I’m a stronger writer, I reassure myself. I only have 50,000 words left to go in my WIP. Ugh. Shut up, already.
He holds out his hand.
“Don’t screw over my story this time,” I tell him, then take his hand.
Our romance has been sweeter this time around. Less of a whirlwind, more of an easy, gradual build. I’m slowly falling in love with NaNoWriMo again. And this time, I don’t think he’s going to break my heart.
Or my brain.
Or, more importantly, my book.
As an experienced writer, hitting 1,667 words every day isn’t a challenge like it used to be. It’s fairly easy for me to do that, but NaNo is forcing me to stay consistent. Point for him. I’m not writing crap just to meet a word count, but writing some pretty decent stuff--most of which will make the final cut. The edits I see so far, I already know how to fix. Not only that, but I’ve been sprinting with my Cruising Writers retreaters, and it’s been so fun to connect with them online every day.
This time around, NaNoWriMo has been the best of times, a season of light, a spring of hope.
If you’ve had a horrible date with NaNoWriMo in the past, or maybe you’re having one now, you’re not alone. But don’t give up on the experience just yet. NaNoWriMo is one of those guys who actually does change...or maybe I’m the one who changed, and he was always exactly who he needed to be.
Here are some middle-of-NaNo tips to NaNoWriMo success, whether you're a novice or an experienced pro:
- Don’t deep edit as you go. NaNo is supposed to be fast, which doesn’t leave time for editing. The benefit of this is you can’t get stuck for too long editing and editing one scene. Try leaving yourself a comment, or highlighting the section you need to fix with notes on what you want to do, then move on.
- Create your own goals. Hitting 50,000 words is nice, but not at the expense of your brain or your book. I love that the NaNoWriMo site has added the personal goals option. One of mine is to be happy with wherever I end up at the end of the month. No matter what, I’m further along in my story than when I started. What's a personal goal you can set that's not related to word count?
- Connect with your tribe. Seriously the best thing about this NaNoWriMo experience this time has been sprinting with my writing tribe. When I wake up in the morning, they’re there, coffee in hand, waiting to get started. At any time of day, I can log in to our group and start or join a writing sprint. Have you found your tribe yet? NaNoWriMo runs sprints on their website that you can join at any time.
- Take time to think about your next step. Sometimes we get into the zone and the words flow, and that’s awesome. But other times we need to take a step back and really consider if we’re on the right path with our story. It may mean that you don’t meet your word goal for that day, but that’s okay. It’s better to stay on track than to write a bunch of words you’ll have to delete later.
- Evaluate where you are. Maybe you've fallen behind and the chances of you catching up at this point are slim, because let's face it, life happens. I'm giving you permission to adjust your goal. Maybe 50,000 isn't possible this time. But is 30,000? 25,000? Three chapters? One scene? Adjusting your goal isn't failure. It's only failure if you give up.
Has NaNo been good to you? Or a bad date? Share with us, in the comments!
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Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she's not cruising the Caribbean, she's dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or writing the stories of the imaginary people that live in her heart.
Cruising Writers brings aspiring authors together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor together on writing retreats. Cruise with us to Grand Cayman next October with Kristen Lamb (Bestselling Author and Marketing Jedi), Rachel Caine (Bestselling Author of 50+ books), Deidre Knight (The Knight Agency), and Alex Sehulster (St. Martin’s Press).