Writers in the Storm

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November 13, 2017

A Tale of Two NaNoWriMos

Christina Delay

“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).



24 comments on “A Tale of Two NaNoWriMos”

  1. I tried Nano. It's not my writing process. But anything that works for someone is good. You shouldn't feel like a failure if an imposed structure isn't your thing. I hit the NaNo word count, but the work involved to turn that hot mess into a book wasn't worth revisiting. I'm a deep edit-as-you-go person and I've managed to write about 20 novels that way.

  2. My first experience with NaNo was similar. It was years ago, when I was a much newer writer, and I thought it sounded like fun. Oy. I discovered I don't do well under that kind of pressure, and not only did I fail, but what I wrote so horrible I was embarrassed by it. And for years after I vowed I would never put myself through that again. This year, we've had a cross-country move that tuckered out my muse, and I had a WIP that was going nowhere (because I had no energy to write it). So I decided to use NaNo to challenge myself. I aim for 1000 words a day, but I'm happy so long as I'm writing every day. You know, I'm surprising myself. I've had several 2000 word days, but more to the point, I'm actually getting somewhere on the WIP. And so far (fingers crossed) it doesn't suck. lol

    I'm not sure I'd do NaNo every year, because, like Terry, it's just not the way I write. But this year, I needed the push, so I'm grateful to it for that.

    Thanks for sharing your story and for the inspiration and encouragement. Now I'm going back to my WIP. lol

  3. I tried NaNo once about 7 or 8 years ago. I didn't finish my novel in November (I think it was more like March or April), but I did get some good reads and met a screenplay agent with whom I became good friends.

    Today publishing success is still elusive, but I have completed many stories, both short and long since. At least, Nano taught me how to get something finished.

  4. I think I set myself up for failure with NaNo last year. Everything was wrong with it. Including the timing of things happening in my real life. I'm in a better position this year, but I'm an unofficial NaNo and instead am just accountable to myself, and a friend and I are lifting each other up for motivation.

    It's not for everyone. I'm not bashing it because I know it can and does work, but it's not for me.


  5. Wise words. I have loved NaNoWriMo most of all for the connections with other writers. The 50,000 word goal is nice and I've made it for the past few years. Even got my first book published. But the value is in the lessons: writing consistently, keeping focus on the story every day, reading all the good advice and taking it and, finally, doing what it takes to write that book. With or without reaching the 50,000-word goal, these are prizes I value every month, not just November.

    1. Mary, I am also learning the value of consistency. I have had the same "relationship" with NaNo that Christina has (minus ever finishing a book). This time around, I'm familiar enough with my story and where it will go (more plotting, less pantsing) and I'm starting to crave writing...the daily sit-down-and-write that comes with trying to reach your daily word count goal.

  6. 2007. I think that was the first year I wrote NaNo. I may be off a couple of years. I know it hadn't reached international status yet. My wife fed me coffee intravenously, and I finished in thirteen days. I did it again the next year and finished in twenty-four days. What I learned was that I could write fast. And NaNo gave me "permission" to make mistakes and just write. That is the fun of it: writing. By the end of this November, I will have published three novels. None from NaNo; but the spark was lighted. Like WITS, you folks keep me juiced up to write. Ever onward and up.

  7. NaNoWriMo is so opposite of how I write-with the word count thing-that I've never tried it. I doubt I ever will, but that's okay. My process works for me, and I tend not to share "stuff" while I deep in the writing (or editing) of a book. But, like Laura, I applaud and cheer for those of you who an handle a pressure I can't!

  8. As one of the cruising writers who has sprinted with Christina, I can say that the camaraderie that we've had has really helped keep me motivated. It's wonderful to have two or three or five people all sprinting at the same time and encouraging and celebrating each other's successes. I also like that NaNo is forcing me to keep moving forward. I can end up in analysis paralysis on a given scene or chapter, but there's no time for that here. As Sam said above, ever onward and up!

  9. I love this post from start to finish, Christina! Sprints help me so much, and I can see the difference in my word total this year since I haven't had time to do as much of that. But the month isn't over. I plan to get 30-40K this year, which is a lot for me in a month. 🙂

  10. I've "won" NaNoWriMo and I've failed but gotten more words than I would have otherwise, so I think the challenge is worth it. That said, whether I participate depends on where I am in the process of writing: Do I have a novel to write, or am I better off editing one that's already drafted? Do I have a sense of the story yet, or do I need more time to get my ducks in a row? I'd like to do it every year, but sometimes it just doesn't work.

    I second Justine's comment that community is a big part of this! I love the sprints and the camaraderie and the celebrations when we get words down, whether it's 2000 or 200. It's all progress! Thanks for sharing your fabulous story, Christina!

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