Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 8, 2018

To Nano or Not To Nano...

NaNoWriMo, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is National Novel Writing Month, where hundreds of thousands of writers gather to bang out as many words as they can in the month of November. Many writers skip it and many writers treat it as a yearly pilgrimage to Writing Mecca.

NaNoWriMo is my birthday present to myself each year.

Every year, I love it. And every year, I hate it...there's simply too much to do in the tiny little month of November. And this year is a birthday that ends in a "0." [OMG]

Even without my birthday falling at the beginning of the month and Thanksgiving toward the end, there always seems to be unexpected craziness. One year it was shingles, another it was a family vacation.

I tend to arrive at December 1st a little bit out of breath.

And still, I love NaNoWriMo.

I love the community, the late-night writing sprints, the before and after parties my local team throws. I love the write-ins, the pep talks, the excitement and uploading my word count. I adore getting the chance to encourage my peeps and watch everyone chase their goals.

Whether you're gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you luck in your writing goals this month.

I'd like to address the dreaded phenomenon of the Week Two Wall in the NaNo challenge where the initial endorphins have faded and the grind of the 1,667 words-a-day writing schedule sets in. The shiny has worn right off our shimmery fabulous idea.

Words like "can't," "shouldn't," and "haven't" begin to rear their ugly heads. 

We all hate those words, whether we're doing a writing challenge or not. Before NaNo starts, I'd like to chat about what I consider to be a NaNo "win":

  • Your very best = a NaNo win
  • Achieving your goal numbers = a NaNo win (ex: my goal this month is 30K, not 50K)
  • Finishing a project = a NaNo win
  • Forming amazing writing habits = a NaNo win

I think people get twitchy about some things that don't matter during the month of November. You've seen this cartoon, right?

NaNo should be fun.

The only word count that matters is YOURS.

However, if you're still feeling the push to "Go 50K or Bust"... Behold the NaNo Team's 2012 Tips for Successful WriMos...

[These are things we all wish we'd known for our first NaNoWriMo]

1. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one.

2. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do it! But it’s also fine to just wing it.

3. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

4. Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output.

5. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t.

6. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

7. Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month.

8. Seriously. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

9. There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through.

Above are the NaNo team's words. They have them squinched together into just a few tips, but I spread it out. All this wisdom needs to be heard. (There's years of writing pep talks here.)

Now, for my #10. (cadged from an earlier post here at Writers In The Storm.)

10. Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP.

The best is always yet to come because we keep improving the more we do it. A keynote at a writer’s conference in San Diego some years back said these words I’ve never forgotten:

“Everybody dreams,” she said. “But writers are special because they write down their dreams."

As writers, we can do anything and be anyone. You can be astronauts or spies or time travelers. Writers can go to amazing places and build imaginary worlds for others to visit."

The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, the music and the magic of your dreams will never be equaled by the words you put on a page."

Do it anyway.”

My hope is that this November (and every month), even on those days when you feel that all is lost, when you wonder why you ever believed that YOUR words were important, you keep at it.

And for goodness sake, make some extra food this month to throw at your family next month (or reheat yourself). The only big cooking you should do in November is special occasion cooking you can't avoid.

Do you participate in writing challenges? Do you do NaNoWriMo? For my WriMo pals, what do you do in advance of November to get ready?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.

38 comments on “To Nano or Not To Nano...”

  1. Did it once. Did hit the 50K goal. But that's not my writing process, and I ended up with so much more editing to get things back on track in December that I decided not to do it again. But I like that you set your own word count goal. I was trying to "play by the rules" on my first time.

    1. Who wants to be a rule follower, Terry? We're writers! If you want to set a goal of 20K and just hang with some of your local writers, I say "right on!" Go have a grand time with it 🙂

  2. I needed this post and its wisdom today. I've been on the fence about doing NaNo again, but it may be just what I need. Regardless, the tips posted here are keepers every month of the year. Thanks, Jenny!

    1. I'm so glad to hear it! It's tough to get past the 50K or bust mentality, but I'm a fan of adjusting the challenge until it works for YOUR life. You go, girl!

    1. Me too, Luna. Love. It and I'm so excited we are having some Nano write-ins at the Birthday Bash this year. It's like having an early birthday present.

  3. I'm doing NaNo this year. As for preparation, I signed up for an outlining course that starts...today! LOL. Well, it's free. We'll see how I do. I'm more panster than planner. Hmm, maybe a planster, because I do like to write my logline and blurb before I begin a new novel, just so I have some sort of direction. Haha. I'm doing 50K. I need to because December means finishing the last of the WIP.

  4. I'm a huge NaNo fan. My first participation in 2010 resulted in a book contract in 2015. I dusted off the rough draft that had been tucked away on my computer and submitted it to a contest. If you stay on track with 1667 words a days, it's doable.

  5. Thanks for compiling all the useful tips for us. I love NaNo (and Camp NaNo). I appreciate their resources, and love the pep talks during Camp - which sometimes answer just what I am feeling at various stages. What a treat it is for me, to say 'my priority this month is to do some serious writing.' October 31 often feels like Christmas Eve to me, that something wonderful is just about to happen. (November 1 feels soberingly different.). Each year I find out more about 'my process': what removes every trace of story from my mind (my yearly trip to IKEA and the Christmas Tree Shop was no good for me at all); that it is legit during the month of November to watch beautiful movies (for the images or the dialog); that I can write over 1000 words in one hour in company in a loud coffee shop (mainly dialog); that I can finish by day 23, so I can skip a day or two, and actually I work better with my back to the wall. NaNo works for me but I have to keep 'winning' in order to keep the magic flowing.

    1. I love that you learn more about your process every year, Gill. That's what it's all about, right? And you made me laugh with your "yearly trip to IKEA." Do you really do that? Every year??

    1. I like your simple statement: "Polish later. Finish now." That sounds much better than my, "Done is better than good." It's the same concept as yours, but yours sounds WAY better. 🙂

  6. Jenny, you know that nano word makes me sweat. Not doing it, you can't make me.

    But don't worry about it - turning 30 is no big deal #Muah

  7. I'll be doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. Considering how long it usually takes me to kick out a novel, it's going to be a challenge, but one I look forward to. To make things a little easier this first time, I'm spinning off a character from my current series into his own book. I figure since we're already friends and he's used to telling me his stories, it will make the process a tad bit easier.

    1. Nice! I can set up group sprint times if it will help. It always helps me to be accountable with them. And something about a sprint focuses my ADD writer brain into the right spot. Go-o-o-o-o-o, Bob!

  8. I like the idea of your own word count. Been on the fence about participating this year because we are travelling and i don't want to drag my laptop around. I still got time to think

    1. LOL. I hope you do it. We'll have writing sprints happening each evening at the bash as well. The best NaNo story I ever heard was a female soldier in Iraq who wanted to do NaNo would handwrite her work, send it via Army post to an officer in the States who would get it typed and uploaded. THAT'S teamwork. It made me cry, it was so lovely.

  9. Fun post - in a way or two. I do a few challenges during the year to keep my little grey cells sparking. I've done NaNo since 2013 and even won a few times in the trad sense. But to survive I have to prepare or I struggle. Unless I have a good outline, I struggle. It's going to be harder this year as our house has been full of great-grand-kids for over two months - they don't understand the word 'silence'. (They will be here in November, I fear). But I have a cunning plan.

    1. It would totally be tough to write with great-grandkids calling you to play. What could be more fun? I have won NaNo exactly ONE time. I don't even care...I just love it to pieces. 🙂

  10. I wrote the draft of my first published novel during NANOWRIMO three years ago--so grateful that I did! Sharing your encouraging post for those who are writing one now. As for me, I'm working on my first poetry collection and now plan to get it finished and formatted before November's end. 🙂 Thanks!

  11. Not doing NaNo this year, but I do like writing sprints. I can get some half-decent word count in if the timeframe is shorter. I am in awe of all NaNo-ers who "win" no matter what their goal. Great tips, Jenn!

  12. Hi Jenny! *waves* Thanks for this, hon. I find it inspirational in regard to the writing journey as a whole, too.

    I've never done NaNo, though I've done fast-drafting (only 14 days). But I'm VERY tempted this year. I have a first draft that is dragging on and on, and I'm only 25K into it after MONTHS. My inner editor screams at me and slows me down big time. I agonize and second-guess my plot choices.

    I would love to have a first draft DONE by the end of November so I have something to edit! If I got another 10K done between now and November (and prepped meals out the wazoo), I'd need about 40K more to finish. Is it okay to use NaNo to finish a book, or is it supposed to be for a new one?

    Also, I don't belong to any NaNo groups...would you be my writing buddy, Jenny? I sure could use your energy! 😉

    1. Of course you can use a book you've already started! I'm totally doing that. I'm finally writing Risky Baby Business and I'd love to just get that first draft 100% behind me, since it makes me cry. 🙂

      Here's what you do...
      1. Go to http://www.nanowrimo.org
      2. Create a login/profile if you haven't already
      3. Create your novel (it will prompt you to do this)
      4. Go to Search in the upper right and find "jennyhansen"
      5. Click on the "Add to Buddy List" button

      Voila! We are friends and partners in NaNo crime at that point. Under the MyNaNoWriMo menu, you will find just about everything you need to find the local groups in your area.

      Most of all, enjoy the energy of it all. NaNo is FUN.

  13. Going into Nanowrimo with preparation is the only way. Things I've learned throughout my last 5 nano's.

    It's not just about writing. Read the Nano Prep, read the forums for ideas and more world building stuff.

    Prep your schedule. (when do you want to write). Find the best time to write. https://authorunlimited.com/best-time-to-write/ If you plan to write from 5am to 7am, do not do it in bed. Get up, get your teeth brushed, get to a writing area that is motivating...and set a timer.

    Prep your meals. Pre-cook batches of snacks (brownies, cookies, sugar-free stuff if you like that kind of thing. Soups, chilis, store them in freezer. Tell your house mates to back off from making you cook/fend for yourself. Plan at least one order of Pizza if not more and make it big so you have left overs to eat for next day or two. Buy those pudding cups, applesauce, or jello cups. Great things to get you over an all out Tyrannosaures Rex moment of hunger.

    Prep your phone with all the specific alarms that need to go off to remind you to stretch when writing. But an egg-timer, that little ticking gets to be a habit. https://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-pomodoro-technique-1598992730 Try different writing methods. Pomadoro technique (25 mins) or set the Egg-timer longer (45mins) but have the timer remind you to get up and move.

    Prep your supplies. Swing by Walmart or wherever to get cheap yellow tablets or college rule paper or something like a journal you can keep near you to note stuff in. (I write while at work sometime and then type it up when I get home-shhhhh). I write at lunch. I write in the bathtub. I write in bed, just to get my word count.

    Prep your clothing (i.e. have your outfits ready to go so you dont have to think about it).

    Prep your outings (plan to cancel movies and Friday night/Sat night wild times). I'm an introvert in an extrovert body. I have NO interest in going out but if I get dragged out there, sometimes its fun.

    Get a log sheet to log your time and word count. You should be logging your writing word count and time regardless of Nano so that you know when you are generating the best brain activity and writing the best during your day.

    Learn Scrivener. Buy it. Use it. Love it. I used it last year for first time prepping for Nano and thought OMG what have I done, but holy cow....the outline alone helped me write faster and longer than I ever thought. I was able to jot down notes and later when I had to edit the tool was indescribably wonderful. Walk thru the tutorial ever step. It saved me hours of frustration. And I was able to google a ton to get it tweaked perfectly.

    Prep your writing. Get your outline of chapters down at a minimum. Outline your outline (aka put down 2-4 sentences beneath each chapter that you want to write into that scene)
    Before you groan and say wtf...just write down the top 10 things you want to have in your book. Just jot them down on paper. Go on and do it. If you have those 10 things, and you have them arranged like you like them...fill in some gaps. Write a few more things that would increase tension, add some character flaws, kill off the antagonists BFF(shrug). Nobody liked her anyway.
    Now write down the first 3 characters that you will introduce (i.e. Boy, Girl, Bully. Or girl1, girl2, parent1.) This will be chapter 1 and 2, intro to characters. Now write down five things you want to say about the world you are using (technology, money, politics, magic, nature, weather, clucking chickens, etc). Then incorporate the five world things into the 10 scenes that you have plans for already. That's like half the book people. Now go back and write 3 sentences that would expand those 10 scenes. For example: Scene 3, overcast day on steps of library. Boy trips in front of girl spilling his books. Girl helps him pick up books and finds the titles (Electricity And Kites, Boom Goes The Explosives, How To Build Impervious Armour) VERY interesting. Boy steps in front of girl to protect her when baddie Librarian suddenly arrives. Once you start writing and you have written the 10 things into your story. Stop and do it again. Add 10 new things and 5 new world building ideas. Then write 3 or more sentences on those 10 new adds. Nothing is impossible.

    Lots more to tell you. But, that would spoil all the fun for the first timers.
    Nanobuddy name is JLNickymaster
    Have fun.

    1. Jeanne, you are crazy organized! I'll bet you win the challenge every year with all this.

      I am completely sending my organized pals over here to this post to read your comment. 🙂

      1. I echo that comment on Jeanne being organised - and the bit about Scrivener, a programme I learnt to love during NaNo in 2016. I'm Silverwords and open to having buddies.

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