When it comes to writing challenges like NaNoWriMo, I’m infamous for waiting until the last minute to come up with story ideas and plans. Last year (I won with 51.8k) I was scrambling five hours before the events officially started in the East Coast, slapping together a story idea based on an oldish character and a book cover. A novel never feels quite right without the book cover. Then I raced into the first day of NaNoWriMo with no real feel for what I was writing.
Well, history likes to repeat itself. I did it again this year. About a month before I had a vague story idea that I wanted to play with but when trying to come up with characters and actual plot, I kept drawing a blank. This blank continued until the day before NaNoWriMo when I pulled a bible verse out of somewhere and came up with a random girl with major anger issues and all the reason to be angry, as I was fashioning the book cover for a story I knew nothing about.
There’s nothing quite like running into a story half blind. Every NaNoWriMo (both official and unofficial) sees me yelling wildly with my fist in the air while my characters run off with the story. Welcome, to fast drafting – my favorite enemy.
Before I get too deeply entrenched in my tale of ‘why I thought it was a good idea (not just once, but twice) to try NaNoWriMo with no discernible plan’, let me explain to the non-crazy-writers and non-writers exactly what NaNoWriMo is.
NaNoWriMo is a challenge for writers around the globe. Every November hundreds of thousands of writers pledge to try to write 50k or more in 30 days. For context: a 50,000 page manuscript is roughly 200 pages. My manuscript, when properly formatted, should be about 260 pages.
A lot of writers, especially younger or newer writers don’t make the goal word count. While I didn’t officially start doing NaNoWriMo till last year, I had tried to write a large amount of words during November before, I’d usually get about 12 or 15k in then quit (I’ll talk about why in another blog post).
There are the more experienced writers (around my level) who also don’t make the goal or they hit it right on the mark every year. Some may make it a grand or so over the word count, I was one of these writer’s last year. They’re usually pretty consistent about almost hitting or hitting the 50k. Then there are writers who, once they get started, don’t know when to stop and write well past 50k. I joined those writers this year, with 65k. Quite a few of the writers within this tier will write 90k to 300k (there are probably some with even higher word counts) during November. We are the outliers. Not only do we have super big ideas but we can write fast and sloppy enough to actually reach these seemingly outrageous word counts (they’re not actually as bad as they seem).
…The first day of NaNoWriMo was great, I had no idea what I was doing but I managed to write 3,778 words (NaNoWriMo’s site encourages writers to write around 1,600 per day to stay on track.). The second day saw me with 2,000 but then I hit a rough patch. I started my novel on an emotional high instead of leading up to the first emotional high like I did the year before. While choosing to do such gave me plenty to write the first two days, what goes up must come back down and the struggle became the less high emotion scenes.
After two days of getting a grand total of about 700 words down I decided to switch things up. Most manuscripts I write in order, it’s easier to edit them later especially when you’re dealing with hundreds of pages. The first weekend of this year however, I did a lot of hopping around in the story’s timeline. This shaped the rest of the month’s writing flow. I would write scenes toward the end. Then I would get bored (another emotional low point in the plot) and I skipped to another scene. So on and so forth.
In hindsight God always knows exactly why some things happen, even though they frustrate you. The unique style my story now holds in it’s under themes are based off of the back and forth I continued to write through til the very end of the story. After that weekend my story picked up again as I basically gave up on the parts I didn’t want to write and wrote everything about my story that I liked (I have some scenes to possibly fill in during later drafts, so the rough estimate is 75k). With that change in strategy, I surpassed 10k in five days, already a fifth of my way to the finish line.
I was pretty consistent through week two, hitting about 2,000 words a day by hosting and participating in group sprints. The best way to consistently hit word count goals is to sprint, a lot. Over time you’ll become a faster writer. This year I plateaued at bit, I can write about 900 words in 15 min (I’m still reaching for that fifty headed hydra, though.). When keeping that pace consistently, I can write about 10,800 words in 3 hours, in theory. I have yet to test that theory, it’s hard to just sit still for 3 hours straight.
writers on multiple social media networks. Writing with other writers is really encouraging and fun but it’s also exhausting if you’re the host. So, I stuck with smaller hosting events for the rest of the month. I was brought to a grand total of 26,192 words that Saturday, only 2.4k off the mark of the year before’s 23,661 words. In the grand scheme of things, that 2.4k may not seem like a lot, but it pretty much propelled me right past 50k over the next week and a half.
The first eleven days actually saw me falling behind my pace the year before, with the rather tentative head start and not always having time to play catch up. Yes, I was technically way beyond where I needed to be according to NaNoWriMo’s site guidelines, but I always like to stay a bit ahead, keeping padding of at least 1 or 2k, just in case. Not that it was really a concern after day eleven, I suppose.
I wrote most of my scenes in order, during week two, but when week three came along, I was skipping all over the place, again. Week three is the week when writer’s block notoriously falls on writers. Between thanksgiving, exhaustion, life and realizing omg-i-still-have-so-much-to-write a lot of writers either fall behind or drop out. To avoid the writer’s block whenever I got frustrated, I’d make a note to myself in the manuscript and either skip ahead or move back to something from before. This also kept the plot very fresh in my mind at all times, which made foreshadowing an easier beast to tackle. I also spent a lot less time chasing random plot bunnies, and for the most part I stuck to the plot, despite my lack of an outline. Yay me!
The fourth week, saw me crossing the 50k mark! I always slow down a bit once the initial word count goal is passed, something that harmed me last year(I finished three days early, had the time and the plot to hit 55k but only made 51k). But this year, I was determined to keep going. I did a lot of personal sprinting (through Fighter’s Block), not really having the energy to try to keep up my writing pace and host sprints at the same time.
The best way to keep myself on track past 50k was through NaNoWriMo’s forums. I’m not really a fan of forums, I actually talked about that before NaNoWriMo, but no one within my writer’s circle was anywhere close to 50k, much lest past it. So, I had to find people who were. Word challenges like 1kin30min and 50 headed hydra (write 500 words in 5 min) along with word crawls kept my finger’s typing. Despite that I had two days were I wrote 365 words and 5 words respectively. And as week five rolled around the corner, I had another bad day with 17 words. But that weekend saw me climbing again with 4k on Sunday.
I was behind my desired word count by about 5k. My goal that weekend was to hit 63k, maybe even 65k and to continue to climb with the 4 days I had left to 70k. It’s a bit harder however, to keep yourself on track when you’re 10k ahead of everyone else and nearly passing your personal word count goals. So, I lagged a bit and hit 65,005 words about 10 min before NaNoWriMo ended for the East Coast writer’s of 2017.
I calculated that my word count for this novel’s first draft would be around 65k. I actually wasn’t that far off. I have a few odd scenes to fit in, but they’ll be inserted during the next draft while I’m trying to make something of the timeline mess my story has become. It’ll probably end up to be around 70k before I rework it.
There are no big words of wisdom after this year’s NaNoWriMo. If you want to hear last year’s go check them out.
All I have to say now that it’s ended:
If you want to write a novel, go for it. Write a lot of bad sentences. Bad sentences can always be edited or rewritten.
If you wrote this November, how did your NaNoWriMo go?