NaNoWriMo Has Arrived! All Hail NaNoWriMo!

Posted: November 1, 2013 in Writing

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2008. Well, I’m not sure writing a few hundred words really counts as “participating” for my first year, but at least my word counts have risen significantly with each passing year. And with each of those passing years, I’ve also learned something different about how I write and how I don’t write.

In previous years, I’ve learned that I am most definitely a planner; any attempt I’ve ever made to write a novel-length story on an image or a feeling has failed after about five pages. On the other hand, I’ve also learned that I’m susceptible to planning too much; I can get wrapped up in writing about the story I want to tell instead of just writing it.

Last year, I learned that I don’t write well with daily word counts, but I do write more with them. Kind of. I deleted a good 13,000 words of last year’s work and then had to make up that ground. So, while it’s true that I got good practice with what I’ve heard some writers call “butt glue,” I was also willing to let absolute shit onto the page just to reach my goal.

The true advantage to NaNoWriMo for me, then, is self-awareness: I’ve learned a bit more about the kind of writer I am with each passing year. I write during the rest of the year, as well, but the challenge of getting 50,000 words down in a month is a good way to gauge how much I’ve grown. It’s a test in fire.

One other very important tidbit I’ve learned about myself is that I do rather well with goals. In fact, the more specific and measureable the goals, the better I’m able to achieve them.

The overarching, baseline goal of the challenge is to commit 50,000 words of an entirely new novel (i.e., no actual writing has been done on it, apart from general planning documents) to paper / word processor. While I used to stick to this challenge religiously, I’ve learned to appreciate the spirit of the challenge, rather than the letter. I will always fail at someone else’s goal, especially when it’s one that will not benefit me either professionally or personally. The challenge will only be beneficial if I can take real ownership of it and try to achieve what I actually want to achieve.

So, nowadays, I work within the framework of the challenge, but I make it my own. These are the challenges I’ve set for myself this year.

Goal #1: Write 40,000 words to my current novel

Yes, I realize it’s short of the challenge, but my other goals will put me well above 50,000 words. Furthermore, it’s more in line with my general writing schedule of 1,000 words every weekday and 2,500 words every weekend day, which is more manageable with my daily commitments. That puts me at 10,000 words every week, which is a sizable chunk by itself.

This goal is the priority because it comes down to one basic premise: “Finish your shit.”

Goal #2: Finish revising one short story, and write the first draft of another one

While short stories and novels share many of the same elements (e.g., plot, character, resolution, etc.), they require and hone different skill sets. I wouldn’t normally try to write both so enthusiastically in the same short time period, but NaNo is a challenge! Challenge accepted!

I also find that writing shorter stories gives me the feelings of accomplishment and confidence that help me continue with my longer projects in good spirits. It’s a good feeling.

More to the point, however, I’m eager to improve my short-story writing skills because short-story markets are a good way to build writing credits. Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be “about the art” and “above being paid,” and to a certain extent I am. I truly enjoy the art of writing and find fulfillment in it. This feeling is the reason I aim to be a professional, not a hobbyist, and a professional gets paid, has a resume, and strategizes for opportunities. Part of my strategy for becoming a full-fledged professional is publishing in short-form markets, which is why finishing revising one story and writing the first draft of another is my second priority for this year’s challenge.

Goal #3: Write on this blog at least once a week

I enjoy writing on this blog, but it’s often a much lower priority than working on my fiction. Unfortunately, this hierarchy of importance has resulted in months-long spans in which I haven’t written anything here, especially when I’ve had contract work competing for my time.

The reason I don’t just give up on this blog, though, is because I really do enjoy it. I’ve learned to express opinions bravely here. I’ve learned to interact with strangers in the comments. I’ve exercised my nonfiction writing muscles, which have in turn benefited my fiction writing muscles.

I don’t share the opinion that blogs are necessary platforms for authors nowadays, but I do see a personal and professional benefit in them for me in particular. I’d like to spend this month committing myself to this blog at least once a week. That seems pretty reasonable, right? Still, it’s my third goal—and third priority—because my fiction writing will always be more important. I wish I could love all of my goals equally, just like I did with my dolls growing up (I had to, otherwise they would murder me in my sleep), but I’d go crazy if I tried to do that.

So, these are my goals. It’ll be challenging to meet them all, but that’s the point of NaNoWriMo. I’ll have to pass on social events, make sacrifices with my time, and maybe even lose a bit of sleep. It’ll be work, for sure, but that’s the covert aim of NaNoWriMo: to turn art into work so that we can finally work on our art.

Good luck, writerly types. It’s going to be a good month.


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