Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reminder: make NaNoWriMo work for YOU

This morning I see that some of the bloggers I follow are dropping out of NaNoWriMo... some are doing rewrites instead, and some are finding that the high word count obligation is reducing the fun of writing, and they're either quitting NaNoWriMo entirely or simply giving up on the 50K word count goal.

I'm here to say: THIS IS FINE. Rock on with your bad selves.

The goals of NaNoWriMo, to my mind, are as follows:
  • Write fast enough that your inner editor can't catch you.
If writing too fast means that your quality drops to the point where NEW inner editors start popping up to block the path ahead, then it's no good! F*ck the 50K goal. Write at a speed that works for you. And, if you have a project that needs editing, then by all means avoid NaNoWriMo like the swine flu. Inner editors aren't always evil, they just need to learn their place and only show up when invited.
  • Write more than usual. Lots more.
If writing too many words in a day just ends up burning you out, you're not going to end up writing more, are you? Slow down. If writing too many words in a day starts to feel like work, then you're going to start seeing it as a dreaded chore, and will end up writing less. Slow down. If writing too many words in a day takes away the fun in any way... well, then, seriously, what's the point? Slow down. It's cool, I promise.
  • Write in a like-minded community.
You can enjoy the NaNoWriMo forums even if you never write a single word. When else will you have access to more than one hundred thousand writers who are willing to answer each other's questions? Someone on the forums taught me how to make paper. Several people on the forums answered my recent question about what it's like to get a first tattoo. Someone out there may very well have lived the exact experience you are trying to imagine for a character. Go ask 'em about it. It's a research resource that may be greater than Google, and it's available one month a year, and it doesn't require a word count of any size to get in.
  • Put up or shut up.
It's all about getting your priorities in order. On the surface, joining NaNoWriMo means shutting off that rerun of The Simpsons and writing something of your own. But in a broader sense, it means no regrets. NaNo assumes that you will regret not trying to write a novel. But if anything about NaNoWriMo is making the writing process less effective or fun for you... well, then, that's going to give you a different set of priorities, isn't it? Maybe you DO need to watch that rerun, if it's the best chance for you to bond with your spouse/partner/kids. Maybe you need to rewrite something old instead of drafting something new. Maybe you need to write slower to fully enjoy the experience and get a "bad first draft" of a high enough quality that you will actually be interested in editing it later.

I burn out if I write much more than 1,000 words a day for an extended period of time. I would not have known that 1K was my upper limit if I hadn't TRIED for 2K/day during NaNoWriMo 2005... but guess what? Now I know. So I will never try to force myself to write more than 1,000 words in a day, even if it is November. If I've got genuine inspiration or a clear sense of story to carry me on, maybe I'll go for it, but I'm not going to push. And so, I joined NaNoWriMo this year knowing that I would not win. At least, not from a word count perspective.

But if I have a clear sense of what my next novel is about in December? Then I will have won the challenge that matters to me.

Don't get worked up about this. Do it your way.


  1. Still another fine post with some really good advice. I'm still hung up on the edit as I go-- me sitting here with thesaurus and dictionary by my side-- but that's the way I write and I'm not sure I can or want to change that-- 50 year old habits aren't changed easily. I continue going thru much of my daily schedule as I have in the past and try to write I concentrated bursts sporadically from morn to night. I'm nearly averaging 2000 wds per day, but I'm still hoping for a 5000 wd day (which I'm sure I do when I add in my blogging, commenting, and emailing)-- but I like to have a 5000 wd day for my novel. So on we go each in our own way.

    By the way, Carrie, I'd love for you to check out my posts today and tomorrow. Since you have an entertainment industry background and hopefully have an appreciation for good music, I'd like to get your take on my music review and interview with a musician who is well known in So. Cal. but has yet to break nationally. I noticed that you said you like silence when you write. I like instrumental music in the the backgound while I write. I've been mostly rotating 2 of Sebastian Sidi's CD's and Scubert's Piano Trio in E Flat Major (an excellent music to write to musical work that I will probably wear out by Nov 30). Writing to instrumental music is just another way for me to keep up a writing rhythm and to keep me relaxed.

  2. This is very true.
    I might not make my original goal, but already I've discovered new things about the direction of my story. And that's priceless.
    I won't feel mad, sad, or bad if I don't reach my word count goals.
    Write on!

  3. Thanks, Carrie. Still pretty sure I'm going to quit...

  4. Good points all around! NaNo has been eye-opening this year, but I don't know if I'll ever try it again. Definitely teaching me some lessons about writing.

  5. I've learned a lot about what I enjoy with writing and how I enjoy doing it with NaNo. I don't mind writing daunting amounts of words per day. I like to get in that flow and go, go, go! But I have about two points I get to in the novel where I have to stop and reflect on what I've already written. I just passed that first one, so now I'm going strong again. I think I'll keep it up, I'm really enjoying myself so far.

  6. This is the very advice that made me smile. NaNo has done marvelous things to get by behind in a chair and show myself and my loved ones that I am serious. I feel a sense of accomplishment for writing every day.

    There are no more grumbles from my family anymore but encouragement that may never have surfaced if I had not pushed forward with this project. I am going to continue, but not to try and kill myself but write everyday with vigor.

  7. Love it Carrie! You go with you bad self too :))

  8. I'm not dropping out, but I have a bit of a quandary. My agent just started shopping my series "Ghost Patrol," which only had part one written. I had to stop everything to write book two. Unfortunately, it's a middle grade, and to match the first one will only be around 41,000-42,000 words...NaNoWriMo requires you write 50,000 words on the same novel. So I think I'm going to have to abandon ship...but for good reason!

  9. Didn't do NaNo. But I think I agree with the reasons for doing NaNo. How's it going for you?

  10. Stephanie, you can ABSOLUTELY put those two projects together and call it a NaNo win! As long as you write 50K of fiction in November, you ARE playing by the rules.

    Here are several scenarios which ALL count from a NaNoWriMo rules perspective:

    1) You "screwed" up and started your novel early. You have 10K words before November starts. Solution: call the first 10K an "introductory short story," write THE END on October 31, and call your November words a "linked novel" or sequel. Ta-da! You have a fresh and totally within-the-rules start for NaNo.

    2) Your story is supposed to be 40K words total. At the end, you write a totally ridiculous and fun dream sequence that's 90% stream-of-consciousness junk that has nothing to do with the story and will never make it to the final edit. If you get 50K total, that's a NaNo win. Heck, you could have your main character do some internet research (tangentially related to the plot, naturally), QUOTE A 10K WORD WIKIPEDIA ENTRY, and technically have it count as a win.

    3) You started a novel that really isn't working for you. You change gears completely and start something new. To make it legit within NaNo, all you have to do is call it PART TWO.

    NEVER THROW OUT WORDS. Write what you want, and on November 30, cram it into the same document and call it a novel.

  11. Brilliant! I'm currently going for your third option. I'm still using the 13,000 words I wrote on my first project and I'm starting a new (completely unrelated one). It has been good to push myself with word daily counts. I, like you, am learning my limitations and 50,000 words probably won't be reasonable for the month, but who knows--maybe I'll get on a roll.

    Good luck to you and I hope your story turns out beautifully.