NaNoWriMo recap



I have finished this year’s NaNoWriMo feeling, as I do every year, that I have created something that is both impressive and completely horrifying. Impressive in that I committed to writing 50,000 words in one month and actually accomplished that feat. Completely horrifying in that I do not believe it is publishable and therefore it must be hidden.

Something about writing brings out the worst sort of hoarder in me. I have thought about joining writing critique groups, but the idea of asking other people to read what I have written and provide feedback terrifies me. It does not seem like an even exchange, I think, for someone else to have to trundle through my writing. And so I avoid doing the exact thing that a person should do with stories: share them. I started this blog as a small step towards facing that problem, but I find that I post sporadically, and then only after a lot of hesitation and obsessive editing.

Lately, I have been reading a lot of books about asking for things, when you need them, and about being willing to deal with rejection. I do not generally read a lot of non-fiction, which makes this reading binge unusual for me. After reading Amanda Palmer’s brilliant ode to The Art of Asking, I have been reading a lot more of what is called pop psych, or popular psychology, which mixes research with anecdotes. The anecdotes have shown that many people have a problem with asking and fear rejection. Knowing that it is not something I am alone in has helped, but only so much.

I think I read in one of those books, I cannot remember which, that storytelling is a basic human need, one thousands of years old that pre-dates many other human traditions. We created language so that we could communicate, and we created stories so that we could connect. Ironically, storytelling has been one of those things that has been the opposite of connect for me. I have been so focused on the idea that what I have written is not good enough that I have kept it locked away in the attic of who I am. I suppose that feeling of not being good enough can be expanded to many other areas of my life, but writing has been a tough one for me.

Why, then, do I continue to write? I asked myself that question when I had completed this year’s NaNoWriMo. It seems like writing is one of those things that I am compelled to do no matter what. But what is the point of telling stories no one else will hear? I now have ten completed 50,000 word manuscripts that I have written for NaNoWriMo, and instead of revising, instead of editing, instead of finding a group of fellow writers to read and write with, I hide them. In my day-to-day life, I have allowed that part of me, the part of me that is a writer, to be hidden from friends and family and colleagues. This year, I decided, I am going to try to find a critique group. I am going to tell my story.



The time quickly approaches for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which is a month-long exercise in the impossible. The premise is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, November. As a ten time participant and winner, I know that it does not get any easier year after year. Each time, I wonder why I sign up, and each time, as I look at the finished product, I am happy that I tried and succeeded.

There are two basic approaches to writing a novel that quickly: pantsing and planning. Planning is self-explanatory. This type outlines, sketches out characters, and has a pretty good idea of where their novel is going once they start it. Pantsers, on the other hand, begin with just a glimmer of an idea. There are no lovingly crafted, chapter-by-chapter outlines. I fall into the latter group. I have been trying, this year, to plan, but trying to force myself into the planner mold has not worked.

Writing so many words in a short period of time invokes panic and a sense of stripping down to the essential. It eliminates any delays I usually allow myself as I try to find the perfect word or plot device. Procrastination, in this case, leads to being very behind and making something already difficult even more so.

Here are a few tips for anyone who might be thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this year:

  1. Visit the forums. The community of writers who participate in NaNoWriMo is incredibly understanding and sympathetic, contributing to a message board unlike any other I have found online. There are a variety of very welcoming threads about any topic that interests you. If you have problems with characters or plotting, or if NaNoWriMo ate your soul, create a post and be prepared to receive an outpouring of support.
  2. Find writing buddies. This serves two purposes. If you don’t have any other friends who are writers, it’s nice not to feel alone. And writing buddies will keep you accountable to your daily word count. Nothing like peer pressure to get you working. There are writing lounges divided between age groups and genres to meet your fellow writers.
  3. Don’t turn it into a competition. It is easy to get lost in the forum and feel discouraged when you see that others have finished the entire month’s word count in one day. I have no idea how they do it, but some people do. Remember to stay on your own pace, your own goals, and don’t fret over your word count.
  4. Don’t procrastinate. First, you find an online quiz. And a video of cute kittens wearing hats. Then you start watching re-runs of the TV show you’ve seen hundreds of times. When writer’s block hits, it is easy to avoid your novel. But keep writing, even if it is nonsense, even if you are fairly sure that everything you are writing would get trashed in edits. The most important thing is to keep writing and not get sidetracked.
  5. Resist the urge to edit. It is tantalizing to think of what you’ve already written and how you’d like to change it. However, your internal editor will still be there in December if you decide to go forward with revisions. Look forward, not backward.