By: Suanna Parker – Collegiate Staff
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo as it is better known) is already underway, and since kickoff day on Nov. 1st. our country’s writers have been busy writing millions of words per day. For those who aren’t aware NaNoWriMo is an annual national event where writers from all over the country gather together as a community to write novels (of all kinds) in a month’s time. There is a website dedicated to this purpose, and months in advance writers gather on the forums to discuss what they will be working on for that year. Once Nov. 1st comes around the writing community commences discussion on what to write and the decision making about their respective works, and they begin to dedicate hours per day to creating their art.
The general steps for NaNoWriMo are simple.
Step One: Create and fill out a profile,
Step Two: Create your novel starting in October,
Step Three: Select a home region or homebase,
Step Four: Earn Badges,
Step Five: Get Inspired,
Step Six: Start Writing (Nov. 1st),
Step Seven: Validate your word count and Claim your win!
It isn’t necessarily required that a person have any existing source material to work from in the beginning, but since you are holding yourself accountable for writing every day and meeting the word minimum. As a general rule it is not a terrible idea to have some sort of starting point to work with. There is room for everyone though and it is important to mention that some people like to write something fresh and untouched which might work out even better. It’s all about who you are and what is bursting through you to create whether existing or otherwise.
My personal situation is a little bit different because the idea that I chose to create my novel about for NaNoWriMo this year is based on a novel idea I’ve been working with for around fifteen years now. The story has been through so many versions that were never even half way completed on paper that this will be the first time in the history of that story in which it will be considered a complete work. In short, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears have already been invested into this idea, and it’s about time that the idea is given life.
This is the process that I have adopted for my novel.
First, I spend a lot of time organizing content for my “novel binder.” In that binder I have character sheets for all of my characters (including created names and meanings), a full plot outline from start to finish, and research notes on Greek mythology (which is what my story is heavily based in). Then, I fill out a my dry erase calendar with my daily word goals for the month, and stick it up on my office wall near my desk. That way it can stare at me every single day and serve as a constant reminder of my goal. When I finally sit down to write my daily word goals I queue up the soundtrack that I created as inspiration for the novel on my Spotify and get started. The finishing touch that ends my day of writing is filling out a page in my daily writing journal so I have something to look back on as a means to reflect.
Word goals for NaNoWriMo are 50,000 words, and all that means is that you need only 50,000 words to be able to label yourself a “winner”. Now, if you are considering writing as a professional career, it would also be wise to consider what genre the novel you are writing is going to be because word counts for that genre might be a bit different. I have this situation with my novel because it falls under the fantasy genre and for those novels the word count is somewhere in the ballpark of 100,000 words.
It is because of this that I had to alter my personal goal a bit and aim for 90,000 words to consider myself a “winner”. Which will add a significant amount of perspective when you consider that most writers in NaNoWriMo have to write around 1,667 words per day where I am aiming for 3,000 words per day. Meaning that I am writing almost double what everyone else is to reach my goal. I’m sure other writers in the fantasy genre can understand where I am coming from. It certainly is an ambitious goal and somewhat comparative to sprinting a cross country marathon.
The daily rundown of days 1-5 of NaNoWriMo.
Day One (Nov. 1st): 3,108 actual words/3,000 daily word goal. (exceeded expectations)
The first day writing my novel for NaNoWriMo definitely surpassed my expectations of what I thought I would be able to complete, and the biggest surprise was that it was a very positive experience. I didn’t feel weighed down by my word goal whatsoever, and that was reassuring from a writer’s point of view. I was very productive and clear in my direction towards my end goal for the day. The existing source material that I was able to use for the scenes proved very useful, and gave me ideas that I hadn’t elaborated on in previous editions. It was quite nice to realize that I had decent material already existing.
(Journal Excerpt) Lesson One/Day One: Set boundaries.
It is important to set boundaries in terms of word goals, and what that means is that you shouldn’t stray too far over or under your word goal for any particular day. A classmate of mine from GRCC actually was the first person to encourage me to do this. At this point in the NaNoWriMo process I wasn’t too worried because going over my word goal by 108 words isn’t anything too extreme, but as a writer it pays off a lot of times to hold off until the next day before elaborating too much over your daily word goal. Save some stuff for later and see what happens. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised by what comes from the words you held over until the next day. Let those additional words fester and create another potential layer to your story.
As Dr. Seuss said, “Oh, the places you’ll go”.
Day Two (Nov. 2nd.): 3,068 actual words/3,000 daily word goal. (exceeded expectations)
Today I struggled a bit to push forward with the story, and I checked my word count about twenty times before I met (and actually surpassed) my daily word goal. In a sense I am really glad that this experience happened because it pushed me to get things done and I found strength in the midst of my struggle. The harder it feels to meet my word goals the more I am propelled forward to knock down the wall that blocks my creativity. I’m a bit worried that my homework might suffer in my efforts to write this novel, but this novel writing experience is so important to me that I’m just going to push myself beyond my limitations and make it work. That’s what you have to do, just make it work.
You are your own scheduler. Make it work.
(Journal Excerpt) Lesson Two/Day Two: Time Management
Your schedule is going to be busy and making things work for your schedule is something you are going to have to deal with on a daily basis. Make sure you manage your time wisely. My schedule looks something like this: School, Work, Quality time with son and significant other, Write 3,000 words a day, and homework. Now if your schedule looks like something similar you will immediately realize why it is important to manage your time wisely, and make sure to schedule time for everything in your life that matters to you. Everything that matters has a time slot in your world including writing, school, family, work, and leisure time.
Time matters. Use it wisely.
Day Three (Nov. 3rd): 3,566 actual words/3,000 daily word goal. (exceeded expectations)
The third day seems like it would be the most representative of when things start taking a turn for the worst doesn’t it? For me that wasn’t the case it was quite the opposite. I felt as though my writing was really starting to take off on day three because I was over that hump of the introduction and I was done creating a picture of the world for the reader. I was finally breaking through the surface of the characters a bit and beginning to enhance their worlds. Day three is actually more representative of seeing half the sun as it rises in the morning on the horizon.
Don’t be afraid to let your creativity shine.
(Journal Excerpt) Lesson Three/Day Three: Snacks, Drinks, Setting, and Ambiance.
When I sit down to write the first thing I do is make sure the lighting is bright enough in my office to see clearly. Then, I queue up my novel playlist, grab some lifesaver mints, and brew the coffee. This is my process for setting the ambiance when writing.
Be an active participant in setting the mood of the writing experience for yourself, and don’t be afraid to indulge a little. Some people like coffee when they write and some like water. Others like to smoke (though I don’t recommend it) and some like to chew gum. Some people write at coffee shops in the morning and others at home in the dead of night. I would strongly recommend at minimum finding something or somewhere that in a relatively healthy way satiates that need for ambiance when writing. You can use music to create this focused environment, or even combine elements from many comforts to get settled into the zone. Just be sure to find the best space to create in that works for you, and make sure it’s somewhere where you feel comfortable and focused.
Create your own ambiance.
Day Four (Nov. 4th): 3,743 actual words/3,000 daily word goal. (exceeded expectations)
The fourth day I was so far in the zone I looked up and it was 1AM. I started writing around 7ish that night and had hit my stride so well that I just wrote and wrote and wrote. Remember when I mentioned that you shouldn’t surpass your goal by too much? Yeah, I broke that rule by a lot on day four, but I don’t regret being a rule breaker in this situation. Sometimes you just have to follow where your passion leads you and this is one example of where that idea really rings true. The good news is that when you do this well it would be rightfully warranted to give yourself a little pat on the back and a reward for all of your hard work.
Celebrate your successes and your failures. Acknowledge all of your efforts.
(Journal Excerpt) Lesson Four/Day Four: Treat Yourself.
When you do really well and surpass the expectations you have set for yourself be sure to give thanks and treat yourself! I’m not saying go off the deep end and then forfeit all of your progress by partying too hard and forgetting what got you to this place, but do celebrate the times when you meet your mark. This means different things to different people. For me this meant that I could deduct the words that I had written over for the week from my word goal for the next day, and spend some time socializing with my coworkers. This social interaction time broke up my week-long super focused intention and gave me some leisure time to remember why I love creating in the first place.
Friends offer up some of the best source material by just being themselves. Pay attention.
Day Five (Nov. 5th): 1274 actual words/1575 daily word goal (below expectations).
I didn’t meet my goal today but I came pretty close. My schedule certainly caught up with me and it didn’t help that I allowed myself to celebrate a little, or did it? The leisure time was certainly both well deserved and needed. One thing I did do is I made sure that when I came home that I wrote something because when focusing your intention on writing always be sure to do something each day. You can sleep sound knowing that when you exert some form of effort towards reaching your goal every day that you will get there eventually, but if you do nothing you will with certainty get nowhere. It is important to note that when you are productive throughout your day you feel better in general.
A little effort put forth towards your goals each day keeps the negative demons away.
(Journal Excerpt) Lesson Five/Day Five: Write Something Everyday.
It doesn’t matter how much or for how long in the grand scheme of things, but a sure fire way to get nothing done is to write nothing. So, be sure to write something no matter what each and every day. Even if you are unable to reach the initial goal you set for yourself be sure that you try, even minimally, by making sure that you at least write something. There is nothing more disappointing than setting a goal and realizing that you can’t meet it, but can’t ever and can’t today are two totally different things. As long as you write something you will get there.
Progress starts by actively doing something.
I leave you with these lessons that I have learned for myself since my words for the day are calling for me to be written. If you want to write a novel in a month you certainly can do so. I recommend setting boundaries, establishing time management skills early on, setting the ambiance, treating yourself, and always writing something.
Until next week, Happy Writing!
For more information on NaNoWriMo click here.