Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

In November 2004 I attempted my first writing marathon … National Novel Writing Month. Every year between November 1st and 30th, crazy writers accept the challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel.

Chris Baty hatched NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 21 aspiring novelists accepting the challenge. Six of them crossed the finish line.

In 2007, 101,510 writers took the challenge and 15,333 finished. A total of—and this is a REALLY big number—1,187,931,929 words were logged.

In 2017, 306,230 writers participated. Crikey!

There have been at least 25 published NaNoWriMo authors, including Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS, one of my very favorite books of all time! Here are some more. Maybe you’ll be on that list in a few years.

But only if you accept the challenge, Grasshopper.

Why, you ask, would I subject myself not once, not twice, but three times to this type of chained-to-your-desk-butt-numbing-highly-caffeinated torture? Simple. To write. To get it done. To learn. To create a habit.

Having survived, I highly recommend this peculiar approach to kick-start a stalled project or to silence your inner-editor or to give yourself a shove right over the Niagara Falls of your creativity.

I learned to plant my hindquarters in my chair for extended periods of time. It seems obvious, but the obvious truths are often the very ones we overlook. If I’m not in front of my keyboard, it’s guaranteed that no writing will take place. But if I’m sitting, fingers poised, I will write.

I learned the importance of an organized plan of attack. I knew how many days, hours, and minutes I had available to write. I knew how many words I needed. I had access to a calculator, a 40-cup coffee hypodermic, and the pizza delivery guy. My plan was born.

I learned how to write faster and better. When quantity matters more than quality, I learned to stop editing myself along the way. Something magical happened when I ignored my dictionary, thesaurus, and style manual. I was free to write creatively instead of correctly. My word choices broadened in direct proportion to how far behind I was on my word count that day. Instead of using a boring placeholder word like quickly, I found myself using a more colorful phrase like in a jiffy or as fast as a pig going downhill on roller skates. What a bonus to count all the extra words!

I also learned it doesn’t matter whether I’m cranky, sad, angry, tired or hungry. Nobody can tell my state of mind based on my writing. Now I know I never have to put off writing until I’m in a better mood. As a bonus, I learned that writing always puts me in a better mood.

I learned the importance of good health. Sitting and writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. I had to take time to exercise and stretch every day. I had to protect my fingers, forearms, neck and eyeballs constantly. I also flossed more often than normal, but in retrospect that probably had more to do with stalling.

I learned my household would not fall apart if I focus on an all-consuming project. Thanksgiving dinner is just as enjoyable with Stove Top as it is with homemade chestnut-blue cheese stuffing. My kids, in fact, say it’s more enjoyable. Go figure. Laundry will not topple over and suffocate us while we sleep, field trip forms will get signed in a timely manner, and the Health Department will not need to visit.

So, if you’ve been considering writing a novel, or you just need your butt kicked, dive into National Novel Writing Month in November. Take a couple of days, make some notes, research a location for your setting, sketch your characters, and maybe rent an industrial-sized coffee pot.

Let me know how it turns out. Never mind. I know how it’ll turn out. It’ll be crappy. Oh, so joyfully crappy. Mold it, bend it, curse at it, delight in it.

You’ve won!

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?

Twisting By The Fool

There are all kinds of twists ”” delicious twist doughnuts, intricate twist hairstyles and jewelry, and of course, plot twists.

None of which I’m going to talk about today.

Instead, I want to chat about Dire Straits.

Writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. In 2006, the first time I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month where you write 60,000 words of a new novel in 30 days), I learned a valuable lesson. Among many, many other things, I learned I had to exercise every day.

Subsequently, because I’m *ahem* older and wiser, I’ve learned, in no particular order, menopausal women pack on weight like mastodons preparing for the next Ice Age … a body in motion tends to stay in motion … standing is better than sitting … the hip bone’s connected to the back bone, the back bone’s connected to the neck bone, the neck bone’s connected to the head bone … and you’ve gotta shake dem skeleton bones.

Dire Straits also knows this.

Here is my workspace.

standing desk, ergonomics

When I know I’ll be writing and/or concentrating at my desk for lengthy periods, I set my alarm every hour. I have a playlist called “Becky’s Dance Party” and when the alarm sounds, I choose one song. Sometimes I pull out my trampoline and bounce in a raucous manner, sometimes I bop around in the room. But this is my favorite song to dance to …

And if you’ve been sitting there reading blogs, email, and Facebook for a while, I challenge you to crank the volume and join me as a twisty fool for three minutes and thirty-one seconds. I guarantee you will have more energy and better focus when you finish.

Now get back to work!

What I Learned From National Novel Writing Month

I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo lately, but I wrote this in 2006 after the first time I played. Maybe it will help current participants. Or not. But I wrote it and here it is. So there.

What I Learned From National Novel Writing Month

61,412.

The number of Legos on my son’s floor? The number of rejection letters I’ve received? Miles of cable hooking up my computers, printers, and modems?

No. Well, yes, but that’s not what’s important right now.

61,412 is the number of words I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month challenge between November 1st and November 30th, completing two first draft manuscripts of my middle grade novels.

Chris Baty started NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 21 aspiring novelists accepting the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel from scratch in November. Six of them crossed the 50,000-word finish line. In 2005 there were upwards of 59,000 participants with 9,769 crossing the finish line. They anticipate 75,000 participants in 2006.*

Why, you ask, would I subject myself to this type of chained-to-your-desk-butt-numbing-highly-caffeinated torture? Simple. To write. To get it done. To learn. Having survived, I highly recommend this peculiar approach to kick-start a stalled project or to silence your inner-editor or to give yourself a shove right over the Niagara Falls of your creativity.

But before I go any further, I have a confession. I cheated. I didn’t write one long novel; I wrote two short ones. But I knew I was going to cheat before I even started so as penance, I set my bar a bit higher at 60,000 words. There, I feel better.

Despite bending the rules, I wrote and I learned.

I learned to plant my hindquarters in my chair for extended periods of time. It seems obvious, but the obvious truths are often the very ones we overlook. If I’m not in front of my keyboard, it’s guaranteed that no writing will take place. But if I’m sitting, fingers poised, I will write.

I learned the importance of an organized plan of attack. I knew how many days, hours, and minutes I had available to write. I knew how many words I needed. I had access to a calculator, a 40-cup coffee hypodermic, and the pizza delivery guy. My plan was born.

I learned how to write faster and better. When quantity matters more than quality, I learned to stop editing myself along the way. Something magical happened when I ignored my dictionary, thesaurus and style manual. I was free to write creatively instead of correctly. My word choices broadened in direct proportion to how far behind I was on my word count that day. Instead of using a safe but boring word like quickly, I found myself using a more colorful phrase like in a jiffy or as fast as a pig going downhill on roller skates. What a bonus to count all the extra words!

In the dark recesses of my gray matter, I know there lurks a problem with POV. Writing oodles of scenes, broken only by eating and sleeping, allowed me to shine a very bright light on POV and keep it in the front of my mind. While I may still have occasional POV issues, thirty days of concentrated focus taught me to notice and correct them. My critique group will be delighted.

I also learned it doesn’t matter whether I’m cranky, sad, angry, tired or hungry. Nobody can tell based on my writing. Now I know I never have to put off writing until I’m in a better mood. As a bonus, I learned that writing always puts me in a better mood.

I learned the importance of good health. Sitting and writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. I had to take time to exercise and stretch every day. I had to protect my fingers, forearms, neck and eyeballs constantly. I also flossed more often than normal, but in retrospect that probably had more to do with stalling.

On a personal note, I learned my household will not fall apart if I focus on an all-consuming project. Thanksgiving dinner is just as enjoyable with Stove Top as it is with homemade chestnut-oyster-blue cheese stuffing. (Actually, my kids say it’s more enjoyable. Go figure.) Laundry will not topple over and suffocate us while we sleep, field trip forms will get signed in a timely manner, and the Health Department will not need to visit.

Those Legos, though, do need to get picked up.

* Stats for 2008 ””

119,301 adult participants

22,000 K-12 student participants from 600 schools

21,683 winners

1.6 billion words

If you haven’t dipped your toe in this water yet, you owe it to yourself to try. Nothing bad will happen. Swear. It’s not too late to get started this year and it’s certainly not too late for next year. Do it!