For the first time ever, I decided that 2018 was my year to tackle National Novel Writing Month . If you’re not familiar with ‘NaNoWriMo’, it’s an annual global event that encourages authors-in-the-making to thrash out the first draft of that novel they keep putting off.
I’ve never seriously attempted NaNo before, so this year I decided to just DO IT, partly because I’m a glutton for punishment, and partly because I had an idea for a witchy novel (oh yes) that I was desperate to try on for size.
In all honesty, 30 days later, I’m a mess. But it ended up being an… interesting challenge. I only just managed to hit that 50k on the final day of NaNo, but I’m so glad I took the plunge because now I have 50k of a new novel. Here are all the things I learned…
1. A little planning goes a long way
There’s that saying, ‘You’re a planner or a panter.’ In reality, I fall somewhere in the middle. I can usually scratch out a few chapters of something before I’m chewing on bricks, but it’s always useful to have a roadmap. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank page and a blinking cursor.
So I spent the first two days of NaNo writing character profiles, planning plot beats and generally immersing myself in the world of the book. Although it meant that, at first, I was writing zero words towards my word count, those days were invaluable in helping me figure out my story – and then formulate a skeletal outline so I always had some idea what to write.
2. Finding time is difficult – but prioritising writing is worth it
We’re all busy. We all have to food shop and brush our teeth and sometimes even work. We might occasionally think about seeing our friends and family. Those are all things we have to do, but that’s the great thing about NaNo – for once, you have to write. If you don’t, you’re not going to birth that book baby you decided to have.
There’s something special about carving out the time to write. Making it a priority. And then seeing what you’re really capable of.
3. When in doubt, just write
I’m a perfectionist. A part of me doesn’t want to even think about writing unless I know I’m crafting pure word-gold.
Of course, ‘perfect’ is notoriously hard-won, and at the start of NaNo, I really had to give myself the ‘bullshit talk’. As in, “This is probably going to be bullshit, but that’s OK. You can make it better later.” That really helped me to loosen up on the perfection leash and just write. My motto: Write badly. Edit goodly.
4. It helps you focus
I’m guilty of being a bit of a fair-weather writer. I often get intensely interested in a project, and as soon as it becomes difficult for whatever reason, be that plot or character, I find a new shiny toy to play with.
NaNo cuts that bullshit right to the bone. You choose a project and you stick with it until the bitter end (of the month), and oh how bitter you may be, but that sort of commitment is exactly what I need. No bailing, no getting distracted by something newer. This is your project for the month and you have to battle through no matter what.
5. Don’t compare!
Some people are sprinters, some people are long-distance runners. Others are amblers. It’s all good. Although it’s tempting to check in on how other writers are doing, or begrudge them their rejoicing when they’re all “I wrote 50k in a week!”, you’ll only drive yourself crazy.
Celebrate your milestones (NaNo handily gives you badges every couple of thousand words that you can flash around if you so wish), and celebrate the milestones other people reach, too. We’re in this together!
6. Quitting is oh-so tempting
Writing is exhausting, especially when you’re using all of your normal ‘down time’ to do it. By week three, I was sorely tempted to jack it all in.
Luckily, I have an amazing support network – my boyfriend (hi, Thom!), friends and other writers were all great cheerleaders who encouraged me along the way. So no. Don’t quit. You can do it. It may be painful but it feels SO GOOD when you finally hit 50k.
7. You don’t have to finish a whole book
THIS IS THE BIGGIE. You’re writing 50k, but most books average out at 80k, so it’s unlikely you’ll have a full first draft by the end of NaNo (unless you set a different target or had different objectives, like redrafting an existing project).
About 20k into my witch book, I knew the first draft was going to be way over 50k. That disheartened me at first because I knew that even if I ‘won’ NaNo, I still wouldn’t have an entire finished draft to work on.
In the end, though, that was sort of freeing. I decided to just write whichever scenes I fancied and fill in the gaps later. So even though I don’t have much of the third act written, I do have the final chapter done. And I have two thirds of a pretty solid draft. WHOOP!
All right, that was me, now what about you?
Did you take part in NaNoWriMo 2018? How did you do? Let me know below!