I've done National Novel Writing Month six times now - not including the failed Camp NaNo attempt this past summer that never really got off the ground. This was my third year winning and the first time I not only finished the 50K word count but also finished the rough draft of the novel I had started. It was also the easiest attempt in my memory. I have a theory about why...
Is it because I had already completed a rough draft of my first novel and know how to get to "The End"?
Is it because I have used all these years to build a habit for daily writing - at least during November?
Is it because I planned ahead this time with character studies and a plot outline before November hit?
I think it has a lot to do with all three of these key elements.
This November was not the perfect month to pick to impose this crazy deadline on myself and life threw even more wrenches into the works. I was too tired on Halloween to stay up past midnight and write a couple thousand words to start off with a buffer like I always have before. Little Sister (who is now three) came down with a nasty flu at the end of week two and I had to hold her while she suffered with high fevers for a solid week. The only time I could write was while she was drugged and sleeping. Then one night of planned house guests a couple of days before Thanksgiving turned into three days and I could only write after everyone had gone to bed - much later than a normal night.
With all of that plus the craziness that always comes with my life anyway, I still managed to write every day except three over the course of the entire month. And I hit the daily word count goal an average of four days every week. I caught up little by little on the nights I wrote well and spent the weekends holed up with my laptop while my family tried to manage itself without me at the helm. Big Sister did her own laundry to help out a couple of times, and my amazingly supportive Hubby did dishes and grocery shopping all month and even cooked huge meals on the weekends when there was more time so we could eat reheated leftovers during the week. As a result, I only stayed up past midnight once the entire month - very unlike any of my previous winning attempts. And, I was DONE EARLY and enjoyed a celebratory date night on November 30th which was super strange. Usually I'm frantically clawing for word count to validate my novel with minutes to spare in the wee hours before the 30th comes to a close.
So how did I really do it?
- I spent all of October fleshing out characters and plot points so all I really had to do in November was write the story I'd already thought through. Of course I got halfway through and realized the plot was far too elaborate and my characters had gone and gotten us pretty far off course so I had to rethink the ending but that wasn't as hard as I imagined.
- I invested in software especially designed for writers that made managing my plot a breeze. (If you haven't checked out Scrivener, do yourself a favor and do. It is super affordable and once you start using it you are hooked.) This allowed me the flexibility to write those scenes I'd planned to happen in the order I was inspired to write them rather than how I planned to lay them out. Keeping the creativity juices flowing made the actual writing so much more effortless.
- My family and all my friends were on board and supportive of my efforts. This is huge and I can't stress enough how important it is. Writing is like having a job and if you want people to take you seriously you have to treat it as such. My family knew that I had scheduled the time after the kids went to bed at 9:00 until midnight every night to devote to writing and then large chunks of each weekend as well. Friends supported me from afar and didn't extend invitations they knew would tempt me from my writing.
- I didn't deprive myself entirely of those things in life that keep me grounded and happy. All three of the days that I didn't write were nights that I used wisely. One night I spent with Hubby; one was an impromptu night of laughter, tears and wine with a friend that went further in recharging my batteries than I might have imagined before I spontaneously threw caution to the wind on a whim; and I didn't write on Thanksgiving. I still did yoga three to four days a week. And I still went to my monthly book club. I could do these things because they helped me stay focused on maintaining the daily word count when I was writing so I could slow and steady win the race.
- I wrote every day (with the noted exceptions above) whether I was inspired to do so when I sat down or not. This made it so I didn't ever get so far behind that I had to do massive feats of will (or caffeine) to write enough to catch up. Remember the last time I won when I wrote something like 18K in the last five days? That was insane and I swore I would never do it again. Instead, I never got more than about 3K behind the 1667 words a day pace and was able to keep the goal easily within sight. It seems like the simplest and silliest writing advice anyone ever gives when they say "Just write" but that has boiled down to the key for me.
I'm taking the month of December off to celebrate the holidays and reconnect with my family. And come January I will again embark into uncharted territory when I begin the process of editing my rough draft from the messy, grammatically incorrect, tense-switching, inconsistent and full of plot holes state it currently is into something worthy of submitting to agents and publishers. It is sure to be a wild ride!