I have tried and fantastically failed NaNoWriMo multiple times. Four failed attempts, to be exact. For each of those attempts, I tried to run with an idea I’ve had cooking in my brain for years (a mind blowing novel, I swear) but when NaNoWriMo came around, my idea well ran dry. I had an idea but that was all. Turns out, an idea is not enough to write a novel.
What made this year and my fifth attempt different? Here are the things that took me from NaNoWriMo Attempter to a NaNoWriMo Winner:
Getting into the NaNoWriMo mindset
Prior to November, I took the NaNo Prep course offered through Coursera. This was a collegiate level course cramped into a span of two months. The pace of the course was intense, but it helped me build (and get comfortable with) a daily writing routine. The instructors taught foundational writing principals which in turn enabled me to identify what I needed in order to take my novel from an idea to well, a novel.
Setting non word count goals
NaNoWriMo centers around writing a 50k novel by the end of the month. In my past NaNo attempts, focusing on the word count created a mental block that I couldn’t break through. This year I created non word count goals on a weekly and monthly basis. The monthly goals were reminders that participating in NaNoWriMo was supposed to be fun, an activity that helped move me towards my goals of being an author. Weekly goals I set each Sunday, making them achievable and not overwhelming (which made it easier to succeed). For the last week, when I knew I could hit 50k, I added a word count goal for extra motivation. I also hung my goals up in my bedroom where I would see them everyday.
I would not have been able to finish NaNoWriMo without having supporters to push me on the tough days. My husband was all in; making me a word count tracking spreadsheet and staying up late with me until I reached my daily word count. Having him on board made it easier to spend all of my time outside of work on my computer typing away in make believe land. I also made a friend on the NaNoWriMo site through the genre forums. Both of our novels are in the women’s fiction genre and we agreed to support each other throughout the month. My buddy provided ideas when I was stuck, sent motivation and wallowed with me when I had mental blocks. I am thankful for the support because it made a difference!
Creating an outline
I started NaNoWriMo without an outline. Heading into the second week I realized I needed an outline to figure out my story arc and what I needed to write to get to the novel’s end. Creating an outline forced me to think critically about the movement in my novel and gave me something to work on when I felt I had nothing left in the tank.
Participating in NaNoWriMo sprints
Thank heavens for the NaNoWriMo Sprint Twitter account. Their hosted sprints made word counts achievable by breaking writing up into time blocks. Simply put: write as many words in a time block (5 minutes, 15 minutes, etc) as possible and share your count with the sprinters on Twitter. Doing a few of these sprints multiple times a day made getting to 1,667 words a day manageable. Encouragement from fellow NaNoWriMo sprinters was the cherry on top!
Getting the words on paper
It sounds simple, but when times got tough or I felt stuck or defeated or hopeless, I told myself to just get the words on the paper. The words didn’t have to be poetic. They didn’t have to be reader ready. They just needed to be on the paper. I convinced myself that real writing comes from being a strong editor and rewriter. That concept made it easier to let go of the pressure of perfection and get the words on the page.
Even though my novel isn’t finished, I knocked out a huge chunk of it thanks to NaNoWriMo. Sometimes I can’t believe I accomplished writing 50k words but by golly I did it and now I’m well on my way to writing my first novel.