NaNoWriMo: Writing 50,000 Words in 30 Days

(My Journey in 2019 – Part 2)

(If you haven’t read the Part 1 of this series, “PLANNING For Success”, be sure to check it out by clicking here!)

The time has come! In October 2019, I convinced myself I would partake in the annual writing marathon: NaNoWriMo. Following my previous article (PLANNING For Success), I now had an idea for my novel’s plot and all that remained was to sit down, crack my fingers and get on with it. Yet working a full-time job, fatigue waited for me at home after every shift like an old friend.  I knew straight away that this wasn’t going to be easy.

It’s 6:00am, the morning of November 1st. Canadian winter is in full swing and the outside temperature has plummeted below zero. I’m bundled up tight with nary an inch of skin exposed, wishing for the warmth of the number 16 bus due in ten minutes. I was thinking of nothing more than its heralded arrival, when I realised, I had a grand opportunity to begin the yearly challenge. It meant getting frostbite on my fingers and typing upon my phone, which no doubt I wouldn’t be able to feel in the cold. Yet I knew if I was to succeed, I had to take every chance I could get. A little factoid about me is that I’m lazy. There’s no point in denying that. When I finish work, I want nothing more than to go home, watch TV and forget about the world. I mean, doesn’t everyone? Yet I knew that if I didn’t force myself to write every time an opportunity arose (no matter the elements OR circumstances) I would fail. I could have waited until the evening, when I was comfortable at home but I had to be hard on myself. Otherwise, my own lack of motivation would be my enemy. I could not allow the morning temperature to defeat me yet I admit, sometimes that was easier said than done. On some days it was so cold outside, I couldn’t bear to have my fingers exposed for even a second. But at the start of the challenge, my excitement warmed me; I was eager to get underway. Thus, this year, the first 500 or so words of NaNoWriMo came into fruition in the freezing cold. With numb fingers, the quality was weak. The grammar and vocabulary? Sloppy. For me, a perfectionist, it stirred such an anger inside. My vision, my dream; the novel I one day want to see in bookstores looked as if a toddler had written it. I was doing NaNoWriMo wrong…

…No, I was doing NaNoWriMo right.

Time and time again, I’ve read that when it comes to NaNoWriMo, being a perfectionist is your own worst enemy. Participating this year proved that to me. If it wasn’t for the sloppy mess of words I threw out at the bus stop, I would never have made it to 50,000 words on November 30th. It reminds me of something I read online a while ago. It said:

“In NaNoWriMo, you’re piling the sand into the bucket ready to craft your sandcastle.”

I thought about this saying a lot as the days went by (whoever posted it, thank you!) I wasn’t writing the novel publishing agents would read; I was telling my story to myself. Who cares about the mistakes and little details? After November there isn’t a daily word quota to fill! I could be the perfectionist I wanted to be and take all the time in the world. I could delete whole paragraphs without loss, change sentence structures, replace words. What I wrote now, I would manipulate later into my masterpiece. I may be writing a mess today but that doesn’t mean I’m committing my work to be a mess forever. With that logic, I typed like a machine! My phone filled up with rushed paragraph after paragraph and I found on average, I was pulling about 400 words on the bus to work and 400 words on the bus home. I was quite proud of this. By the time I stepped over the threshold of my house after a hard day, I already had achieved over 50% of the daily quota! I felt as if NaNoWriMo was easy. Let me tell you now, it’s not. As soon as that thought occurred to me, I started to grow complacent. So much so that I started to work more dangerous. I allowed editing.

As you NaNoWriMo professionals reading this no doubt know, editing during November is a big no no. You not only lose time; you risk chopping your word count down below the daily quota thus falling behind. It’s not a good habit to get into; to self-critique so soon. Despite allowing myself the privilege, I realised this. So, I made myself a couple of stipulations. It was my way of satiating the perfectionist inside of me unable to wait until December, while keeping myself from drowning in the workload. The rules were simple:

Rule Number 1: I could only edit if I have reached the daily quota.

Rule Number 2: My word count must not fall below where it began when I started editing.

Simple. I found with this; my editing process became an exercise of fleshing out ideas more than anything. If I deleted a sentence I didn’t like I would have to replace it with another and it proved to be quite genius! I found more often than not; my editing made my word count come out higher than where it began. Having already reached the daily quota, this made the next day even more easy and before I knew it, I had a system. I had to get the bus to and from work every day, I would ALWAYS write then. When I got home, I had about a half-an-hour window before my partner returned; that was writing time too. If I hadn’t hit the quota by that point, it was a bad day. While that did happen, it was few and far between and I played catch-up as needed. For me, having a system and being consistent was essential. That’s a key secret of NaNoWriMo. Take every single chance you can get to write and remember, even ten extra words is better than zero.

So, I had a system in place, I was pumping out words. Did I have it in the bag? Let’s talk about Writers Block. Every aspiring novelist knows of it. An old, unwelcome family member that always shows up at the wrong time. I had planned my novel to a tee, I was teeming with ideas but to manifest them on the page, it wasn’t always easy. Some days I filled my quota early and had enough steam leftover to keep chugging but on other days, every 100 words was a mountain. That’s when I started to get demotivated and that’s when the marathon became a challenge. Like an addict, I’d be checking my word count with every new sentence, as if I’d casted a spell that would make one word worth a hundred. I’d stare at the clock on the corner of my computer, observing how in half-an-hour I’d made next to no progress. It made the challenge exhausting and it made me depressed. It was in these moments I became tempted to say, “well I tried.” Calling it a day would have been most welcome indeed. Yet I found, in those situations, forcing myself to write was counter-productive. In fact, it was more efficient to stop, walk away, take a shower and recuperate. You can’t force a good idea, after all. I found, actually, showering was a fantastic time to think about what I could write. I didn’t leave a shower a single time during November without feeling inspired. One such conclusion I reached when I was in a real pickle? There’s no law against writing your book outside of chronological order. I found if you jumped ahead in the story, to moments you’re excited about writing, you gain fresh ideas and reignite your inspiration. This was a massive step for me which helped to break the wall that is writers block. Once you had gotten ahead, it was a case of treading back until you filled the void, ready to flesh out your ideas later. Easy.

I wasn’t quite out of the woods.

As I said before, I work full time but I also have a loving family (who I thank so much for supporting me through November). The family became a hurdle on weekends, when I had no bus journey to work to hit most of my word count. I didn’t like the idea of sitting indoors while my girlfriend went out, unable to spend time with me. I knew I had to focus on my writing but I didn’t want it to become my everything. What I tried to do here was get in my words as early as possible. As soon as I woke up, I’d be on the computer typing like a maniac; this would often cause me to trip over my own thoughts. Let me tell you, that was a whole mess upon itself! But refer to my first paragraph; the sandcastle. A mess is completely acceptable during November; something I had to tell myself again and again. One weekend comes to mind in particular. We had a family trip and we were leaving first thing in the morning. I felt horrible about it because I wanted to go with my family but I knew in doing so, I risked losing my daily quota. Losing one day may not be such a big-deal, right? I could double up the following day but I didn’t want to get into that habit. I felt if I fell short once, it would become more and more easy to fall short again. Soon, the daily quota would creep up as I fell behind. It made me anxious. I didn’t want to neglect my family, for one. They were all looking forward to seeing me but I couldn’t give up.

The phone came to my rescue once again.

In the car on our road trip, while everyone chatted, I sat staring at my phone, typing with extreme vigour. I gave myself motion sickness and I felt rude. Yet, it turns out my family knew exactly what I was doing and they supported it. In fact, when I told them I hit the word count in the car, it impressed them. That’s another takeaway I gained from NaNoWriMo 2019. To achieve the quota, you need to make sacrifices but a loving family will support you. They will bolster you and make you feel proud. I can’t thank my family enough for putting up with me during the challenge.

Before I wrap this article up, I want to briefly talk about the last 10,000 words of the challenge. At first, the milestones came quick. I remember celebrating the first 10,000 words as if it I had written them yesterday but before I knew it, I had doubled and then tripled them. That wasn’t the case when I hit the 40,000 mark. It was as if the final stretch had a curse upon it. In particular, the last day of the marathon was a treacherous one. With the end so near, I found all I wanted to do was call it quits and have a break. They were the longest words I’ve ever written in my life. For me, it has to do with what I was saying earlier, about writer’s block. I said, if you encountered it, you could jump ahead and work backward to fill in any blank spots. As my novel was coming to a close, no longer was that option available. I had to force words. I know there are different ways of doing this to reach the goal; like trains of thoughts or brain-storms. That’s fine but as I said in my last article, to me that’s unorthodox, which isn’t a part of who I am. Fair enough, if that was your choice but for me the last 10,000 words had to push my story forward. So, I hedged. It looked a complete and utter mess. So much so, that even today, I don’t like to think of the end of my novel. As of writing this, I haven’t made it through that far in my second draft and I know when I do, I’m going to hate myself.

It doesn’t matter.

The rest of my novel is amateurish anyway. What does matter was I had written 50,000 words in one month and you can too. All you have to do is focus, take every opportunity you can and never ever give up.

Join me for the final part of this series in two weeks, as I explore the on-going editing process and what my plans are for my novel when it’s finally finished!

There’s still a long road ahead.

(I do apologise for not going into too much detail about my actual novel or the plot. I will be seeking traditional publishing for it soon and from what I’ve seen online, having all the details “out there” doesn’t look good when seeking publishers. I could be wrong. I’m just cautious!)


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