In the past couple of years, I’ve had a story in my head and as the story grows, and I put pen to paper (literally and figuratively in equal measure), I want to share my process.
I’m writing my first novel as we speak. I challenged myself to NaNoWriMo last November, and I hit the target of 50,000 words with a day or two to spare. I learned a lot and I’m still learning. As I hit the editing phase, in the hopes of wrangling this literary beast into something passably readable, I want to record how this all goes, and maybe share some lessons along the way.
First things first, I want to say that NaNoWriMo is the perfect method to kick you out of that rut you’ve been in, and really force yourself to create. It’s a timed challenge so you know how long you’ve got, the platform gives you plenty of inspirational content to keep you motivated, and it provides support and community to get you through writer’s block and the general hating of your own work that tends to happen with a lot of creative people. If you are thinking of writing something “one day”, put some serious thought into making that day be the 1st of November. Maybe even this year! Even if you don’t hit the target, anything you write will be fantastic because it’s more than you had before. Just the process of starting is a massive accomplishment. Go you!
In order to meet the standard NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words, you’ll need to hit about 1,650 every single day. You can adjust that if you want to – and you should if you have unavoidable low or no writing days – but it’s a good target to aim for each day. For me, it usually took about two hours to achieve. You might be faster or slower, but it’s a good amount of time to set. You can track your progress on the NaNoWriMo site, which has little achievements to unlock as you go, such as virtual badges for certain milestones, and a daily word count tally and progress chart. That sort of stuff really appeals to me, so I found it quite motivating. It gave me the push I needed to hit those extra words to bring me up to 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, and so on.
In order for me to maintain the pace I needed, I told friends and family that I would be unlikely to make any social engagements for the whole month of November. That allowed me to set a bit of time aside during lunch breaks so that I could knock out 500 words during the day, and then have less pressure to write for two solid hours after work each night. On the weekends, I usually wrote in bursts. Sometimes I’d write for fifteen minutes or half an hour, then I’d take a break for a few hours. Other times I’d just sit down and do a full block. I was pleased with how I could manage to hit my target word count every time, and even exceed it a lot of the time.
I also had the added challenge of being away from home at a convention for four days right at the start of the month, which put a huge dent in my progress. I really despaired that I wouldn’t be able to make it up, even though I tried to at least write a hundred or two words frantically before midnight each night. I read something someone had said that if you don’t get your first week targets done, you will probably fail to meet the 50,000 word challenge. I was convinced I had lost before I’d even begun. And that’s where the fantastic community spirit of NaNoWriMo saved the day. There are local Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, and forums galore, and you can easily find someone who will give you the support, validation or constructive criticism you need. Early on, during those nights where I was only managing a tiny amount of writing and a huge amount of panic, a fellow NaNo-er told me that if I just pushed my daily word count up to 2,000 words instead of 1,650, I’d be back on target in a couple of weeks. And you know what, he was right – I hit 25,000 words in week two, and at that stage, something pretty amazing happened.
But that’s a story for next time!