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This post is all about guts: A NaNoWriMo postmortem

GUTS_byGGSilvermanWriting a book takes guts. And thousands of people test their guts every November for National Novel Writing Month, where both newbie and experienced writers alike attempt the difficult task of writing a 50,000 word novel (or at least a first draft, anyway) in the short space of a month. Is this crazy? Yes. Impossible? No. Yet I didn’t manage to hit 50,000 myself, only clocking in at just under 37,000. I’m still pretty proud of myself, as that’s the most I’ve ever written in thirty days’ time. But, could I do better? Hells, yeah.

Here’s an honest, squishy, deep-in-the-guts postmortem of my first NaNoWriMo experience:

1. Have a plan. And give yourself enough time to make said plan.
The last time I attempted to write a novel without an outline, I produced a crazy, meandering stinker of a turd, most of which got flushed and rewritten. Since that fiasco, I’ve become a plotter, and after stumbling around like a drunken zombie trying various plotting methods, the Snowflake Method was a lifesaver. (Note, I don’t use the software, I simply outline according to the instructions on the aforementioned link). That having been said, where’d I flunk? Well, I didn’t do this far enough in advance, and had some gaping holes in my outline, causing me to hit the proverbial wall several times, and I wasn’t as productive as I could have been. Boo, hiss.

2. Stop being a perfectionist. Just. Stop.
Yes, you have your outline, but don’t overthink every last detail as you write. And don’t edit as your write. Just write. Let the words flow. You can edit later, that’s what revision is for. And try to nix dreadful perfectionism from every aspect of your life, at least during NaNoWriMo. Let your house be dirty. Let the dishes pile up in the sink. Order takeout. This is your time, baby. I am absolutely guilty of perfectionism, and my house was a little too clean during NaNoWriMo. I could have fired out more words, boom-boom-boom, had I not been, um, obsessing about microscopic pieces of lint, or something. This leads me to…

3. Write as much as you can, every day.
Writing every day helps you build speed and muscle memory. It gets faster and easier the more you do it, and during NaNoWriMo it’s absolutely critical. I made the mistake of skipping a day or two after particularly crazy days at work, which caused me to slide backward, not able to catch up. My daily average tends to be about 1670 words, and had I written every day, I would have easily hit 50,000. Repeat after me: during NaNoWriMo, skipping a day is a slippery slope. Now say it ten times. Now drop down and give me fifty.

4. Do it with friends.
I’m happy to say I was really good at this. Working alongside like-minded people gave me the motivation to push myself harder than ever. Plus, writing is inherently lonely, why not write with other writers? Smash your social time and work time together, like peanut butter and jelly. Delicious. You’re probably wondering if we got lost in talking. We didn’t, really. The only downside was that driving to and from write-ins ate into my writing time on occasion. Next time, I’ll plan better to avoid traffic. Where to find friends to write with? Search your local area on the NaNoWriMo message boards for write-ins, and your local library may host events all month. Or create your own write-in by finding and inviting local, like-minded Twitter folk. The possibilities are endless.

Despite the above nit-picking, I consider myself a NaNoWriMo winner, because I came further than I ever thought I would. It once took me a whole year to write 30,000 words, so doing that in 30 days, well, that took guts. Yay, me! Plus, I can use the skills I learned during NaNoWriMo all year long. Every month can be NaNoWriMo, if I want.

If you decide to do NaNoWriMo next year, please friend me on the NaNoWriMo website and on Twitter (I’m GG_Silverman on both) and I’ll be sure to cheer you on, you gutsy thing.

4 comments on “This post is all about guts: A NaNoWriMo postmortem

  1. GG,

    Right on the money! I think I work much the same way you do. I know that daily writing doesn’t work for everyone, but for the people who it does work for, it’s vital.

    I loved getting together and writing with friends. Having an outline has been critical for me; I think I could probably outline more, despite my resistance to it.

    NaNoWriMo has given me confidence as a writer, helped me build my community and take the risks I need to take to improve my craft. I also decided to sign up for a thing this month, which I’m finding is helping to sustain the momentum and energy built in November. The other times I did NaNo, after it was done I felt depleted and empty, because there was a vacuum. But now I have another place to direct that energy. Community is VITAL to the writer’s life. Thank you for being part of my community.

    • Dear Jill,

      Thank YOU so much for being part of my community. I am grateful that you reached out to me on Twitter and became my friend, and gave me the motivation I needed to keep going!
      Yes, daily writing is definitely critical for me. I do take small breaks now and again, but, mostly writing every day is what keeps my writing muscles strong. As of this morning, I had been taking a small post-NaNoWriMo break, but today found myself going at it again at the urging of two friends who dared me to me write a short Western. 🙂
      Good luck as you keep going this December. I’m so happy to hear that you’re energized and motivated instead of depleted. Looking forward to reading your big, beautiful novel!
      And, more write-ins soon!


  2. Guts, an unshakable belief in yourself, willful disregard of the odds, a bit of masochism, and a streak of insanity. And the ability to ignore the question, “Why am I doing this?”

    Great advice, G, and very inspiring words. Still looking for my own process, and trying to find the discipline you’ve so clearly developed. It’s fantastic to watch you evolve as a writer, and I’m glad you’re taking me along for the ride. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

    • Devin, thank you for your kind words, and more than anything else, thank you for being a mentor and sounding board, a person who inspires me and motivates me to keep going, even when I don’t feel like it.
      Yes, damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

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