Keeping the Enthusiasm Going: Lessons from NaNoWriMo
So, many of us are crawling out of the void that was National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. We did or did not manage the full 50k words but we wrote more than we might have without the challenge, and that absolutely is progress. (I’m definitely among the latter which is unsurprising but at least I wrote more words this month than I did any other month this year, so I’ll take it!)
Now comes the hard truth: even if you did make the 50k, you… probably didn’t write a full length novel. You might have a beginning, middle, and end, and feel it’s a “complete” story, which if so: way to go! But if you plan to try for traditional publishing in anything but Middle Grade, well, it’s going to need some beefing up to the industry standard wordcount range for your age category and genre. Take the book I finished at the start of NaNoWriMo for instance: it is an adult urban fantasy and currently is at about 77k. Which, unfortunately for me is a little less than the general range of 80k-100k. So I probably will be adding more in revisions which, let’s be real, is a whole ‘nother blog post.
But what if you finished out the past month without a complete story (of whatever wordcount length you ended up at, be it 500 words or 5k or 25k or the goal of 50k)? What if you know there are more words that your novel needs?
Well, then, you need to keep writing. It’s just that simple, and just that hard.
And while you may not (and let’s be real – you don’t need to) be aiming for multiple months back to back at the 50k-a-month NaNoWriMo speed, you probably can still take advantage of some of the NaNoWriMo writing strategies to keep your enthusiasm and focus going strong.
Community! The internet all but explodes with folks writing during November (and during the Camp NaNos throughout the year as well though I am notoriously bad at getting much written during those), and a lot of us depend on that since of community to help urge us onward. Writerly peer pressure is real, y’all, and I have no regrets about being susceptible. I mean, we all want to have our stories read – if we didn’t, we wouldn’t take the time to write them down. And we want to make friends who might read our stories when they’re done, and better yet, may let us read their stories too. You might get together for writing nights in the fine NaNoWriMo Write-In tradition. Many of the local regional groups have Facebook groups to keep local writers in touch year round. Take advantage of those if you can – they can be a great place to find your new writing buddy or writing circle. If you don’t have as many local folks, reach out to your NaNoWriMo buddies and see if they’d be game for virtual writing get-togethers. Just find yourself a circle, be it physical or virtual. Writing can be a really lonely experience, and that loneliness can kill your enthusiasm stone dead. Find a friend to be enthusiastic about writing with you.
Goals! Say what you will about the 50k wordcount goal of the “traditional” NaNoWriMo: that it’s arbitrary, not a full novel, almost impossible for some folks to reach… All of that’s true. But what it does do is give us all a target, a concrete goal to aim for. The idea of “I’m going to write a novel” can be almost too broad or intimidating; it doesn’t give us a mental road map for how we should go about actually writing the novel. But goals – they are a good place to start. I personally keep a wordcount tracker spreadsheet I put together so I can make a note of every type of non-day job writing that I do, be it novels, short stories, blog posts like this one, fanfic, or even book reviews. If it’s related to writing as a hobby, I track it, and I have an overall goal for the year that I’m aiming for as well. I’ll admit, the past two years I haven’t gotten anywhere near close to that goal, but I’ve gotten closer than if I’d just had this vague thought that “I probably wanted to finish a book this year maybe possibly ish.” I know folks who do the same thing, but for tracking their time writing instead of wordcount, or for pages revised, or chapters per week, etc. Having that goal gives you a destination, and it’s easier for us to make ourselves take the first few steps if we know where we’re going.
Sprints! NaNoWriMo was the first place I ever learned the term “writing sprint” and holy crap that has been a game changer for my writing. Something about having a timer going forces my brain to get into the “mood” so, so much faster than if I tell myself I have an hour or two or however long to write at a steady pace. Give me those bursts of productivity with a break in between and I will knock out 1,000 words or more in an hour. Without sprints – well I can spend all day just pulling teeth to reach that 1k mark. Over the years, I’ve also figured out what length of time works best for my sprints. 20 minutes seems to be the sweet spot for me, but I know folks who much prefer 10 minute sprints or 30 minute sprints. Any longer than 30 minutes, and the pace seems to slow down at least in my experience, but less than that seems to rock!
Routine! In order to make progress during NaNoWriMo, you probably had to come up with a routine that worked for you. You figured out whether you could write faster in the morning or the evenings, or if you could write on a lunch break or do dictation during a commute. You had to look at your schedule and really narrow in on where you could squeeze in available writing time. And there’s a good chance that over the course of the month, you ended up in a fairly stable pattern of writing time and place. (Granted at the end of the month, that pattern goes right out the window in a panicked rush to reach our final goal so help us fluffy keyboard deities!) Keep going with that pattern, that schedule. You already figured out what works best for you – now just continue it! Even if you don’t write as often as you did during NaNoWriMo (I tend to write every day during the challenge, but I usually end up writing on specific days during the week the rest of the year), you can still focus on writing when you know it works for your schedule. And even two or three days a week can earn you a ton of words if it’s at a time when you know you can focus on knocking out a sprint or two!
Prior Success! I mean, y’all – WE ALREADY DID IT ONCE! If you take away anything from NaNoWriMo, take away the fact that you did it – as much or as little as you wrote, you were able to get a story in your head and let it take over for a while. And if you did it once, you can do it again. Trust me on this one – even if you feel like there’s no way to pull it off, you really truly can in fact write again. You already proved you can.
Welp, this blog has ended up being much longer than I expected to – with the benefit of course, of several of the tips above I might add LOL. But yeah, I super believe in all y’all. You can keep going – I know you can!