Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Starting My Book: Nine Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) came and went, and I did my best-ish—which is more than I can usually say, so LOUD NOISES! I’m a mediocre champion.

Did I write the full 50,000 words in a month? Please, fool. Don’t ask a woman her age or weight, and don’t ask a writer about her word count.

I did, however, finally start the book that has been baking in my skull for years, and I’ll take what I can get. Regardless of the number of words I actually slopped onto paper, NaNoWriMo wasn’t about how good those words were (thank the writing gods). Instead, NaNoWriMo was an education, schooling me hard about what it means to be a real writer—instead of just calling myself one. Here’s what I learned about being an actual, madcap, doing-it writer (without the booze but with the cat).

Writing-induced insomnia.

I usually sleep long, easy, and through anything, but even I suffered nights of wakefulness after writing. My mind…I don’t know, something happened to it when it was engaged in prose and story. There was nothing I could do to slow it from racing in wild, writerly circles long after I had set my alarm, and yes, my anxiety increased with my word count. (There’s nothing like a panic attack while you’re trying to sleep.) Also, counting sheep only adds them to your novel, so don’t.

Bookish dreams.

When I finally fell asleep, there they were—my characters, my plot, my setting. Fortunately, being able to watch my book’s wildfire race down the hill or be locked in my book’s basement was helpful. Experiencing the world I was building via dreams became a tool, lending perspective, authenticity, and fresh ideas to the thing.



Mashups are a popular thing, right?

Only if you watch this show.

Wait, let me try that again.

Has this ever happened to you?

You: Hey, I want to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I also want to participate in No Shave November for cancer awareness. I can’t do both at once, can I?

Me: Wait! You can! You CAN do two things at once.


Why yes, in this scenario, you are Bender from Futurama.


Are There Too Many Books Out There?

Writers, for me, are philosophers. And anthropologists. They search for meaning, and they observe and report.

Writers are smart. They have to be in order to survive, in order to create something worth surviving.

But quite frankly, there’s a lot of bad writing out there. Technology gives anyone with a computer access to a word processor. Anyone with enough time on their hands can sit down and start typing. Anyone with enough money can call up an editor, who can rip their work apart and build it back up.

I struggle with the flooded marketplace. There are simply too many books out there, many not worth reading.

A friend once told me, “I think most people think they have at least one great story inside them.” As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published).

Writing initiatives, like National Novel Writing Month, seem to purport the idea that “anyone can write” if they only just pushed themselves, if they only just set aside the time. I have quite a few friends, people working in publishing, that have participated in NaNoWriMo. And when I ask each of them where these novels exist now, I get told that the manuscript is in a drawer or a trash bin—wherever it is, the answer is always the same: it wasn’t very good.

My point, I suppose, is that both readers and aspiring writers need to remember what it is that drew them to books in the first place. The goal of writing shouldn’t be to hit a word count—to write 50,000 in thirty days. The goal of writing shouldn’t even be to leave your mark on the world. Because I get it, really I do. Life is short, but art lasts. The goal of writing should be, in my opinion, to give readers something of value.

In a recent interview with Guernica, agent Chris Parris-Lamb, of The Gernet Company, stated that this problem is actually the most common one he sees. On the manuscripts in his slush pile? “I just wish I read more submissions where it felt like the author had taken great care with it, had spent a lot of time on it, and had a better idea—or any idea at all—of the books they saw their own as being in conversation with, as well as how theirs was unique. Most submissions I see feel like someone checking ‘write a novel’ off their bucket list.”

Should You Take Writing Breaks During NaNoWriMo?


That’s the end of my post.

Oh, I have to write more? Alright. I guess I can expand upon this answer.

Yes and no.

It’s dangerous to take breaks once you’ve established a set, habitual writing time. But you don’t always have to write the main part of your novel during your set-aside NaNoWriMo writing time. If you feel stuck on your story, or just don’t feel like writing, or are suffering from that (fictional?) pest writer’s block, don’t give up the time you’d usually spend working on your project and play video games or go to the movies or something. Instead, do other writing-related projects with your novel when you get stuck.

1. Further develop your characters.

There’s a lot of background and planning that can go into a novel that a reader never sees. Having an entire biography for a character, along with a personal profile, is one such aspect of a novel readers aren’t often privy to. If you haven’t already developed a ton of information on your characters, this can also help you get to know your characters better and understand their motivation more within the story. I’m talking minor characters or supporting characters as well. Even if the character is featured in one character of the book, having an entire life history worked up for him or her can make them one of the most compelling characters of your novel. So pretend like you’re character is making a profile on a dating site like OkCupid and have at it!


To Junk Food or Not To Junk Food: The NaNoWriMo Question

Time is a precious commodity for all of us, but when NaNoWriMo rolls around, those of us participating are faced with a time budgeting issue. This time issue can affect us in many ways, and one of the most profound I find, at least as a gal living on my own, really challenges me at dinner time.

I work and I go to school on top of participating in NaNoWriMo, so I don’t get substantial meals throughout the day. Breakfast usually consists of a smoothie or a scrambled egg on my way out the door. Lunch can range from a bag of chips and a soda (terrible, I know) to some tofu eggplant from Panda Express. Dinner is really the main meal of the day where I get a substantial amount of my daily nutrients. But developing a good, hearty, healthy meal takes time.

Time becomes an issue when I have homework and a NaNoWriMo project, and I bet I’m not the only one with this problem. It’s easy to order a pizza or microwave some sodium-rich hungry-person type meal, and I’m here to stop you from doing that. Love yourself while you write and take care of your body. It will not only keep your mind sharper when it comes time to write, but it’ll also give you more energy from a healthy source that’ll keep you going longer than those sugary, heart-unhealthy energy drinks.

Please step away from the pizza and read the rest of this blog post.


Kindle Tablet Writing for NaNoWriMo

Right now I’m on my new Kindle Fire tablet, using the Swype keyboard to write this post. The purpose of this post is to see how viable a device such as this is for writers who don’t want to lug a laptop around or write using traditional means such as a pen and notepad.

I even searched for, downloaded, uploaded, inserted and captioned this  picture using my tablet.
I even searched for, downloaded, uploaded, inserted and captioned this picture using my tablet.

Right off the bat I note that my new Kindle doesn’t know my diction very well so I’m having to constantly switch the Swype words that pop up, but that is really just a mild annoyance that will dissipate as I use my device more.

A major plus of the Swype keyboard is definitely its speed. Writing this post is going at about the same speed I type at home. This is great when it comes to getting ideas for writing down. I can see myself using this feature to quickly jot down writing ideas or fleshing out the plot of a story or the history of a character.

Why NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo has gained a plethora of participants. Hundreds of thousands, in fact. A quick look around Twitter, typing in keywords like #NaNoWriMo2014 or #amwriting will pull up a ton of tweets from writers updating their followers with their word counts, struggles, and achievements. But as with any event or cause, there will always be the naysayers.

In this case, the naysayers of NaNoWriMo believe that if you were a real writer, you wouldn’t need a month dedicated to writing to meet a word count. Or that it’s impossible to write something of quality—of substance—in thirty days.

Before I get too deep into my defense of NaNoWriMo, I think it’s fair to mention that what a writer actually is is a fuzzy distinction. “Real” writers get paid for their work; they get published. But if you’re still new to the craft, if you’re still aspiring and finding your voice, does that mean you’re not a “real” writer?

I think it’s also fair to mention that, in a way, the naysayers are partly correct. “Real” writers don’t need a month; at least, they shouldn’t. NaNoWriMo, however, is aimed at newer writers. Writers who still need proof that they can actually do it—that they can write a novel-length story, that they can meet a deadline, that they can fight through writer’s block.

To Keep The Ideas Flowing

The thing is, when a writer isn’t writing, things can get dark fast. We start having depressing thoughts about the meaning of our very own existence, or that we will never become the voice of our generation. Writing is a muscle. When we don’t stretch it, we lose the ability to use it effectively. The ideas don’t come as easily, and when we do finally find the time to write, we find the words don’t come easily either. Something I noticed during last year’s NaNoWriMo was that, as soon as I started writing, I couldn’t stop the ideas from coming. Sure, more often than not, these ideas had nothing to do with the project I was actually working on. But you write them down, you tuck them away, and then later, when you can, you come back to them.

Getting to Know Yourself

Believe it or not, not all writers are daunted by the task of completing 50,000 words. Some participants find that they need far less than thirty days (this one only needed nine). You wont know what you can achieve until you try. Participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge allows you to discover your quirks—your areas of strengths and weaknesses. If you’re like me, you might discover that, yes, writing 2,000 plus words each day is a piece of cake. That it can be done by sparing only a few hours of your day, but that it’s also much easier with the help of an outline. That diving into the unknown might work for the first 10,000 words, but then your mind starts drawing blanks.

NaNoWriMo also helps you develop your routine, because each of ours will be different. Maybe you can’t write on an empty stomach. Or without a candle. Or without Jurassic Park playing in the background (hey, we’re not judging). There’s nothing like a month of intense writing to help you get in touch with, well, yourself.


NaNoWriMo: Writing A Novel In Thirty Days

It’s that time of year again—NaNoWriMo is around the corner.

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a national commitment for anyone who’s ever thought “I want to write a novel” to, well, get to work on that novel. From November 1st to November 30th, participants will work tirelessly to complete 50,000 words before the month is up. Because sometimes the best motivation is a deadline breathing down your neck.

Last year, the bloggers at The Poetics Project made a pact to participate together. And, together, we failed pretty miserably. This year, we have no such pact. Not because of the failure—it’ll take more than one failed attempt to deter me—but because I’m a realist. As much as I’d like to rise up out of the ashes of November, a manuscript in hand, for me, it’s just not in the cards.

Here’s where I tell you how busy I am: I have two part-time jobs, I attend grad school full-time, I’m a project manager in my program (which means I do a lot of work—for free—in order to put together a writing conference in Portland this January), I have a publicity internship at a local publishing house, I write for and edit this blog. I also, on occasion, find the need to drink water and eat, to shower, to escape from my cave-like apartment and grab a drink with friends for the sake of my own sanity.

I’d like to think I’m super woman. That I can forego sleep in order to squeeze in time for writing a 50,000 word manuscript. But, if I’m being honest, there’s only so many directions one person can pull themselves in.

However, that doesn’t mean you, dear reader, shouldn’t give NaNoWriMo a shot. Sometimes we have to set goals for ourselves—even seemingly unreachable ones—in order to push our minds and spirits. In order to see what we are capable of. NaNoWriMo can be a great case study for that. It is possible, with lots of planning, to reach a 50,000 word count in thirty days.

Doing the math, a person would need to write a little over 1,600 words each day, for thirty days, to reach a total of 50,000 words. At first, that number—1,600—might seem large and scary, but remember, this isn’t an essay for class. It’s a novel. Those 1,600 words don’t have to contain a thesis. They don’t have to sum up all your main points, with clearly listed examples and sources. On any given day, those 1,600 words can be different. They can be sad, happy, dramatic, humorous—they can be inspired by your own life story or take place on the planet Oasis, where an army of humans have begun to colonize…

Point being, the work will be grueling. It will take motivation and dedication, but the work shouldn’t be like pulling teeth. It’s your novel; enjoy it.

So how do you make it happen?

1. Eat, and eliminate distractions.

With a time-crunch, it’s easy to forget simple things, like eating. But before you start writing, it’s important to take the time to nourish your body. Once you actually begin writing, it’s easy to be pulled away. Your phone rings. Netflix calls to you. Your eyes grow heavy. Your stomach is grumbling so loud you’ve started talking back to it. Whatever the distraction, do your best to prepare for it. Make some coffee. Have an outline. The more you prepare, the easier the actual writing will be.


Prewriting Characters

Alas, my friends, I’m here to admit that I was wrong (gasp!), which is probably something my boyfriend would be shocked to hear me say—so let’s not tell him. Last November, all of the contributors at The Poetics Project decided to join together in a pact to complete our own NaNoWriMo projects. We failed, miserably, but along the way we wrote about our failure and our writing processes. I wrote this little gem about how I hated the idea of outlining an entire novel. It’s much better to dive right into the unknown, right? Wrong.

You see, I didn’t actually say I didn’t see the need for an outline. Instead, I said that I prefer to write a shitty rough draft before wasting my time with one. After all, the stories that form in our minds as we excitedly conjure them up at the most inconvenient times—in the shower, in the car, or, you know, in the throes of passion (yep, that is how you spell throes)—are not entirely formed. And diving, as it were, is not a horrible idea. A little free writing can help spark connections in your developing plot and help you feel out the direction you want to take things in.

What I was wrong about, however, was the value of prewriting.