I think when you hear that someone didn’t write enough during November to claim their win, the first assumption is that they just weren’t committed enough.
Once you’re in it to win it, not making it feels like the end of the world. For a while. And then you try to get to it again. And this effort is getting you somewhere. Maybe you have your wordiest day in years. Or ever. But maybe this effort isn’t leading you to your goal anyway. Maybe you get close. Maybe you miss the mark by 25k. Maybe more. Who cares? As long as you, as I tried. The only thing I think is sad is if you falter in the face of failure (even though you can always come back next year).
Don’t write your story off. I certainly am not. And you shouldn’t either. And be goddamn proud of any progress whatsoever. Because you brought your story closer to the finish line. Don’t just drop the whole thing, because otherwise it will never get told. That’s what I learned.
And no matter if I will finish this November with 20.000 or 25.000 words I am glad I got closer to the end.
I used to look down on people who didn’t actually read “real” books. Because that is the impression I had of audio books. Which is not really the smartest way of looking at it. But I never claimed to be such a smart person anyway. My point is though, that audio books really aren’t so bad. In fact, they can be a great addition to “physical” books. Or even more so they are great for people who can’t concentrate well on the printed word. Or well … who can’t read at all. I mean who said that people who can’t read or write shouldn’t get to have the pleasure of fantastic stories or self help books?
I own printed books, ebooks and audio books. The digital books allow me to own way more books than fit my tiny dorm room for a start. I don’t have a room back at my mom’s place anymore. So I have to live with a minimum amount of books if I don’t wanna drown in them. Which, if I think about it isn’t exactly the worst way of dying. But before I am losing track of the topic completely, let’s just say that audio books (and ebooks) are a great way of being more of a minimalist.
The second thing I love about audio books is that they are a way of regaining the feeling of a bedtime story. When we are younger we don’t realize how special being read to really is. You might get glimpses of that later on when you and your best friend manage to read a whole book together in one night by taking turns reading aloud or when your SO wants to share a favourite passage in what they are currently reading, but really … I came to miss the ritual of crawling deep into the covers and not having to do anything but listen to a warm familiar voice that takes me on adventures. At least that is the way I like to think about it nowadays.
Another major reason is time management. Maybe your life is way less turbulent than mine or you are awesome at reading physical copies of books no matter the place you are in. I however am always rushing from one place to the next, am too tired to read myself or simply find myself choosing between cooking/cleaning or reading. And because I don’t want to miss out on the stories … I put on another chapter of an audio book and listen while I am resting or doing other super important things. They make me a more responsible grown up so to say.
And then there are smaller reasons left over. One is that I tend to understand stories better when they are read aloud. This only refers to English books only, because I am still a foreigner, as well as I sometimes cover up that fact when writing. Since German is what I am most familiar with there are a lot of words that I have to guess from context. And finally I just really came to love the fact that I can choose a medium whenever I want to. Not only because I can compare prices of three different mediums, choose voices if there are several versions of one book, but because I can choose whatever I am in the mood for. Sometimes I just really need the smell of the pages, the feel of a heavy book in my hands, other times I just couldn’t read a book at all because my eyes are so tired that closing them and drifting off to a soft voice in my ears is the most satisfying sensation on the planet.
Hands up everyone who is currently thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo in November.
For me it is the third year and this time I really hope to finish my novel. Yes, that is right, I did not finish my book after one Nano. To be honest, by now I just think I had to get used to the stress and also get more methodic about it. The first time around I managed 11 k, which isn’t shabby, considering I only wrote 1k every other weekend if I was in the mood before that. All in all I participated in two Nanos and four Camps so far. This kind of resulted in me only actively writing during the Nano months. Apart from that I only wrote a couple hundred words here and there. I failed three of four camps miserably. But looking back it all still encouraged me to write more and to get ahead. Another side effect was meeting a lot of other writers I wouldn’t have met otherwise, some of which I still see on a semi regular basis. And that is quite a lot coming from someone who spends more time behind screens than with friends. So let us go through each challenge and see how I did and what I learned and worked on.
This was the first year I ever regularly met up in a group to write. And it boosted my productivity overall, even if I was still one of the slowest people in the group and missed the goal by a long shot. 11 k was something I was proud of . Sure, of course I was disappointed I wasn’t gonna make it. I knew that two weeks into the challenge already. I kept going because at that point my main goal was to get words out. Get something done and at the end it did not matter that I had only come up with 1/5 of what the others had. Writing with a bunch of people and under a deadline gets you working, but it only works if you don’t think too much about it. I am a slow writer, because I put most of my work into the dialogues. If they don’t hit the nail on the head then the whole story collapses. So I do a tiny bit of editing while I am writing already. BUT if I take my notebook with me wherever I go then I can write loads on the train for example. Use waiting times. Otherwise you won’t get there. And you wouldn’t have used the time for anything else anyway.
Deadlines and Peer Pressure can boost word quantity
Every new word is cause for celebration
Fast writing doesn’t work for everyone (so don’t compare)
Use breaks and waiting times, write whenever possible
Camp NaNoWriMo April 2016
I chose to participate in Camp because I hadn’t achieved what I originally wanted in November. Same book, lower word count. This time I wanted to see if I could get 5 k out even though my month was packed. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. I only managed 1337 words. Still better than nothing. But it made me fall back into bad habits. Finding excuses not to write or to discard the whole NaNo system altogether. I was trying to convince myself that it just wasn’t my thing and that the others only made it because they had too low standards for quality. I still didn’t understand that quality is not what it is about.
I repeat, every word is cause for celebration
It’s comfortable to give in to outside stress and push your project aside, but grow some balls and push through. A lot of writers write in coffee shops. You’re at the source for the brown power juice. SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK! jk. I think.
NaNo is meant to help you finish a story, not a bestseller. Quantity over Quality. There is a reason you have to pledge to edit your draft in January.
Camp NaNoWriMo July 2016
By July I got back into the saddle, still a bit cautious, but eager to work. Funnily enough, the result was similar to the last one. But this time it had a good reason. I had started writing a new story, so what I was working on was a new beginning. After the desaster that was my first camp was over I tried to go on and didn’t know what exactly was going wrong. Until I figured out that I was writing the wrong side of the story. Because I couldn’t get the access that I wanted to the main character. So I put the old story aside for later and turned the page. But the start didn’t come that easy. I had to get used to a whole other way of telling a story and a character that was the polar opposite to the last one. That is why my goal was 5 k again. I made it to 1449 words. It was alright with me though, because it felt like I was on the right track again. Btw, the project was actually that new that I didn’t even had a title for it at the time.
Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right you need to do something about it.
If you can’t find a way to fix it, maybe you can later on. Return to the story when you are ready.
That does not mean that you should give into plot bunnies, but that if there is no way of fixing a thing that keeps you from writing and you feel like you are writing the wrong story then maybe you need to take a break from your current project.
When it was time to get my typing fingers ready for November I came prepared. I had worked through some of the pages in the workbook Ready, Set, Novel! that is available in the NaNo store and also made notes about where I wanted to take this project. If you are interested in the workbook, I made a review about it on youtube a while back. I didn’t use the whole book because I was never the type to prepare too much, or plan more than necessary. So I did some tasks that helped me keep my focus. That focus was another thing I lacked the first time around. I just wrote with a vague idea in mind and absolutely no sub plots. The change in preparation and company was just what I needed. By company I mean that I found a likeminded writer by attending a meet up in another city than before. With that person I texted daily, met up two to three times a week and just consequently wrote. My problem with the other writers was that they tended to chatter and just wanting to connect while I was looking for someone who pressured me into writing and didn’t distract me. Bonus points if they also can help out with questions and problems or help you decide about a way to phrase a sentence. Either way I had found someone who was just as keen on finishing those 50 k as me. And this time I did. Well, sort of. 10 k of what I wrote was just notes.
Premade worksheets can make planning easier
There is too little planning and there is too much planning. Find the right amount for you.
Writing buddies don’t just fall from the sky, but if you have one don’t let them go.
Camp NaNoWriMo April & July 2017
This year’s camps made me more ambitious than ever. Both times I aimed for about 25 k. The first time around I didn’t make it, because once again the month was packed. What I did manage was 5 k, though. I was getting ahead again. Then, in July I made it work. well, almost. I lowered my goal once because something kept me from working for a day. But I don’t remember what exactly went on. Between those two camps I had a major setback when I deleted about 8 k when I noticed I had produced some completely useless chapters. All in all the book has about 42 k without notes. So in terms of nanowrimo, I couldn’t tell you if I was successful. I tend to count my notes and homework, too, because all of them need to get done. It’s something that motivates me. I want to be fair to myself. I work two jobs and I study and have loads of hobbies. Writing a book takes its time anyway. The plan is to wrap the story up in november. After two camps and two NaNos. I still think of me as a winner. You can fight me on this, but I created something that wasn’t there this time last year.
Adapt your goals if need be
Notes and homework are words you wrote. You can count them if you want to. Be a rebel.
You don’t need to be done after 50 k, most books are longer than that.
I think the challenge is a good and useful thing. It’s not for everyone and winning can be judged different ways. Just see if it is compatible with your way of working. I know a lot of people who just can’t deal with writing in a quantity over quality mindset, no matter if they can edit all that later on. However it is a reason to write more than usual and commit time and effort for a thing you want to scratch from your bucket list. It’s a lifetime goal that you CAN achieve, and why not sooner than later.
Not the cute fuzzy ones my best friends used to own, but the nasty, distracting kind. Plot Bunnies are story ideas that pop up out of nowhere. Only that sadly they aren’t for the story you SHOULD be working on. The story I should be working on. And man, are they tempting.
They can lead you down rabbit holes that go all the way to China when all you actually wanted was to find a name for your imaginary small town, or your characters favorite sandwich. They have nothing to do with what you are trying to concentrate on but they are shiny and new while your story starts to lose steam by the minute. It’s looking a bit ragged at this point. The only thing that keeps me from chasing all the bunnies is … well, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but I know however nice a bunny looks now, it will get just as shabby and ragged when I try to catch it as the story I try to work on at the moment.
BUT and this is important so hear me out: this is my third, maybe fourth attempt at a novel and by now I have a simple but effective and useful way of dealing with the little buggers. I set up an idea collection in my bullet journal. You don’t need a bullet journal to write down all the bunnies, though. It is just how I keep ideas where I can always access them. I write them down to get them out of the way. In a way I deep freeze them for later use. Once I have done that I can get back to where I was. The uncomfortable part of my novel. Which is a good thing even if I don’t see it that way until I am past that point. Or done with my book. Whatever comes first.
But back to the bunnies. There were times where I was too vague when writing down what I came up with. Later on when I tried to revisit the bunnies … they had long died. So in order to keep the idea alive you have to be precise, but on point. That is another thing you might have to practise if it feels hard. Don’t use more than three sentences. You will see that it gets easier with each try. It also helped me getting my point across in social interactions by the way. Just keep it in mind and most of all learn to value your bunnies for what they are. Future gold mines. Never follow them completely until you are done with one project, but once you are, you grab the fattest and most tempting one right by its tail and squeeze rainbows and sparkles out of it. Or in case you like it moody impending doom and eternal darkness.
I am serious. In fact, many creatives that I know have way too many of them. And they really don’t have to be brilliant ideas to be worth developing. Especially writers tend to overthink the process of actually becoming active, though. Writers aren’t writers yet if they don’t actually DO it. The writing, I mean. Just like painting, writing is something that demands practise. Of course you need to come up with an idea, research, explore characters and worlds – but much too often all those things keep us from facing our true enemy. The blank page.
Someone who always keeps polishing an idea until it’s perfect might very well never actually write their novel, short story or poem. Or someone like me might be too busy toying with the idea of how exactly to set up a blog instead of actually starting to write it out. There is this totally understandable desire for being safe. But as a writer you should want to strive for danger. Your idea becomes polished all by itself if you let it. That by no means is to say that you don’t have to sweat blood and tears for it, that would be an outright lie. BUT if you get started with just a premise and a vague idea where you want to head with it, there is still plenty of time to let your characters show you the ropes while you are already writing. Let’s face it, your first chapter will suck. For most people even the first book is gonna suck. Setting up a whole library of notes and research is not gonna save you from desaster. We’re all headed for it. So let me repeat, the desire for safety is understandable, but should stay just that. A mere desire.
Even if the first book sucks then you still learn loads on your journey from chapter one to the final page. You don’t need to throw it away just because it isn’t perfect. Treat this bad book like the crippled drawing of trees that Mom used to pin to the fridge. They are your baby steps. If you still like the story and characters at the end of this first book, then chances are you can work on it. You can grow a stable, healthy tree out of the small crippled first one. The sucky book then becomes your first draft.
And if you don’t like the story and characters anymore … it is still a cause for celebration. YOU FINISHED SOMETHING! You have conquered this book and now you are a better writer for it. You developed a style, you fought the writing slump monsters (for they will happen to the best of us) and you learned how to wrap the whole thing up and STOP. If that is not cause for cheering then I don’t know what is. All those bad pages you had to get out of your system, they are the steps you climb to level up your next project. And if you finished one, believe me, you can finish another. Live dangerous, be scared, but please, give those ideas in your head what they deserve: to grow up and become stories.
DISCLAIMER: I am still working on that one, so anyone who reads this is allowed to send me virtual asskicks if they like. I want to be true to my own advice. We all get caught up in our own heads a lot of the time. I am working on the same project for the second nanowrimo in a row.