NaNoWriMo: The Day After

Congratulations! It’s December 1st. If you participated in National Novel Writing Month, you will finally find yourself with a little free time on your hands. So what do you do next? Here are my suggestions:

Celebrate! You just spent a month writing a novel and that merits some form of celebration. Treat yourself to a brownie at your local coffee shop or make yourself a nice dinner. Or celebrate by not making yourself a nice dinner and celebrating with a “night off” of all responsibilities. Just make sure to mark your accomplishment in some way.

Hug your family and friends. Because they let you disappear for a month and (hopefully!) didn’t give you too much grief about it. Because they cooked their own meals (or dialed the pizza delivery number themselves) or didn’t complain to heavily about the laundry that piled up or rugs that went unvacuumed.

Run all the errands that you put off in November. Yes, real life has to resume. This is the decidedly unfun part of the post-NaNo process. So just do it. Take a day to go to the bank or return that long overdue library book. You might find it’s actually nice to get out of the house again.

Put your manuscript away. I’d say put the novel in a drawer, but unless you’re keen on printing out 200 pages, you might just want to do as I do and create a special folder on your computer, label it “DRAWER,” and drop your draft file(s) in there for a while. Or maybe you just close the file and don’t open it. Whatever you choose, you need time away from your draft for a bit. As tempting as it may be to rush into the editing process, don’t. Ignore your manuscript for a month, or a week if you absolutely cannot control yourself. When you return to it, you’ll have a more objective perspective on it.

Read a book. Just in case you let the reading slip in favor of the writing, now is an excellent time to pick up a book again and remind yourself that reading is fuel for writing. So fuel up for your next round.

Start something new. If you don’t take any of my other suggestions, please take this one. Sit down on December 1st and write. You don’t have to write another novel in a month, in fact, definitely don’t write another novel in a month. You don’t want to burn yourself out. But write something — maybe a two-page brain dump in the morning or list all the story ideas you were forced to ignore during NaNoWriMo. Over the month of November, you made writing a priority in your life. You don’t have to wait until next November to do it again; you can do it every single day. And I hope you will.

Happy Writing!

‘Fess Up Friday: Week Four

Well, it’s over for me. I finished National Novel Writing Month this morning with 50,362 words. Whew. And YAY!

Week four was quite the rollercoaster. As I mentioned, I started the week ahead by two days’ worth of word count. I did a little bit of writing on both Tuesday and Wednesday, but because of the holiday and company arriving, I didn’t get in more than 300 words at either session. Which meant I needed to write about 1,000 words on Thursday, or Thanksgiving Day to us in the States.

Do I even need to tell you how much that didn’t happen? I’m not sure any power under the sun could have actually gotten me out of the craziness that was hosting 12 people for Thanksgiving dinner and made me sit at the computer and write. My day in the kitchen started at seven in the morning and wrapped up around five. In between the cooking, there was visiting and eating and watching the most adorable 20 month old dance around our living room. In short, it was an excellent holiday and so I didn’t feel too bad about falling behind on my word count.

But fall behind I did and I spent Friday and Saturday playing catch up with word count. By Friday night I was just ready to be done with the draft and so I buckled down on Saturday morning and again in the evening, determined to finish by the end of the weekend. In all my writing time this month, I think that’s when my internal editor turned off completely. And I mean completely. Not only would I type a sentence that would ordinarily make me cringe and completely ignore it, I pretty much stopped using the delete key all together, which led to some very questionable spelling and punctuation. Ah well, I’m not sure my last scene will survive the revision process, so I’m okay with leaving it as the mess it is.

It’s too soon for me to really reflect on this NaNoWriMo as a whole, so instead I’m going to do a celebratory chair dance  (whoop whoop! raise the roof!) and wish all my fellow NaNoWriMo participants the best of luck in the next three days. I hope you meet the goals you set out to accomplish and I hope you learned something about your writing process along the way.


The Anti Anti-NaNoWriMo Rant

I have a new favorite phrase this week. It is “the narcissistic commerce of writing.” I’m not sure what it means, but I love it anyway. Now instead of telling people that I spent my day revising or writing my novel, I’m going to say that I spent the day engaging in the narcissistic commerce of writing. Make that into a hashtag, Twitter.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far without clicking the link, let me spare you the trouble. The link goes to a Salon article by Laura Miller called “Better yet, don’t write that novel: Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy,” which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the article. Not only does the author completely miss the concept of NaNoWriMo, but also she pretty much slaps any would-be writer in the face and basically says that if you can’t get the job done without NaNoWriMo, then you’ve no business trying to be a writer.

Wow. Snap judgements much?

It isn’t like I haven’t heard this sort of derision before and not just about NaNoWriMo. What is it about writing that brings out the hateful in other people? Why is writing the only hobby that requires a measure of success beyond simply doing it and enjoying it? Why are there no articles deriding the narcissistic commerce of cooking or the narcissistic commerce of crocheting. (You know, I’ve used this phrase three times now and I still have no idea what it means.) And why is it that so much of this contempt comes from other writers? (Ms. Miller appears to have a couple of book credits to her name and isn’t the article proof that she herself engages in the narcissistic commerce of writing?)

I’ve wondered if it’s jealousy. I know what jealousy feels like. I know what it’s like to be writing for 10 years, to receive one rejection after another from lit mags and then to watch an acquaintance get a handsome book deal from her blog. Oh yeah. I know jealousy. But what I don’t understand is stomping on other people’s dreams.

In a couple of hours my husband will come home from work and get an earful about the article. He’ll likely nod and shake his head in disbelief at all the right places and he’ll probably ask me why I was reading some jerk’s opinion instead of working on my own novel. A little while later I will go out for drinks with my girlfriends and I will tell them all about the article and we’ll all roll our eyes and share our stories of jerks who try to crush our dreams. And they’ll ask me how NaNoWriMo is going and how my revisions are going because they care. Because they know that just because I haven’t been published (yet) doesn’t mean I don’t take what I do seriously.

I’m pretty lucky to have people in my life that support what I’m doing, but not everyone has that support system. I read something like this article and it’s water off a duck’s back (after a significant amount of ranting, of course), but what about those people who don’t have that support system? What about the college student that dreams about writing a novel, but is going into accounting because her parents want her to have job security. What about a housewife who has a great idea for a romance novel, but doesn’t think she can find the time to write it? Now imagine that two days into making a crazy attempt at fulfilling a dream, they read a discouraging article like this one.

When you’re surrounded by other writers and people in the writing industry, it’s pretty easy to forget what it’s like to just start out. It’s easy to forget that writing can be a big scary thing, so scary that many people want to, but never do it. NaNoWriMo isn’t for the pros; it’s for the people that need to just take a chance and follow a dream. I think some people have forgotten that.

5 Tips for NaNoWriMo

Or, the obligatory National Novel Writing Month tip post. They are all the rage these days, as they should be. I love reading about writing tips and tricks and so I’m offering you some of my own, specifically for NaNoWriMo. Please add your own in the comments!

1. Start writing on November 1st. If you’re really a diehard, stay up until midnight and get the first few paragraphs down. If you’re less of a diehard, get up before everyone else in the morning and start writing. Don’t put off writing your first batch of words because there’s nothing more discouraging as playing catch up on day two or three. Inevitably each year I have one writing buddy that doesn’t start on Nov. 1 and sends me an email on Nov. 3 or 4th, lamenting how far behind they are. Don’t be that person.

2. Round up and build a buffer. If you’re writing daily, you need to write 1,667 words a day to make the word count required to win. But I like to round up a little more. Aiming for 1,670 words a day is a good way of doing that, but if you’re going to round up, consider rounding up to 1,700. Not only does this stretch your writing muscles a bit more, but it also helps build a buffer in case of a mid-month emergency. And, hey, if you keep it up you’ll have bragging rights to a 51,000 word manuscript.

3. Reward yourself for completing small goals. Okay, the big reward for winning NaNoWriMo is that you’ll have a completed draft, you can download a web banner, and you’ll even get a discount on an absolutely awesome piece of software. But sometimes, those rewards seem so far off. I like to reward myself for accomplishing various milestones along the way. They don’t have to be big rewards,* but you should set them ahead of time so that it gives you something to work towards. For example, this year, I’m giving myself the reward of one cheesy 99-cent mp3 download for every week that I meet my project targets. Overall, I’m only spending about $4 on my reward, but my eagerness to finally own “Your Love” by The Outfield is priceless.**

*Honestly, I’m ashamed how much the promise of lunch at Chick-Fil-A will pull me through a particularly difficult week.

**Yeah, I know. My musical taste leaves a lot to be desired.

4. If you can’t resist the internal editor, then let him out to play . . . on another manuscript. I admit, I have a big problem turning off the internal editor. I don’t revise extensively, but I do make frequent use of the delete key. If you have a hard time keeping your internal editor in check, try distracting him or her with something other than your NaNoWriMo novel, like a draft of a novel you’ve been meaning to revise or a critique partner’s manuscript.

5. Rules, schmules. In the end, your only competition for the NaNoWriMo win is yourself, which makes some of the rules seem a little arbitrary. You know how you write best, you know what goals are important for you to consider yourself a winner. If one of the rules of NaNoWriMo is getting in the way of your goal, consider breaking the rule. If on November 1, you suddenly have the hankering to write a collection of short stories, go for it. If you’ve already got a first chapter written, but you’re dying to tell that story, I won’t tell anyone. In the end, NaNoWriMo is about writing for YOU. Use it as you see fit.

Why So Serious, NaNoWriMo?

It’s that time of year again. One week from today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month, that one month of the year when hundreds of writers commit to contributing at least 50,000 words towards their novel by November 30.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo while in the MFA program, around 2001 or 2002, but at the time dedicating a month during peak midterm grading and finals preparation to a novel just didn’t seem feasible. I joined the site in 2005 with grand aspirations of participating, but it wasn’t until 2009 and being faced with the possibility of being shown up by a class of eighth graders.

Here’s the story: A friend of mine is a middle school English teacher. Every year she’s incorporated the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s program into her curriculum and because of the way her school is set up, at the time she brought this up, she’d had one class that had completed three novels over the years that she taught them. This was the group of eighth graders. And at the time, I was futzing with my short stories, had an MFA degree, but had never even written one book. Nothing motivates me quite like pride and envy and off I was on my first NaNoWriMo attempt. I won (take that eighth graders) and had so much fun doing it, I vowed to do it as often as possible. 2010 will be year three for me.

I get mixed reactions when I tell people that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. I’d say most people are supportive. They think it’s cool or fun or they just see the crazed look in my eye when I talk about it and humor me. But there’s always a nagging minority that doesn’t see the point and isn’t afraid to say it. “Why would you want to do that,” they ask, but what I think they’re really saying is “why aren’t you taking this writing thing seriously?” And I’ve heard that a lot, from writers and nonwriters alike. And I can kind of see their point. It’s a game, a lark. It’s got a cutesy acronym and in one month you’re done. Moreover, it encourages the writer to write with abandon and to put quantity over quality.

Why would anyone take it seriously?

I’d argue that the naysayers are probably underestimating the number of people who do take it seriously. I’m sure there are a good portion of NaNo’ers that have no thought of being published and just want to write a novel in a month, but so what? Are they really hurting the craft of writing by participating? Sure, there are those that write “The End” on November 30 and ship the entire manuscript off to an agent or editor on December 1st, but that doesn’t hurt the rest of us any more than the usual slush pile does. At least, I don’t think so. I don’t know… what do you guys think?

Myself, I take NaNoWriMo very seriously. While for 11 months of the year I’m good about cranking out my morning pages and  working on a revisions or a draft, I am never as disciplined and eager to write as I am come November 1st. I The first NaNoWriMo got me writing a story I’d been kicking around in my head for five years. It taught me that despite years of whining that I can only write short stories, I am, in fact able to write a novel. It got me sitting at my desk daily, facing the page and feeling guilty as hell on days when I don’t.

And it all happened because I didn’t want to be shown up by an eighth grader.

** If you’re interested in being a NaNoWriMo writing buddy, I’m registered on the official site as Chicklit. Come find me!