I’ve been very quiet over here, for the most part because I’ve boosted my daily quota a little to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, Camp NaNoWriMo is the kinder, fuzzier version of NaNoWriMo. A lot of the rules and shoulds evaporate. You can work on any writing project you want, and you can set your own word count goal. No more of the 1,667 word death march.
I set my goal to 30,000 words just to make another big push on a section of my novel I was avoiding. I love the discoveries that slightly unattainable goals can inspire. Sometimes when there’s a dog trying to snap at your heels, you make it a little farther down the road than you would otherwise. Right?
With April almost down, and another NaNoWriMo coming to an end, I thought I’d look back at three of the most important things I’ve learned by participating in NaNoWriMo over the years.
Some of you have probably learned completely different things, so I just want to clarify, these are my lessons. Not the way it is or should be for anyone else. Any writing is good writing, and the most important lessons are the ones you learn and earn for yourself.
1. I can finish NaNoWriMo
I’ve run the NaNoWriMo race about six times, I think. I’ve hit 50,000 words twice: once in 2010 and once just last November in 2013. I set an impossible goal and I made it. I changed my daily habits. I developed new routines and rituals. I wrote in large chunks and small snippets, learned to live and die by timers and stopwatches, and I wrote in places–cars, beds, cafeteria tables, at my kids’ cramped Ikea desk–that I probably never would have chosen if I hadn’t been under the gun.
But I picked up some discipline and some flexibility doing this. I learned that it was hard–but not that hard–to write 50K in a month. How exhilarating! I wasn’t talking about writing or wishing I was writing. I was finally doing it.
2. I can’t write a novel in 30 days.
I never finished the 2010 NaNo novel. I stuck with it for about a month and then I think I crashed and burned around the holidays. The writing became a trickle again. Gradually, NaNoWrimo began to feel like that thing I did once. The writing stopped again.
Last November, I finished my 50K, but the manuscript kept growing. I always knew it would. But what made the difference in 2013? Why didn’t I quit in December this time?
For starters, I hit the ground running a month or two before November. Call it the perfect combination of tools, advice, and inspiration. I discovered writing podcasts like I Should Be Writing and Writing Excuses. I started logging word counts on the fabled Google doc, The Magic Spreadsheet. (Have I not mentioned this before? I can’t remember.) The Magic Spreadsheet is a shared Google doc that a couple writers in the Stone Coast MFA program created to gamify writing. Consistency is the name of the game. Log your word count every day and your earn points. Earn more by never missing a day. You level up, your word quotas rise, and in time, you see yourself climbing up the Live Leaderboard (Yeah, there’s Leaderboard. I’m serious.)
Dude, this thing worked for me. I have the Magic Spreadsheet open right now. I can see that I have an unbroken chain of writing that I started last year. I’m on Day 247. Not my one-year anniversary yet, but I’m getting close and I can taste it. I’ve written something like 202,000 words. (Not all on this novel, mind you. I ain’t Brandon Sanderson).
3. Writing is an everyday habit, not an once or twice a year sprint.
My point is that I started NaNoWriMo in November and Camp NaNoWriMo on April 1, knowing that I had already established a daily habit that I’d stick with once the 30-day sprint was over. In 2013, I knew going into NaNo that I wasn’t going to finish a novel in 30 days. My story would be twice as long. Maybe somewhere in the 90-100K range. Plus I’m a discovery writer rather than a plotter and a planner, so yes, I’m well beyond that 100K now, and still adding words and pages to the monster.
You see, I get to fix that monster in the rewrite. I don’t have to get it right the first time.
I suppose I started writing this post by way of explaining to myself why I wasn’t going to finish my 30K in 30 days this month. Trust me. I’ve got 7,000 words to go.
But this doesn’t bother me so much this time around. I know that I’ll be writing on May 1 for another 30 days, and then another 30 days after that. NaNoWriMo is powerful because it encourages you to turn on the faucet. But you don’t have to turn off the faucet when it’s over.
This is the long haul school of writing. I don’t forget to brush my teeth. I don’t forget to write my words.