What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo: Part One

Hello and happy Wednesday!

November is flying by (how is it the 11th already?) and it’s crazy to be nearing the holiday season. I have a hard time believing so much of 2020 has passed. Wasn’t it just spring?

Another hard thing for me to believe is that we writers taking part in NaNoWriMo this year are – hopefully – a third of the way through our novels. Hopefully.

Thankfully, for those who’ve fallen behind a little, there’s still plenty of time to catch up. And for those who’ve managed to stay on-track so far, great job! I wish you luck in keeping up the good work.

So far, I’ve managed far better than I thought I would, with 17,824 words/3 chapters during my first week. Time will tell how the rest of the month goes, but it’s exciting to scroll through pages of story that weren’t there a week ago!

Today, halfway through week two, I thought I’d check in and share a few things I’ve learned from the process so far, with the hope that they’re helpful to fellow writers!

1. Just Keep Writing

If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Finding Nemo, I’d like you to imagine Dory singing these words… “Just keep writing, just keep writing…” It’s true! One of the things I’ve learned during this crazy process is that I can write about 1,000 words an hour – if I focus solely on writing. This means I don’t stop for anything.

Not to research. Not to look up the perfect word. Not to double-check grammar.

This is extremely difficult for me. If you’ve read any of my previous posts about my struggles with perfectionism 1, you can probably see how knowingly leaving something sub-par in my manuscript is not an easy task for me.

And yet, I’m painfully aware of the many times I’ve gotten stuck partway through a paragraph or a chapter because I can’t think of the right word or I’m not sure about some historical fact. I’ll stop, go look it up, and by the time I finally find what I’m searching for, my brain has switched out of writing mode and it’s very difficult for me to get back into the story.

Not ideal when I’m trying to get my first draft done quickly.

My solution? A ‘Fix Later’ document.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: a Word document with a bullet-point list of everything I know I’ll need to fix, research, or tweak when I come back to edit. When I run into something I know isn’t quite right, or that I’ll need to research, I jot a note onto the list with the chapter it’s found in – and just keep writing.

When I’m unsure what currency is used in Morocco during the 1600’s? On the list it goes. When I need a culturally-accurate name for a minor character? I pick a temporary one and jot the note on the list. When I just can’t place that synonym that’s on the tip of my tongue? You guessed it – stick a note on the list.

This enables me to just keep writing and putting that story down, and rest assured that I’ve taken note of those little issues I’ll need to fix. When I go into editing, I can start by working through that list – a method that makes the editing process seem more manageable for me, too. There’s just something about crossing things off a bullet-point list that’s so satisfying.

Will this result in a sloppier first draft than if I took the time to fix and research as the issues come up? Yes, it will. So if you’re the type of person that prefers to end up with a more polished first-draft in a longer chunk of time, this method probably isn’t the best for you. And that’s okay!

It’s all about what you want to focus on. Right now, I want to get the first draft of the story written as quickly as possible, so it’s working well for me.

2. Outlining is Key

I do not enjoy outlining.

It feels strange to say that. I’m a writer, so shouldn’t I enjoy outlining my precious story? Alas, that’s never been the case for me. Maybe you’re the same way.

However, I do enjoy producing a cohesive story in a minimal amount of time – without pulling my hair out. I’ve found that having an outline is the best way to do that.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or detail every paragraph I’ll write. But an overview of the plot, with the major scenes, value changes, and twists penciled in is crucial. Usually, I’ll also make small lists (bullet-point, of course) for each chapter, jotting down what needs to happen.

Now, I don’t always stick to that outline completely. In fact, about half the scenes I’ve written so far in my novel were not in my outline at all. I’ve written them as ideas have come up, to bridge the scenes I did outline.

But those plot points give me somewhere to go when inspiration isn’t cooperating and I don’t know where to take the characters. That way I don’t need to use my valuable writing time to brainstorm or wonder if I’m managing to stay true to the story goal.

One glance at my outline and I can be back on track. I can always come back and add more bridging scenes if needed, and I’m sure I will. But getting all the major scenes written first keeps me interested in the story, and helps it all come together much faster. It often sparks ideas for other scenes, too.

3. Use Focus-Time Wisely

We all have different times of the day when we focus best. Those times when we can sit down to write and not have a million other things on our minds or at our feet. However, it’s not always easy to find those times, and they’re often not when we’d like them to be.

I enjoy getting up early. As in before the sun rises, before the birds are awake, and before most sane people probably want to think about opening their eyes.

However, that’s not been my best writing time lately. For a variety of reasons, the time I’ve been able to sit down and focus on my novel best has been nights, after the house is quieter, and family are either asleep, or mellow and working on their own projects.

Whether it’s due to the quiet, the knowledge that I’ve accomplished my other tasks for the day, or the fact that my inner critic is too tired to slow me down (probably all three), I tend to accomplish most – if not all – of my writing after dark. Sleep is not an option until I’ve hit my wordcount goal for the day.

This strategy doesn’t make for a fantastic sleep schedule (stay tuned for how this affects week two…), but it has produced consistent and encouraging progress. Sometime I may be able to organize my writing time differently, but this is working right now, and I’ll gladly take what I can get!

So, figure out when your best time to focus is – even if it’s not your preferred time – and use it. Your wordcount will thank you!

Those are three of the things I’ve found most helpful to me in my NaNo journey so far. I hope my discoveries are useful to you, too! If so, stay tuned for next week, when I’ll be back with more hopefully-helpful tips. And in the meantime…back to my novel I go!

What’s something you’ve found helpful while writing? Please leave your favorite tips and strategies in the comments below. I’d love to hear your advice!

1. My post: What I’m Learning About Perfectionism

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