Tuesday, 9 December 2014

7 things I learned from failing #NaNoWriMo that have already made me a better writer…(and might help you too!)

This is the second time I’ve committed to NaNoWriMo, but the first time I’ve FAILED to make the magic 50k word count. 

Oddly I’m happier this time round and I’m writing more and better since the end of November. Why? Well, the lessons learned are listed below…

Cats never fail! But thanks Chuck Olsen for the photo
1) Know your enemy
80% of the novel writing effort is spent fighting demons that say, “You can’t write,” and, “You shouldn’t be wasting your time writing, who do you think you are?” whenever you sit down to write.

Lesson: Knowing that means I’m ready for them. They’ve immediately lost the edge of ‘surprise attack’.

2) Learn how to be a demon-fighter
Continuously turning up and writing pretty much every day reduces that demon fighting effort to more like 20%.

Lesson: By turning it into a routine, writing just becomes less of an effort and more normalised. I think this lulls the demons into some sort of sleepy state…

3) Mission possible
It is possible to write 40,000 words in a month and still…. go to work, have a social life, read some books, sleep 7 hours a night, meditate for 20 minutes a day, deal with family crises and have 8 days in the month where you don’t write a word at all.

Lesson: The Jane Austen/make-do-and-mend method, where you make the most of the scraps of time available, is actually pretty effective and much more workable in my world.

4) Live your choices; love your choices
It isn’t possible to write 50,000 words a month with all of the above happening though.

Lesson: And that’s okay! There’s a strong theory that you have to give up things that you love or care about if you’re a ‘real’ writer. That’s probably true for some people but look, I had a life AND wrote 40,000 words. The most I gave up on was some household chores.

The thing is, ultimately you get to choose. You. Not anyone else. Set your targets according to your choices.

5) Keep a track record
A novel is a really big thing. Even a short novel.

Lesson: Keeping a track of who, what, where, when is super challenging. I found my main character went from working at a local council, to being an accountant, to being an IT consultant (you get the drift, she wasn’t the most exciting person, right?!) depending on what I needed her to be able to do work wise to keep the story going. I found having a ‘Legend.doc’ and a ‘Timeline.xls’ really really useful.

6) Kill characters rather than your enthusiasm
Most people on NaNoWriMo seem to be writing fantasy novels with lots of battles and deaths.

Lesson: The point is they were having fun. Writing should be fun first and everything else after!

7) Find your favourite format
Writing a novel is harder and slower than reading a novel. More to the point I found the sense of having to focus on pushing the story forward (and pushing the word count probably…) meant that I didn’t get the same level of joy that I get when I’m playing with a much smaller world.

Lesson: Consequently…I’m revisiting the short story format again! I’m engaging with the short story in a much more conscious way than before and enjoying my writing more. NaNoWriMo helped me to think much more about format and what works best for the kind of stories I most want to tell.

I'm pretty sure I'll NaNoWriMo again. I'm not done with the novel and I find the focus of telling a big story in a month a really revealing writing exercise in terms of understanding my own writing process and preferences. This year was a WIN for me on that basis alone. So here's a big fat cheer to the success of failure!

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