A Look Back at NaNoWriMo 2014

As November comes to a close, some of us are breathing sighs of relief, crying in anguish, or screaming at the top of our lungs (in either victory or defeat), and all for the same reason. NaNoWriMo is over for the year. This was my fifth year doing NaNo after discovering it in 2007, and it was my best NaNo yet. Before my readership drops back down to the 1-hit-per-week I’m used to, I would like to share some final thoughts. Considering how my last post like this turned out, I’ll warn you that this will probably be a long post.

1. From early on, I discovered how incredibly motivating and focusing word wars/sprints can be. For the record, I call when multiple people set a start and stop time and compare numbers directly afterwards “word wars.” “Word sprints,” to me, are when a person is setting a time to write without stopping on their own. Just so it’s clear where I’m coming from here.

This year was the first year I’ve ever participated in a word war. I joined a Skype group for my region at the beginning of the month, and joined in on a war in the first week. I loved the word count that came out of it, and the way it made me just write without thinking. At least one person in the Skype group started referring to me as “Speedy.” Oddly enough, she was one of the other two who did best during word wars. Many evenings, we’d run a number of word wars over the course of a few hours, and many of the people in that Skype group finished at least a week early, citing those word wars as a huge reason for that. Unfortunately, as more of our Skype group won, the group became less and less active. Though I had already reached 50k too, I wanted to keep going. That was where word sprints came in helpful.

During Camp NaNoWriMo earlier this year, I discovered @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter. I didn’t need it at the time, because I was revising instead of writing, but I was aware of it. During November, I remembered it maybe a week in. And it changed the course of my month. When no one was on in the Skype group, either because it was the wrong time of day, or later because half of them had won, I would turn to that Twitter feed. Most times of day, someone is on that account announcing sprints that last 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes. Sometimes they give an optional prompt, and usually they invite people to tweet their word counts for the sprints afterwards. It is an amazing resource, and was a huge part of me getting 10,000 words in one day. I realize sadly that it shouldn’t be so difficult to make myself focus on my writing that I need help like this, but what can I say? It is.

And on this same topic, I managed to join in on a virtual write-in held by the NaNo staff interns (and Grant Faulkner sitting in for an intern during the one I joined in on). They live stream for an hour, running sprints with suggested prompts, and then reading on the stream some of the comments in which people share their word counts and a line or two from the previous sprint. They read my comments twice, which was definitely fun.

2. Along the same lines, another new experience for me was being more socially active during November. I never did go to a write-in, but I did attend my region’s kick-off party (not the first time for that, though, as I went last year too). The main social activity I participated in was hanging out and chatting in my region’s Skype group. Word wars aside, it was a great place for mutual encouragement and general discussion.

There was also this blog. I posted every single day. I don’t know that every single post was read, but the last few weeks, having this blog led me to something else. Reading and commenting on other people’s blog posts. I am not really big in the blog scene. This blog, in fact, is normally just where I post my daily writing project work so I have somewhere to hold myself accountable. I read blogs by people I know, and that’s usually it. But I started reading other people’s posts about NaNoWriMo and enjoyed seeing it from others’ perspectives. I’ll be sad to see all of this go away.

3. I have found myself somewhat frustrated by the debate about pantsing and planning this year. And it’s not because I feel one is better than the other. It’s because I’m starting to feel that most people fall into the same middle ground, but still feel the need to claim otherwise. If I say I’m a planner, it doesn’t mean that I write out a detailed plot outline, list every character and everything about those characters, and know what will happen every hour of every day that the story covers. Some may work that way, but it’s an extreme. Just like I’ve noticed that pantsing doesn’t always mean literally sitting down on November 1 with not a single plan or thought and writing whatever comes. It sometimes means having a general plot in mind, with an ending to head toward. In some ways, that’s not far from what I have at the beginning of the month.

This year, I had a complete outline, because I needed to plan it out while revising last year’s novel. Last year’s (“Adventures in Pithea”, working title) and this year’s (“Pursuit of Power”) run parallel for a while, and some scenes overlap. So I had to plan “Pursuit of Power” fully. I probably owe a lot of my success to that. However, I veered off from the outline a lot, especially at the end (which was the one place I thought I knew exactly what would happen). And normally, I have a much sketchier outline, sometimes not even finished by Nov. 1, and un-fleshed-out characters. When people say, “I’m a little bit of a planner, but I have to give my writing a chance to move away from the outline if it wants to,” I say… “Yeah? And that makes you not a planner?” Having an outline by definition means you have planned. I feel like people think it’s cooler to be a pantser, so they have to explain why they’re not really a planner. And at the end of this paragraph, I realize that I have ranted a bit about something very silly, but I don’t care. This is about what I’ve gleaned from this year’s NaNo, and that is part of it.

4. Last year, I wrote 3/4 of my novel, coming in at the end of the month at 90k words. After I’d deleted the stuff I left in just for word count but didn’t want to keep, and then finished the novel, it sat around 105k. It took me until February to finish it. That made me very sad. Then since then, I’ve been revising and revising and…revising. I don’t hate it quite as much as I used to, but I still prefer the initial writing to the revising by miles. When NaNo started this year and I was writing new stuff again, I found myself in a very good mood most days, and I knew it was because I loved writing so much. Now I still have last year’s novel to be working on (it’s very slow going…I dislike revising), and now I have a second that I may or may not touch again until the first one is done. I am very bad at keeping myself going on the work I need to do, and it’s only partly because I dislike revising so much. This blog was initially started after a Camp NaNoWriMo session, in order to keep myself disciplined the rest of the time. Now I have a new plan:

500words-300w

There are actually three levels to choose from–250, 500, or 1000. For now, I’ll go with 500 and see how it goes. The “rules” for the challenge state you can use it however you want–writing for a first draft, how many words you’ve revised, or even writing a blog. As much as I’d like to say I’ll write 500 new words every day, though, I’m more likely to be using this to revise.

I want to suggest doing something like this to anyone out there (who has read this far) who didn’t win NaNo, or won but didn’t finish their story, who plans to keep going after November. If you’re like me and many other people, you will not do nearly as well as you hope to, once the drive and mutual encouragement of NaNo is over. Challenge yourself to a specific number of words every day, and keep at it. And the important thing here is that, unlike NaNo, there is no final goal. If you fall short one day, you do not have to make up for it later. Just try for 500 (or whatever you choose) again the next day.

Oh, and just to be clear, I’m starting that on Monday. I’m very tired. Church this morning, and then a Thanksgiving event all day after that. I am taking a planned break before starting back into revising with a fresh mind (hopefully) on Monday.

Please, share your own final thoughts on NaNo, how you did, and if you plan to challenge yourself to write/revise every day after November!

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