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Learning from experience

Is it NaNoWriMo time again already?!

NaNoWriMo starts in less than a week, and this year I feel more prepared than ever.

But I’ve felt like that every year.

This will be my third attempt at writing 50,000 words in a month. My first year was as successful as my attempts to make WeCoNaMo a thing, but last year I reached the target. I’ve also blogged about my experience, and reading back on those posts now, I laugh and laugh. Then cry a little.

They seem to fall into two categories: Things I’ve Learned, and Things You Think I Would’ve Learned but Haven’t.

Things I’ve Learned

Heidi and Finn. Not as sweet as they look.

1. Cats are the natural enemy to writing. See last year's and 2013’s posts. This year I’m setting up a tab at a local cafe (or pub if things become too dire) to avoid said cat interruptions and I hereby vow to remain immune to their distraction techniques (one cat is currently trying out a new one, involving relocating a pile of work from the desk to the floor).

2. Write as much as you can when you can. Last year, after a shocking first couple of weeks, I needed to average close to 2500 words a day to reach the goal – that’s almost 1000 more than base daily average of 1666 words. A family holiday in late November killed it in 2013, despite my best intentions to write while we were away. Write often, write early, get as many words in the bank as you can.

3. Plan for down days. Looking at what I’ve got on this month, there’s at least seven days when I’m highly unlikely to get any writing done at all. So my daily average is already 2173 words a day. Yet another reason to build the bank early.

4. Take breaks. I discovered the Pomodoro method while studying, and often use it writing: you work for 20-minutes, break for five-minutes and repeat, then take a half-hour break every two hours. There are free apps that’ll help time it. It’s great for keeping up the stamina and forcing yourself to stop occasionally, thereby reducing the kind of burnout where you’re sitting there thinking, How do I spell ‘table?’ That doesn’t look right.

5. Use the online community. The NaNoWriMo organisation and website has great pep talks and tips. There are groups in regions across the world, and groups for writers who are nowhere near regions, and opportunities to meet up with nearby NaNoWriMoers for write-ins. If you have a blog, publish your word count graphic: other people will hassle you to get the work done if you fall behind. Yay for positive peer pressure.

6. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. AKA There’s no such thing as a first and final draft. My first year I concentrated on getting it perfect – and it’s still not. Last year I built on the 50,000 words I wrote to end up with a 150,000-word YA novel, which has since been edited back to 90,000 and submitted to publishers. Almost everything I wrote during NaNoWriMo has come out of the draft, but the background events, character ‘interviews’, descriptive writing and stream of consciousness work I did last November helped me understand the story and characters better and added to their depth.

7. Don’t stress if you don’t reach the target. The main goal to strive for is to get into a good writing habit. Life happens, unforeseen circumstances can’t be predicted. If you do fall short, or fall way behind, just keep going and concentrate on the positive: you’ve actually written something; you’ve made a conscious decision to make writing a priority.

8. Don’t submit your manuscript in December. I’ve heard repeatedly from publishers: they get a slew of MSs in December and cover letters saying ‘I wrote this during NaNoWriMo.’ Don’t do it. Just don’t. You need time to redraft, reread, rewrite. And while there may be an extremely rare literary genius who nails it first time around, the rest of us are mere mortals are not gods.

9. Coffee is good. Speaks for itself, really. Writing and coffee is like the ocean and sand, at least it is for me. It’s a grey-matter kick-starter.

Things You Think I Would’ve Learned but Haven’t

Coffee is good. Too much coffee  is not good. (A cup of coffee viewed from the top)

1. Too much coffee is not good. Again, this is a personal thing, but I find if I don’t switch to herbal tea about mid-morning my brainwaves are so scattered I don’t know what year it is. I can always tell when this has happened because I’ll read over my work later and think, Whaaat? Is that even a word?

2. Planning is good. Oh, my sides are aching from laughter. I’ve tried to plan twice and both times I’ve panicked. The story I wrote in 2014 was vaguely connected to the one I started in 2013, worked on for three days, then deleted. I planned it out last year and it ended up with a different plot, style, characters, love interest and ending. You wouldn’t know it was the same story. But I discovered that I write my way into the work, and I’m okay with that. I love it when I read my work back and it feels like the characters have run off and done their own thing. It feels like magic. So planning is good for those who are planners, and I’m not a planner when it comes to my writing. This year’s ‘planning’ involves working on something completely different up until the last second, then writing to a vaguely formed idea – another YA novel – during November.

3. Write consistently. For the past two years I’ve started slow, then have had massive totals for the last half of the month. Last year I made it, the year before I didn’t. It’s one of the disadvantages of not planning.

4. Sleep is good. In December, maybe.

5. Don’t waste time writing blog posts. Sometimes we all need to work on something different for a while…

So if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, good luck and happy writing. If it’s your first time, enjoy the experience. And remember: no matter how much you write, it’ll be more than you had before you started.

And if you know a NaNoWriMoer, bring them lots of coffee, chocolate, or anything they want. They’ll thank you in December.

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