Last October, when my daughter was almost a year old, I decided that after a year of minimal progress on my writing projects, it was time to get back into it. And what better way to throw myself right in than to take on the challenge of NaNoWriMo? (National Novel Writers’ Month = write 50,000 words of your novel during the month of November. Crazy, I know.)
I’ll say up front that I didn’t make it to the 50k, but I learned some useful things along the way. It has been helpful to reflect on these things, months after the event, in order to try and continue to develop as a writer.
An unrealistic goal is better than no goal
It is good to have achievable goals to motivate you and help you track your progress. But, as I found, it can be good to sometimes take on a really ambitious goal to help push you forward. I knew that trying to write 50,000 words in a month was going to be tough. Even if I was already consistently writing and didn’t have a baby to look after it would be a challenge. Add to that a family holiday interstate, my brother’s wedding and planning a first birthday party. I knew that November was a really inconvenient time to try this and felt that if I made it to 50,000 I could pretty much do anything as a writer.
As it turned out, I stopped after a couple of weeks so I could focus on my family commitments. I could have the attitude of, Wow, I didn’t even make it halfway and feel like a failure. Instead, I think to myself, Wow! I wrote over 20,000 words in two weeks! Had I not had such a lofty goal, I would not have achieved as much as I did.
The fact that I didn’t reach my target has not put me off wanting to try again. I’m excited to give it another shot, and am looking forward to Camp NaNo, held in July.
Get words down
I have often heard quotes along the lines of ‘You can’t edit nothing.’ It’s true. There’s no point having a great idea if it stays in your head. It’s not until you get it down on paper or onto your computer that you can start working with it, crafting the words into something amazing. NaNoWriMo taught me to keep writing and moving forward. There’s time to edit later, but just get that first draft done. This is not how I usually write. I’m an editor, and like to edit my work as I go. I go for quality over quantity and cringe over moving on from an imperfect sentence. In the first few days of NaNo, I felt uncomfortable about not revisiting my work straight away. But I soon felt a liberation in trying something new and just writing and letting the words flow (and seeing the word count ticking over).
Value the writing community
The third point I want to make about NaNo is the importance of being part of a writing community. Writing is a solitary activity, but writers need not feel isolated. One reason for my lack of productivity last year in writing is that I was not proactive in surrounding myself with other writers. I didn’t have deadlines to complete any of my writing projects, I didn’t have anyone encouraging me/kicking me up the butt to keep going and I didn’t have anyone giving feedback on my work. I didn’t realise how valuable these things are until I no longer had them. For the two years prior, I studied Professional Writing and Editing and this year have decided to study once again – not just in order to finish my Diploma, but also for the benefit of workshopping and being inspired by other writers.
Each day during November I was receiving emails with pep talks from authors and updates on how others were going with NaNoWriMo. I didn’t meet any of them face to face, but there was something motivational about knowing I was not in this alone – there were thousands of other writers taking on the same challenge.
Whether online or in person, get a group of writers around you. Do a writing course, or contact your local library or writers’ centre to find a suitable writers’ group for mutual encouragement.