Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Heaven Help Me, I Attempted NaNoWriMo

by Susan

I'm not sure what possessed me, but I signed up for National Novel Writing Month in November. I thought it might push me to finish the embryonic novel I keep poking at. I tend to be a slow writer, so I thought maybe I'd try to develop a little more speed. Or maybe I needed a project to pull me out of my doldrums. I'm notorious for finding projects instead of dealing with life as it exists.

For those of you not familiar with NaNo, the idea is to start with a blank page on Nov. 1 at 12:01 a.m. with the goal of completing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30. I chose a slightly different goal: 50,000 words progress on an existing novel.

I failed boldly. Magnificently. Wrote only a fraction of the goal. And I'm still happy I did it, because I learned a few things along the way:

  • It's easier to rack up a word count than you might think, as long as the butt goes in the chair. 
  • Learning and doing are part of an unending cycle. The more you write, the more you learn about writing. The more you learn, the more your writing changes. 
  • Your own goals don't have to be anyone else's. One writer I know on Facebook set a goal of 500 words per day during NaNoWriMo. My goal was to make progress on an existing novel. 
  • Some of us need more self-care than we want to admit or give to ourselves. I don't do well with inadequate food, water, rest, and exercise, and providing myself with those things takes time. You need to carve out that time.
  • You have to factor in your own energy level when you set goals. I tend to be low-energy, and I forget that sometimes.
  • Energy level includes clearing out enough mental space to think and imagine. 
  • Community matters. Having writer friends -- online or off -- who can be cheerleaders is a great help when discouragement sets in.

Would I do NaNoWriMo again? Maybe, although I seem also to have learned that I'm temperamentally incapable of writing fast and sloppy first drafts. One way or another, though, I know I need to push forward. 

How about you? Did you give NaNoWriMo a go? Tell us what you thought!


P.S. While we have you, we just want to put in quick plugs for two projects we're involved in:

1) If you're in Cheyenne tomorrow, stop by the Recover Wyoming book launch for Watch My Rising, an anthology edited by Lynn G. Carlson. It will be held in the Asher Bldg at 500 W. 15th St. on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 6-9 p.m. Read more about it in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle article by Ellen Fike.

2) The WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest postmark deadline has been extended until December 15, so there's still time to get your entry in. Find guidelines on the WyoPoets website. Questions may be directed to contest chair Susan Mark at wyopoets@gmail.com.


  1. Susan, I commend you for even trying NaNo. Just the thought of 50K words is daunting. I could write that many for a novel, but it would probably take me several months, probably more like six months. But you are correct that it's really a matter of butts in the chair. I have pinned above my desk William Stafford's advice to his students: "Lower your standards and keep writing." Hard to do but necessary.

    If it makes you feel any better, William Zinsser, a prolific writer and author of On Writing Well, says that he must work on each sentence as he writes it, each paragraph as he writes it, before he can move on to the next one. We all have our own processes and must accept challenges within those styles. NaNo's 50K words a month may be way too many for you. I know it is for me and would "lower my standards and keep writing."

    It was great to see you the other day in Cheyenne. And Lynn and Mike too.

    1. Thanks, Art. I loved how Michael Gear explained it once. He said his wife Kathy (they co-write) has to have each sentence pristine before she can move on to the next one. He, on the other hand, uses the "vomit and mop" method. (Exact quote.) I'm not much into mopping.

      Some of it is my newspaper background. When you're a reporter, the story that gets published is essentially your first draft. There's no setting it aside and looking at it again the next day.


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