This past November, I performed the best I ever have for National Novel Writing Month. For those who don’t know, the Office of Letters and Light hosts an event where writers all over the world try their hand writing a novel (50,000 words) in a month.
It is my favorite thing. I’ve hit the goal of 50,000 words many times, but I’ve never come away with anything more than a beginning and a ton of brainstorm notes.
I chose to change that.
I set a goal to win National Novel Writing Month last year with 50,000 words of a manuscript, unsupplemented by brainstorm notes. To date, this was the hardest writing goal I have set and I blew it out of the water.
This goal became one of my greatest teachers and it altered the trajectory of my writing career.
What I learned from NaNoWriMo 2019
Scheduling time and committing to it are keys to success.
I knew if I didn’t plan, I wasn’t going to reach my goal. All my life I’ve struggled with maintaining a consistent writing schedule, so I did research on time management. I decided to use the time blocking method to make the time in my schedule a month ahead. I sat down with my Google calendar and managed to find 100 hours in my November I could dedicate to writing while still making sure I had time for family, exercise, day job, and eating.
I learned I have more time in my schedule for writing that I thought. I also realized I only had those 100 hours during November I could dedicate to this goal without losing my mind. I calculated how many words I would need to write each session in order to reach 50,000 words in 100 hours and recorded them in my appointment titles. I then promised myself that if I missed a writing set, I would reschedule the time to make up for it and I forced myself to stick to it.
Self discipline was not easy to learn, but as the month went on, it came more and more naturally. By choosing to stick to it, I learned to prioritize my time and it was less difficult to get my bum in the chair.
Word count is powerful.
I never believed I could hold myself solidly to a word count because I’ve never known how many words it would take me to tell a story. I didn’t want to disappoint myself when it took me longer to write a scene or chapter than I thought it would. I felt strongly that the story needed to form organically and forcing it into to word count would choke that.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I focused myself on hitting my word count for each writing session, I found scenes and chapters forming not only organically, but more quickly. I looked back at the end of the month to see I wrote thirteen complete chapters.
Thirteen chapters. I had never written that much in such a short time.
It stunned me to see that by focusing on word count, it forced me to write through blocks that stalled my progress in the past.
Support is critical and awesome.
My husband is the real champion of NaNoWriMo 2019. I could not have achieved my goal without him.
That month, I decided I was going to be less closed-mouthed about what I was writing. I’ve always kept it a secret, suffering in silence and (I admit) occasionally lashing out at my family as a result of my NaNo stress (sorry mom). It did not garner me any support during NaNo from my family in the past and I needed to change that.
So, I started to share chapters with my husband as I produced them. He then helped me talk through problems, bolstered me when I was a blubbering, unconfident, blocked mess, and encouraged me when I was unmotivated. He gave me his full, unconditional support. This taught me that people can only help, encourage, and support me when they know what I’m doing and with them to back me, I’m more likely to succeed.
It is possible to write yourself out of writer’s block.
Brandon Sanderson, in his 2011 NaNoWriMo pep talk, says, “…the one thing I’ve seen work best in overcoming writer’s block is to just keep going. Writer’s block should really be rendered “creativity block.” Nobody is forcing a writer to stop typing. The thing stopping us is more nebulous—some void of creativity caused by dissatisfaction with the writing, an uncertainty about where to go next, a lack of faith in the project.”
Sanderson continues: “Soldiering on anyway can often solve…[your] problems…I often have to write something poorly before I can write it well. I go through a scene once, knowing that I’m doing it wrong—but searching for the answers, exploring the story, as I actually write…The goal is often not to keep the scene, but to explore how [the] characters would react so [they] can [be] explore[d]…more in depth.”
This quote changed my writing game.
All my life, I believed writer’s blocks to be nigh impossible to break except for a bolt of inspiration I couldn’t control. This quote put the power back into my hands, and it felt good. I had many moments where I had no idea what to do or where to go with the story or character development, but the idea that it would work itself out no matter what I did was heartening.
I wrote some terrible stuff.
The sections of my manuscript where I was busting through a block are messy and need heavy revision, but I produced. I progressed. And just like Sanderson promised, things worked themselves out.
I will never forget these lessons I learned from my work during National Novel Writing Month last year. I made progress with mental blocks and breakthroughs in skill I could not have dreamed of. I am so excited to announce my novel was launched into the “halfway finished” zone and I feel confident in my abilities to finish it by the end of March.
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