Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Editorial: Seven Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo

As you may have noticed, I haven't really posted much last month. Well, there is a reason for that, and I think it's a good one: I was participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Write a 50,000 word story between November 1 and 30. And, well, I did it!

I was working on an alternate history story where magic and steampunk technology exist side by side in a Europe that roughly parallels our history, but with people using special crystals to use magic... and I lost most of you. Either way, I wrote 50,000 words on that topic, and the story is no where near done. Will most likely some day get back to figuring out how to rework and finish it.

Anyway, trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days taught me a lot about writing, especially when you want to do Alternate History. So, To get myself back into the swing of things, here's a list of things I learned from NaNoWriMo to help with anyone trying to write or who may want to do NaNoWriMo next year

  1. Know what you want to talk about. I had the Steampunk/magic idea for a very long time, before I first tried NaNoWriMo way back in 2013, and while some ideas from then are the same, I realized I still had no idea how the world changed, and what the big differences were. After 42,000 words, and a couple weeks of staring at my computer screen trying to add something, anything, I gave up and went back and spent the last 8000 just writing elements of world building. Nations, wars, the fundamental background of the story, how the magic works, why the steampunk group and the magic people were fighting, all that. 
  2. Find and make the time to do it. On November 1, 50,000 words may seem a daunting, but doable challenge, which it is. But you need to keep working on it. I set myself a goal of at least 2000 words a day, which is slightly higher than the 1,667 or so a day that NaNoWriMo suggests needs to be written a day in order to win. But even then, with a full time job, helping on the family farm, helping the rest of the family, and a lot of other things (like Fallout 4), finding the time was really hard. So in the evening, after getting home from work, helping on the farm, supper and dishes, I would sit at my computer in my room and punch out 2000 words before I did anything else, like Fallout 4. You need to find the time, and have people respect that time. Which brings me to my next point...
  3. Tell other people you are doing this. This is especially in the case where you live with someone else, like your parents, roommates or significant other. Don't keep it a secret that you are trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Even before I started I told my mom and dad that I was going to do this, so they were more understanding of the times when I locked myself in my room to try to write. Without that notice, they would have been a lot more annoyed, if not concerned, at what I was doing, especially since I liked to put myself away in my corner of the house to be alone...
  4. You got to power through writer's block. Writer's block is a terrible thing. Staring at a blank, white screen or piece of paper trying to figure out words to go on paper, your mind a swimming mess of confusion and agony... but you got to get through it. When you do NaNoWriMo, or any other big, time sensitive project, you just got to go. Write down the first thing that comes to your mind. Don't erase it, because you need 50,000 words, remember? You can edit later in December or January. And usually that first sentence will go a long way to clearing things up.
  5. Take a break, and do something else. Just like chocolate, video games, alcohol, sports and anything else, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Writing is the same way. If you find yourself stumped, and can't go any further, feel free to walk away for an hour or two. That's the times when I would go play a video game, read a book, take a nap, stare at the ceiling. Anything but look at the Google Docs file I made just for NaNoWriMo. Then, when you are ready, you can go back with, if not fresh eyes, then at least a bit of a reboot or refresh. That will go a long way to help.
  6. Reach out and talk to fellow writers. There is nothing like a good support group, and the best help you can get with NaNoWriMo is other people also participating. I had an internet friend from Seattle invite me to a group chat of other writers, almost all of whom I never met before. But they were very friendly and helped me with my problems, as much as I tried to help them in return. A couple did finish NaNoWriMo as well, and provided encouragement to the rest to keep going, and get it done as well.
  7. It's not the end of the world to not hit the goal. November is a short month, tied for second last place with April, June and September. Life has a nasty habit of suddenly springing surprises on those that have a goal and want to do something on a certain day. I didn't get more than 20,000 words in 2013 because of University, and I dared not try it in 2014 for the same reason. There were times when it felt like I was burnt out on this story, and I was getting ideas for other stories I wanted to write, as well as commitments like work and this blog and other things. I did power through it, but there are many people who weren't able to do it. But remember: there is always next year. And there are still eleven other months you can write, so why just try to do it in one? NaNoWriMo is more to show that anyone that wants too can participate, and can win. If not, at least you did some writing, right? Doesn't matter if you only got 10,000 or went all out and did 100,000, you still wrote, and that's what NaNoWriMo is about.
NaNoWriMo is over for 2015, but there is still 2016 and many more years in the future that you can do this. I plan to do it again, hopefully next year, and maybe next time I can be more prepared next time so it won't be as stressful or painful. And all these tips can help with your normal writing as well.

Anyway, will get back to regular Alternate History next week. Until then, good luck with the word counts, my fellow Alternate Historians!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! Congratulations, my good sir! I'm very impressed!