My #NaNoWriMo2017 Experience

Yes, that’s right I managed to complete NaNoWriMo2017. And it was only my real first try. Over the years I’ve tried to enter, but November being on my least favourite months I’d always be down some emotional abyss too deep and dark to drag myself out of. NaNoWriMo always passed me by. The guilt of not committing and following through would throw me further into said abyss making the journey out only possible around mid-December. Hah, no regrets though. You live and you learn, right?

This year despite the emotional turmoil I was dealing with at the time (more about that later) I pulled my head out of my ass and finally gave NaNoWriMo a shot.  Boy, was it a disaster to start with. Bear in mind I hadn’t done a whole lot of writing this year (a couple of short stories, and about a million drafts of my YA novel) I didn’t have the stamina going in, and I knew this. But try googling How to maintain your stamina during NaNoWriMo, and see what comes up. I knew this, and self-awareness is essential for an endeavour of this magnitude. I am pantser by heart, so that only makes it even harder to maintain stamina basing on past experience. I’m not a word-count kinda writer, more like plant your ass on the desk and write till you can’t feel it no more—sometimes I can’t feel it no more after 200 words, sometimes 4,000 words. I love the spontaneity of that. NaNoWriMo though, gives no room for spontaneity. 1,667 words daily is the required goal.

My first weekend I wrote a combined 1,500 words. A week into NaNoWriMo I had penned 7,957 words and I abandoned the project. Started on a new, totally different novel.

My initial project was a YA novel, and I’d spent the better part of the year editing a YA novel – I didn’t feel up to it. My second project was a SF story I tried to write like three years ago but abandoned it.

Oh yes, gasp all you want, I know I know – switching projects is a no no. But I did it. Trust me when I say it was the most frustrating piece of writing I’ve ever had to do. I had maybe 15,000 words written from way back, but they were all pretty unusable. The way I planned to structure the novel from back then too was rubbish (I was in my non-linear narrative phase) The story couldn’t function that way. So I had to throw away everything, I mean EVERYTHING!!!! – premise, concept, character names – everything and start from scratch.

With about 22, 23 days left how daunting was my task? Extremely daunting. I hadn’t written anything speculative since writing a short-story that got accepted into the Imagine Africa 500 anthology. That was like 2015. I’d have to learn the craft all over again. Yeah, like I had the time. I work 10-hour days at my non-profit day-job, when I get home I’m pretty beat, then I’d run a couple of laps at the football pitch nearby – you know, to shore up some energy. Get back home, read till I sleep and wake up at 4:00AM to try and write minimum 2,000 words. Hmmn, I’d be lucky to get even 1,000 words before my internal clock screams at me to get my ass to work.

So how did I hit my targ—scratch that—how did I complete NaNoWriMo? I went back to my normal pantser, no word-count routine. I didn’t update my word-count for days at a time. My greatest struggle went from writing 2,000 words a day, to blocking out 4 – 5 hours of daily writing time – weekdays. And maybe 8 – 10 on weekends.

Remember, self-awareness is key.

I’ve never been the kind of writer who the moment he/she sits at their desk, the words start flowing. No. Not I. My muse requires a lot of coaxing. A lot. I usually have to stare at the blank page for a long, loooooooong while until she (my muse) feels sorry for me and eventually lends a hand. So out of like 4 – 5 hours I’m probably writing for three quarters of that, which depending on how my muse is feeling, can be quite a good writing day or very harrowing.

It was mostly a game of averages. Days when I’m feeling a little off, and nothing is flowing how I want it. I get to reading. Reacquaint myself with the craft. A mish-mash kind of work ethic but it did work out. By day 28 I still had maybe 6,000 words to hit the NaNoWriMo target. Which coincidentally was a crazy time at work, so I had to supercharge my writing. Stealing ten minutes here and there, cheating on my thirty-minute lunch break to write some (I learnt some unsavoury ways of wolfing down my meal in five minutes or shorter) I managed to complete my story on day 30, just barely. But I did it.

I have taken this same approach to completing my current novel – a project I’ve been working on maybe three years now. I’m about halfway with this epic story, but I’m going to apply the same NaNoWriMo principles that helped down the stretch, i.e. block out as much time as you can. Don’t focus on word-count – focus on getting words down on paper, be it 200 words or 4,000 words. Weekends are great days to chunk writing time. Be selfish with your writing time. Don’t speak about it until it’s done. Be diligent, and self-starter. Even five minutes are enough to write a sentence or a short paragraph – eventually if you stack up those five minutes the results exponentially multiply like compound interest.

Most of all, trust my gut. And never give up.

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