What I learned from NaNoWriMo

(Originally posted at www.rapier57.com, Jan. 2013. This is proper to repost, as NaNoWriMo is coming again in November, 2013.)

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is something I knew about for some time, but just didn’t have the time or motivation to do. This year, I jumped in with both feet.

As a former print journalist, I knew I could produce the copy to meet the 50,000 word goal in 30 days. I break it down like this. I can type about 60 to 75 words a minute. Optimally, I could generate at least 3,600 words in an hour. I need to produce about 1,660 words per day to meet the 50,000 word goal. If I blocked out three hours to work on the novel each day and produced about 2,000 to 2,400 words of decent quality content, I would easily reach the goal.

The question: Could I produce something worth reading in a month?

So, what did I learn from NaNoWriMo?

1. Success requires some planning.

Outline, or not, get some idea of what you are going to write. Do some character sketches. Set some scenes and locales. Break the project into chapters and scenes. A novel is a huge project. Break it into small, bite-sized chunks and attack it one piece at a time. Do some research on the subjects or topics you will use. Gather the tools you’ll need to verify setting, scene, locale, whatever, when required.

I use Scrivener as my writing environment. It helps me keep a plan (by chapter and scene) in place, provides tools for scene and character descriptions, and has other useful writing tools. I also kept a copy of John Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey handy to keep myself on track regarding the character and story arch. And, I had a decent story idea.

I charged ahead on November 1.

2. You can write a decent novel in 30 days.

I charged ahead and didn’t worry about the grammar, mechanics and stuff like that–well, too much, anyway. I’m an obsessive self-editor. I still made my daily goals almost every day, and then some. I could take a couple days off for family and holidays, and still finish the novel two days early. It came to just over 50,000 words, but enough to get the NaNoWriMo winner certificate.

I kept my wife away from the work until I was done. This drove her crazy, but she was my first reader when I finished. She had it read in two days and loved it, to my surprise. She did make notes and copy edits throughout. After she read it, I spent a few days making corrections and did a little rewrite of some places and the ending. At that point, I sent it off to another writer friend for a critical read.

My writer friend quickly read it and sent the marked up copy back with glowing comments. I’m now going through another edit cycle to clean up the passive voice and smooth out some rough spots in the story.

3. Be methodical.

Do the writing. Take a break. Do the editing. Take a break. Get some feedback, do some rewrite. Take a break.

During the breaks, do some research on potential publishers, editors, or agents. Put together a marketing plan.

Do a re-read, edits, rewrites as needed. Or, have another skilled writer/editor (highly recommended) give it a read and take the edits, corrections and rewrite suggestions to heart. If you have to pay for it, this is the time to do it.

Pick three or four publishers, editors or agents to contact about your novel. Read submission guidelines and requirements and prepare your query letter and the chapters (sometimes just the first 50 pages) you will submit.

When you get the work back from your editor, do the rewriting, revisions and changes. Finalize the document and stop messing with it. Submit it to your first publisher or agent.

4. Move on to the next project.

Don’t stop writing. Start a new project. If you think you can do it, use the NaNoWriMo model and set your goal to complete it in a month or two months. Just set a goal. Goto 1.

I’m going to try to follow my own advice here and keep going, keep writing. This has been an interesting experience and I now know I can complete a novel.

Keep writing.