I wrote a novel this month—or a rushed, fragmented, type-every-thought-that-comes-to-mind first draft of a novel. It's not in good enough shape to share with anyone yet (if something happens to me before I get to write the second draft, please burn it STAT). But I did it. Here are a few reflections on participating in NaNoWriMo.
The month went something like this:
I kid you not, everyone in my family fell ill on November 1, and we alternated or overlapped viruses until the day I finished on November 26. And then miraculously that night, everyone became healthy and began to sleep again.
Once I let go of my tendencies as a planner and perfectionist, the writing itself came easily. It was freeing not to be constantly trying to make a thousand decisions about tense and voice and style and pacing. The goal for this month was to write. Furiously. So I made a few choices right off that bat and stuck with them until the end.
The toughest aspect turned out to be finding the time to write. I was cranky and stressed until I got at least four or five hundred words down each day, then I felt a little less cranky. (I knew that if I got behind on my word count I'd lose motivation to finish.) By the time I completed a decent word count of around 2,000 words each day, I was exhausted—and even crankier.
I broke the goal of 50,000 words on November 21, but the story was nowhere near finished. I thought I would spend the next week frantically trying to tie up the story, but boy did my enthusiasm wane. That week, we hosted Cricket's birthday party and Thanksgiving and I sent my sister's wedding invitation package to the printers. All I wanted to think about was buying Christmas gifts and mailing holiday cards! I officially called it on November 26, having written 60,107 words during the month for a total of nearly 90,000 over the last few years.
The finale was a bit anticlimactic since we jumped into Thanksgiving preparations the next day. But I'll admit: I'm proud of myself. Sure I took shortcuts on keeping the family going, consumed too much sugar and caffeine and let Cricket watch too much TV, but we'll recover from all that. The important thing is I've more or less got a draft of a novel in hand. A novel!
I am grateful to my husband for taking the girls out for little adventures on the weekends, so I could steal a few extra hours to write. He also encouraged me to keep going every time I told him that maybe this was a silly, worthless project. He has faith that I have a story worth turning into a book, even when I'm wavering. I am grateful to my girls for loving me through all my many creative distractions, this month and all the others. And I am grateful to all the rest of my friends and family for cheering me on. (My mom would send me emails that ended with: "P.S. Why are you reading this email? You should be writing!")
Would I participate in NaNoWriMo again?
Yes and no. With my commitment to my young kids and Calm Cradle, November was grueling. I felt continuous guilt over sneaking in writing time at the expense of spending time with to the girls, and with so little sleep on top of so little sleep, adding an intensive writing project to our life was challenging. That said, this intensive exercise fit my personality well. I've also been brewing this story for four years, so I had a lot of pent-up ideas ready to hit the page when it was go time.
Although I don't envision participating again in the next couple years, if I finish this project and have another story idea in the future, when sleep is more predictable and the girls are in school, I would absolutely consider participating again.
Advice on joining NaNoWriMo
Announce to your family and friends that you are participating in NaNoWriMo for three reasons: you need their support, they need to know why you're ignoring them and it will keep you accountable. I wrote a post here announcing my goal, then posted word count updates on Facebook along the way. I didn't want to have to slink away after telling everyone I'd write 50,000 by the end of November, so I had to keep writing.
Write as much as you can the first weekend, then try to write something each day. My sister gave me the great advice to jam the first few days to get ahead and boost my confidence. It worked. Even if you can't make your word count goal each day, don't get out of the habit of writing or you'll quickly lose momentum.
Develop a game plan, then adjust to reality: My schedule is unpredictable, because it revolves around when my girls are napping, entertaining themselves and sleeping at night. Some days, none of those things happen. Other days, some of those things happen. (They never all happen in one day, right?) So it was difficult to have a strict writing regime. Throughout the month, I realized that if I could find a few minutes here and there throughout the morning and get four- to six-hundred words down before nap time, I'd be in the writing mindset and have my daily word count goal in sight when Nora went down for a short nap. You can write a lot in 45 minutes if you know it's the only time the house will be quiet all day. I also wrote in the evenings if I needed to finish up, but ideally I'd have my word count done by then so I could spend some time catching up on the more menial tasks I had on my plate that day.
Remind yourself every 20 seconds that if you stick to your guns, you'll write the draft of a novel in just one month. Squeezing in time to write a few thousand extra words each day on top of your regular life is tough. But it's concentrated. You'll be flipping the calendar in just 30 days, so let the laundry pile up, don't even consider vacuuming the house and make the kids entertain themselves.
We have a celebratory dinner date planned for this week, and you better believe there will be champagne. Buckets full. Maybe next year you'll be celebrating, too?
Above: A ranch nestled between the Gore Range and the Blue River in Summit County, Colorado. As of now, the story ends right around here.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.