For NaNoWriMo 2012, I have done staggeringly better than previous years and yet I still feel annoyed at myself for not meeting my unrealistic expectations. I have been entering National Novel Wrtiting Month since 2006 and – more often than not – I fall by the wayside around the 10K mark (if I even reach that). This year I’m still going strong at 23k, though it must be noted that I am far behind where I should be at this stage of the game and I’m a fair way off the 50k goalposts which are starting to loom closer. The thing is though, even though it’s still more than plausible that I’m not going to make that final target I never feel like NaNoWriMo is a waste. There are several reasons why I’ve failed in the past and some of these will probably contribute to the possible failure of my 2012 attempt but I’m still going to have 23,000 words for a first draft that I may have never done anyway so I still want to celebrate NaNoWriMo and everything it brings me through my several years of not-quite-making-enough-words-to-win!
Mistake Number 1: Going Alone
This is a very easy mistake to make and for some people it’s not a mistake at all but I wish I’d gotten more of my friends involved in NaNoWriMo earlier and made more of an effort to write with them. Getting other people involved gives you something to work towards. Of course, the flip side is that if all your friends are storming ahead then it’s that little bit easier to be disheartened but I’d argue that’s entirely down to how you choose to take that rather than actually being a problem for your writing. Getting involved in your local NaNoWriMo community is also a great opportunity and you can meet some new people that are just as committed about writing as you are. Word wars, writing evenings and meeting in coffee shops to exchange difficulties and small victories, all of these involve other people and they make National Novel Writing Month that bit richer!
Mistake Number 2: Not Putting Aside The Time
Getting really excited about NaNoWriMo isn’t quite enough to actually get it done. Over and over again, I find that I underestimate how much time is required for this project and the things that will most likely fall by the wayside. This year I found myself in a bizarre situation in that I was made redundant a few days before NaNoWriMo began, which really couldn’t have been timed any better but I still need to make a conscious effort to not hang out for hours with friends unless it’s a special occasion. Movie nights in particular are a bad idea because Poof! there goes a whole evening of writing and if it goes on until the wee hours then I’ve probably lost a lot of the next day as well. This also goes hand in hand with the feeling you may get after the first week that you’re sick of writing and you deserve a break. Then another break. And another break. And Whoops! now you can’t possibly catch up. Make the choice to write and let your friends know that this is coming because they’re likely to be supportive. One important lesson I learned though is that, as well intentioned as they may be, you are not going to be able to go over your friends place and really write unless they are as well. It just doesn’t work that way!
Mistake Number 3: Giving Up When Falling Behind
Ah, the big killer of any NaNoWriMo attempt. You have a few bad days and that bar chart on your novel page starts to mock you because you are SO behind now! To the point where it just looks impossible to catch up so you make more excuses, fall further behind and come closer and closer to that awful day where you just stop. There are several reasons why people just stop with their novel:
- You only “win” NaNoWriMo if you hit the target word count
- You don’t have faith in yourself to catch up
- It’s really hard
- What I’m writing suuuuucks
Only the third reason may be worth noting but the others are easy to ignore. Why? Because NaNoWriMo isn’t just about reaching 50K, that’s just a milestone that they put in place for you to aim for. As I’ve already said, even if I stopped writing right now then I’d still have 23k of a first draft that I probably wouldn’t have done so fast anyway. And if what you’re writing sucks then I have a secret for you: so does everyone else’s! NaNoWriMo is a great blessing for people like me who have tons of stories in their head and they need to be encouraged to just vomit them up into text. Yes, what I’m writing is sometimes terrible because I’m discovered huge areas of my story that maybe I haven’t properly thought about. It doesn’t matter: this is a first draft. Just keep writing and trying and don’t be afraid to come up with someone on the spot that fills a gap you’ve discovered in your plot or narrative. So far I have had to create four new characters that I’d never even thought of before and they are ill-formed messes that don’t have complete personalities but I’ll be able to improve that in my next draft and they show an area I needed to work on.
Of course, if you’re really struggling with NaNoWriMo and hate your characters, story and everything in it then perhaps you’ve discovered that you’re not happy enough with your novel to write it? Doesn’t matter though because you’ve still learned that and I don’t think the NaNoWriMo police are going to come down and take you away if you have a crack at something else, blending the two word counts together. Because National Novel Writing Month only asks that you try to reach 50k and every other rule is imposed by yourself. So have fun because at the end you’ll still have created something! As for me, I’d better get back to my writing before I get in trouble with my friends.