What did winning NaNo look like for me? How did I do it? I can summarize my experience in three words: Preparation, Persistence and Production. Using my Lessons from a NaNo Winner, let me break it down in this recap (if you missed any of the series, click on the lesson titles to view the individual posts):
Lesson #1 -- Have a Plan
I spent the month before NaNo in a writing workshop which I exited with a few of key things: character workups, a full synopsis and a new writer support group. I knew what my story was going to be about and where it was headed.
Lesson #2 -- Establish Writing Goals
I knew I wasn't going to write 7 days a week, not with my very busy family. But I did manage to write for the first 19 days straight. I set a target of 2,000 words per day, a little higher than the 1,667 words needed. I figured if I did this, I'd get ahead for the days when I couldn't write. I would also keep an eye on the weekly target of 12,500 words per week.
Lesson #3 -- Clear Your Desk
I didn't do this. I continued to blog, and read and review books throughout NaNo. Reading gave me a nice mental break, but I read only half as many books as I normally do in a month. I blogged my NaNo experience, but also a couple of book features and my usual weekly roundup.
Lesson #4 -- Get A Good Start
I made sure I wrote on the very first day. 2,095 words. Pleased as punch, I had early momentum. My creative juices were flowing.
Lesson #5 -- Organize Now
Whenever I start a story, I immediately also open a spreadsheet for tracking purposes. (Scrivener for Windows was just arriving on the scene so Excel remained my best friend.) I kept it simple with 10 columns: Scene #, Chap # (these two changed as things moved around), Chapter Name (each chap is a Word doc which makes it easier to find and move things later), POV, Setting, Plot Summary, Word Count and Revision Notes.
Lesson #6 -- Don't Go It Alone
I should have called this lesson, "Find Support", to make it more of a positive action than a negative what not to do. Anyway, I had mine: my newly formed writing group, at least half of which was participating in NaNo, ACFW, my writing organization whose website provides a neat online place to store daily word counts, and MBT, an online writing community. Then of course, there was the NaNo community, with its forums and boards and daily word count updates.
Frankly, it was too much. As much as I enjoyed each and found new writing buddies along the way, if I were participating in NaNo this year, I'd stick with my writing group. I'd post my word counts to ACFW, then post at the very end to NaNo.
Lesson #7 -- Crow With Consideration
On ACFW, daily word counts are private. Only the group's cumulative total for the month is known. Likewise at NaNo, I think. So I posted daily numbers to Facebook and Twitter. Most days I made or exceeded my target, but not every day. Some days I didn't write at all. I tried to be less "look at me" and more "here's what I've done, how about you?" I cheered on others, congratulating those who were doing well and encouraging those who needed a little pumping up.
Lesson #8 -- Stay Focused
This was a challenge. I chauffeured my oldest to rehab appointments, then accompanied him to varsity basketball practices. I sat on the hard wood floor of the gym and tapped out words on my laptop or my cell phone using Evernote or a memo app. I also used a voice recorder and a notebook. Everything but the laptop created double work, as I then had to transcribe to know what my word counts were, but the act of writing in any form kept me moving forward.
Lesson #9 -- Forget Craft
Easier said than done, this one. Some craft things make the writing go more smoothly. Like knowing your characters and having a plot outline. Not knowing your characters can bog down your plotting. Not having a plot outline means time spent trying to figure out what happens next. I had both, but it quickly became apparent that I still didn't know my characters as well as I needed to and thus, I wasn't pleased with all aspects of my plot. This led to time trying to figure things out, but not much. The last column in the spreadsheet, Revision Notes, served me well. I noted questions I needed to resolve and changes to be made. And I kept writing.
Lesson # 10 -- Be Flexible
I knew from the beginning I wouldn't write every day, but I intended to write most days. We had no plans for Thanksgiving until just days before when it was decided we would join the in-laws and other family in Orlando for dinner. I cooked so I could bring a dish, which pretty much meant the whole day was killed. I fooled myself into thinking I would write while others watched football and chattered. Even carried the laptop, but I wrote not one word. The rest of the weekend was a blur as the oldest had a basketball tournament in Naples. He didn't play since he was still rehabbing and there was a slight eligibility question, later easily dispatched, but he left on Friday and we supported him and the team by making the roundtrip trek to be there for the Saturday game.
Lesson #11 -- Keep Going and Do It
I was determined in a way that I hadn't been in my two previous attempts. If I were ever going to win NaNo, I was going to do it in 2011. And I did. There were days when I didn't feel like writing, but I had made a commitment to myself. I felt as though I also had made a commitment to my writing group and I didn't want to let them down. I wrote while I watched episodes of Top Chef, my favorite reality cooking show, The Real Housewives of ATL (I gave up on them midway thru the season), and Criminal Minds. Not to mention college basketball games and the NBA. But I wrote. I also took time out to bake with my boys, volunteer a day at the book fair for the two youngest and whatever else popped up that I can no longer remember, all while working full-time. It was a busy time, but it was exhilarating and I met my goal.
I wrote 60,842 words, surpassing the 50k goal on Day 19. I lost momentum after hitting the target, writing only 5 out of the remaining 11 days in the month. How could I not with all I had going on? My story wasn't finished then, and it's not now. I worked on it a bit in December and the early months of 2013, only to discover that I needed to tear it apart. I started a different story, using what I'd learned during NaNo, spending more time on preparation. When I'm done with it, I'll go back to that NaNo story in the first half of 2013.
My biggest takeaway was confidence. If I put my mind to it, I can do it and without too much disruption to the rest of my life. That pace is not sustainable, not for me, but if I had to knock out a lot of words in a short time, I could do it.
In the end, I won NaNo, which was my immediate goal, and you can too.
Remember, Preparation, Persistence and Production.
Peace & Blessings,
Stay focused. Be deliberate. Believe.