About NaNoWriMo 2016
It has been a while since my last post. It would be easy to say that this is the reality of working a full time job and writing when time allows. Time management is certainly an interesting skill. Even if you improve, it seems there is always room for more improvement. Yet, more often than not, it is not a question of time, but a question of priorities. That was the case for me for this past little while. I decided to put my blog aside for other activities, including concentrating on the last semester of my MBA (which I completed earlier this week), working on two novels (Deficiency and The Stranger of Ul Darak) and participating in NaNoWriMo 2016. In this post, I will talk about my NaNoWriMo experience this past November.
I admit that I was initially skeptical about the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Writing part-time, I was already struggling to find time. How was I supposed to find more time and reach the target of 50,000 words NaNoWriMo was proposing? I was also already trying to complete my next revision of The Stranger of Ul Darak (for which editing is scheduled for January).
On the other hand, I like a good challenge (probably too much) and on October 30th, while having lunch at work, I read an article in the Writer's Digest magazine titled: How a month of NaNoWriMo can lead to a lifetime of better writing. Talk about a good title for an essay! It instantly caught my attention. To be honest, I did not know much about NaNoWriMo at that point and Grand Faulkner, who wrote the article, did a fairly good job at convincing me of the benefits of at least giving NaNoWriMo a try (as it turns out, Grant was biased, as he is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month... still, he was convincing).
So, two days later, I joined NaNoWriMo 2016. I was totally unprepared and had to quickly select what to write. I decided to go with the follow up to the Stranger of Ul Darak, mainly because I had been working on Stranger for a few months and it seemed an easy place to start. It was fresh in my mind. I did not have a title, nor an idea where the story would go (only a few vague ideas that came while revising The Stranger).
I set to reach the target of 1,667 words a day required to meet the 50,000 words by November 30th. It started well. At first, I just wrote to write, to put words down. After two days, though, I realized I would need some kind of outline, or I might lose my way. So, every day, before starting to write (or after, depending), I would take ten or fifteen minutes to add to the outline. I would scribble ideas for the next two or three chapters and then return to writing. About a week later, I felt the outline needed to be more detailed and I set aside 30 minutes to put down the big events for each of the characters. I retouched the outline now and then as I progressed through the story.
I wrote mainly at night, after 11pm. I took two or three days of rest during the months, nights I selected to go to sleep early and recharge. These nights obviously put me behind, but it was a calculated risk. I balanced these breaks with a few extra writing sessions, one of which was on a Friday morning (took the day off; my wife and I were going out of town anyway and we wanted to leave early. I wrote in the morning and we left town in the afternoon). Some of the other extra sessions were on the weekends, with a few at nights. Everything went fairly well until the last week, when I started to run out of energy... The text was not coming as easily and some nights, I just did not feel like writing (I felt like laying down and sleeping).
But I wrote anyway and in the end, I completed the 50,000 words during the night from November 29 to 30. Amazingly, The Ruins of Zéah (tentative title) came to an end at the same time, with 23 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue. Perfect! It will need several more revisions, but I am fairly satisfied with it. It's hard to complain with a completed first draft.
There are a few great things about NaNoWriMo. It helps set a clear goal and something to aim for. It connects you with other authors (I had the chance to exchange with a few and it was great to learn about their stories and their own challenges). Because of these connections, it reduces the feeling of isolation that usually comes with writing. Also, writing regularly helps to stay connected with the story, making it easier to write and keep the flow.
In the end, though, the most important lesson NaNoWriMo teaches is that it is not necessarily about how much time you have, but how much you want it (priorities!). For November, I warned my wife that I would be dedicating extra time to writing, explaining to her the premise of NaNoWriMo. Leigh was very supportive and full of encouragements. I admit being quite annoying about NaNoWriMo, bringing it up often (with her and friends and even online). On a few occasions, Leigh came close to running out of patience with me. "Just go write!," she would say. And well... I would go write.
Overall, it was a very good experience. Tough at times, but enjoyable nonetheless. I will most likely return next years and would encourage fellow writers to give it a try.