NaNo Update: We Have a Winner

The muse is over-rated. Experienced writers know that. The best motivator is a hard deadline.

Last weekend I was ready to give up my quest to “win” the National Novel Writing competition for the third straight year. Winning means writing a 50,000-word first draft of a novel in 30 days, beginning on November 1. By November 22, I had fallen behind—not by a lot but by enough. I was under 40,000 words with a week to go. After an unproductive weekend in which I did not meet the daily word count of 1,667 words on either day, I decided to pull the plug.

Then, on Monday, I changed my mind. I had come this far. I had written more than 35,000 words. I couldn’t give up. I had plans that night and when I returned home, I decided to write. It was nine o’clock and I was tired, but I would give it one more shot. To my surprise, I became immersed in the story and I wrote 1,800 words. Then, I wrote 1,800 words on Tuesday and 1,000 words on Wednesday. I even cranked out 1,000 words on Thanksgiving night. I was at 42,000 words with two days to go.

I knew a productive Friday could put me over the top. I went to Starbucks early in the morning and wrote 4,000 words. I took a break, did some errands and sat down and wrote another 3,600 words. I finished early Saturday morning and uploaded the novel to the NaNo site, where it was validated as a winner at 50,600 words. I was exhausted, but thrilled.

So what did I learn from this year’s experience? Let me share these lessons:

• Write every day. Our Municipal Liaison advised a first-timer that the key was to write every day, even if it’s not 1,667 words. The worst thing to do is to fall behind. Even when I was about to give up, I still sat down and wrote and that is one of the most valuable benefits of NaNo: the daily writing habit.
• Pressure produces creative ideas. I wrote myself into a corner. My basic story was over at 35,000 words. I had to invent a new story on the fly that put the main character in mortal danger and I did. I wouldn’t have been able to do it, though, without the intense pressure of a hard deadline. Otherwise, I would have procrastinated and ruminated for weeks.
• Fatigue is an excuse. Many of my writing sessions took place after nine o’clock at night when I was tired and just wanted to go to sleep. Often I wrote until 11 or later and produced some of my best writing.
• Challenging yourself produces results. I found I could do more than I ever thought I was capable of doing. I had been working on this piece for months as a novella and had gotten nowhere. Starting afresh under extreme deadline pressure produced a workable first draft.

To every writer out there who thinks NaNo is an impossible challenge, my advice is: Go for it!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “NaNo Update: We Have a Winner

  1. patrick

    Way to go, Chris!

  2. I just discovered your blog after reading your review of Kathryn Magendie’s latest book. I am glad I chose to read this post as well. It was inspiring to see how you were at that ending point but didn’t give up. Congratulations on finishing this year, and maybe I will be joining you in NaNo next year. Until then, maybe you could give some tips to a new blogger.
    ~ Samantha

    • Samantha,
      Thank you for your kind comments about my blog. I didn’t think I was going to “win” NaNo this year. It was a real struggle.

      As for blogging advice, I would say to post regularly. I was posting two or three times a week and now I am down to once a week because it was cutting into my writing time. Still a lot of bloggers start out strong and then go months without posting anything new. Also, I would suggest reading other blogs, both for information and topic ideas. And I would keep the blog posts to around 500-600 words. Good luck!

      Chris

  3. Michelle,
    Thanks for your comment. You make a great point. I am also sometimes guilty of spending too much time on the internet when I should be writing. It’s a blessing and a curse. Thanks for stopping by.

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