My National Novel Writing Month entry, “Say a Prayer for Maura,” was validated on November 29 at 50,706 words. That makes me a “winner” for the second straight year in the annual contest to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, beginning on November 1. It wasn’t easy this year.
Here are some lessons I learned:
- When a character is not working, focus on the character or characters who are working. There’s little time to fix what’s broken. I changed main characters in the middle of my story. My original main character was Frank O’Malley, a family patriarch who was dying of cancer and wished to see his estranged daughter, Maura, before he died. I was 20,000 words into the piece and I couldn’t seem to write a decent scene focusing on Frank. Every time I wrote about Maura, the scenes flowed logically from one to the next. Maura became the main character. It was like unclogging a drain.
- Focus on the scene level and cause-and-effect to move the story forward. At one point I was struggling. The story had lost its momentum, so I walked away from my laptop and brainstormed. I played with different possibilities in my mind, trying not to limit my thinking. The solution popped into my brain. It was a scene in which Maura was seven months pregnant and living in a home for unwed mothers. One young woman living in the home was about to give birth and I was planning to have the woman who ran the home leave her job under circumstances I hadn’t figured out yet. The plan was for Maura, who was always helping her with chores, to take her job, but that lacked drama. So I gave the poor woman a stroke in the middle of cooking dinner. Maura saved her life by administering CPR, called for help, and finished cooking and serving dinner. The next morning, the woman who was having the baby went into labor and Maura managed to enlist the help of the other young pregnant women and they delivered the baby. This led to several follow-up scenes.
- Write with your regional group. I attended four sessions with my regional compatriots. The sharing of ideas and solutions that takes place is amazing.
- Stay ahead on your word count. Writing 1,667 words a day is unbelievably hard, but even if you don’t reach that number, write every day.
- Strive for the super-productive day. This will allow you to take a day off from writing if needed. I was at 39,000 on Thanksgiving (November 22) and I reached 50,000 words on November 25. I wrote 5,000 words on November 23 and blew away the daily word count on the next two days.
- Take time off from work around Thanksgiving if you can, as a safety valve. Knowing I had those four days at the end helped me to avoid stress.
Writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is crazy. I didn’t believe it could be done until I did it, two years in a row. But whether you achieved the 50,000-word goal or not, it’s the journey and the discipline it instills in the writer that counts.
How did your NaNo experience go this year? What lessons did you learn?