NaNoWriMo–Finishing What We Start
Finally, I get a chance to blog about what it feels like to finish NaNoWriMo. It was great to make it through the first draft of my novel, and I realize I have A LOT more work to do. But, I am no fun to talk about because, frankly, when once you do land an agent and finally get the opportunity to write for a living, 2500 words a day should be very standard. In fact, between blogging and reviews and every shred of grunt work I can scrape together, 2500 words is a drop in the bucket.
Thus, for me, the word count was not the issue….turning off my inner editor was. I am really happy for two things. First, I had a detailed outline before I began. I believe an outline made all the difference in the world. When I was talking to one of my fellow writers, I said that writing a novel felt a lot like being stranded in the wilderness. Yet, with an outline, I had markers to strive for. Think of it like this. Years ago, as a pantser, it was like being stranded in a totally flat landscape for as far as the eye could see. No definitive landmarks. I would just write and write, with no clue if I was writing in a big fat circle. Yet, with an outline, I still felt as if I was slogging through the wilderness—because, let’s face it, your first draft is uncharted territory—but it was much easier because I could focus on the next goal on my outline.
Riley needs to make it to Cuidad Victorio, Mexico.
Now, she could take a plane, a train or ride there by burro…but at the end of the day, my protag needed to be in Mexico. It was like wandering in the wilderness, but I could focus on a mountain and just keep going until I got there. Mentally, that was far easier.
I believe that having boundaries actually made my subconscious much more creative, which brings up my second point. NaNoWriMo allowed me to feel free to turn off my inner editor. Because my subconscious was already very familiar with the story I wanted to tell (via my pre-planning), it was free to show off when it came to the first draft. I would write and all the sudden this odd sentence would come out. My fingers would hover above the keyboard, ready to delete. But, because I was determined to follow the “rules” of NaNoWriMo, I refused to hit delete. Boy am I glad I did. I actually got to the “end” of my novel, and found out that I had the wrong “bad guy” in my story. My subconscious spotted something I didn’t consciously “see.”
I am really happy I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge. I feel that NaNoWriMo represents the single largest barrier to publication…finishing. If I can give any advice to a new or aspiring author, it is that you MUST become a finisher.
Most writers will never get published, and it isn’t because of lack of talent. They will never be published because they don’t finish what they start. I had these types of writers in my critique group for years. They would bring in the same scenes over and over making them “perfect.” Yet, no writer to my knowledge has ever managed to find a publishing house willing to back half of the World’s Perfect Novel, whereas agents and editors have been known to back completed not-so-perfect novels.
Being a writer is a lot of hard work, and I believe NaNoWriMo offers those who want this career a taste of what to expect. Sometimes it is tough for a new writer to envision life once she has an agent. “Landing an agent” becomes the primary goal, when, in reality, that is just the very beginning. Once we have an agent, we are committed professionals beholden to deadlines. We have to write even when we don’t feel like it, and cannot wait on inspiration or the perfect confluence of events to work on our novels.
I always hear, “Oh, I just cannot find the time to write.” I am going to be blunt. We never will. Time isn’t just lying around like spare change in the couch cushions waiting to be found. We have to grab hold of time and wrestle it to the ground and show it who’s boss. Professional authors do not find time…we make it.
This can be a slippery pickle for those of you just starting out. If you don’t have a completed novel or an agent, expect the rest of the world to patronize you and treat your writing like a hobby. It will be up to you to show them differently. Professionals are committed and work five days a week, minimum. Your family will take you a lot more seriously when they see you acting like a professional. It will be up to you to train them. We cannot whine that our family isn’t supportive and doesn’t take us seriously if we only write when the “muse” comes to visit and start more projects than we ever finish.
NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to get into successful habits. It is also a great way to whip your family into shape and let them have a taste of what life will be like once you get the book deal. So for those of you who might not make your 50K, you can still scrape victory out of this month. It is a step in the right direction. Take another week to complete that crappy first draft, and you will enter the realm of the elite 5%. Of all those who aspire to write a novel, only 5% will finish the first draft. Of that 5%, only 5% will polish that into a complete draft. Only 5% from there will get an agent, and only 5% of that number will likely carve out a career as an author. In fact, it is shocking how much of our own success is in our control. We can control finishing what we start, and that is the largest part of the battle.
So ask yourself this. Are you a 5%er? Success begets success. Start with that first accomplishment. Be a finisher, and you will be amazed how that habit alone will change your life.
I wasn’t always a finisher, and in fact, it is a daily struggle. It is easy to let the family, the laundry, dust bunnies and goofing off get in the way. I use Post-It-Notes to make word goals. On the left side of my monitor I have my beginning word count. Then in the middle, I write the half-way point’s word count. On the far right, I put the finish line. I am not allowed a break until I make the half-way point. I am not allowed to get up from my desk until I make the final goal. No TV, no gym, no fun until I make that goal. I found that I needed to set solid goals and write them down or I would totally procrastinate and goof off.
What are some ways you guys make your goals? Where do you struggle? How did NaNoWriMo change your approach? Did you learn anything? How did success feel? What about failure? Did you learn anything? Please share!
Until next time…
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