L. Frank Baum, 1899

Writing & Blogging: Lessons Learned in NaNoWriMo2014

If you are a writer, an author, a novelist, or interested at all in the literary world, you know that November marked the popular National Novel Writing Month, or as it is more affectionately (or vehemently) known – NaNoWriMo.  This was my third year participating in the event where writers from all over the world commit to a monthly word count goal of fifty thousand words.  This was the first time I won; I wrote over 50K words and am still going.  But more importantly, I learn a few things from the experience.

1. Keeping a daily writing habit is essential. 

Doesn’t matter if the material is not my best, or even crappy.  Putting my body and mind in the habit of writing something, anything, everyday knocks the idea of writer’s block off its rocker a little.  It means I don’t worry about quality so much as quantity for this exercise.  If you wrap that whole philosophy up into a little stocking stuffer – it means you tend to be looser, more limber, and can step into the ring looking like a buff, energetic writing monster.  It means quality will come easier.

2. Setting a daily minimum keeps me honest. 

Otherwise, I can subscribe to the idea of daily writing and then cheat out a sentence or two and call it a day.  Maybe you don’t have this problem.  I do.  So even if I set a low 500 word count minimum, I can do the math on how much content that gets me in a year and be happy that I’m on board.  With the day job, I think 500 – 1K is reasonable depending on your genre.  I intend on upping that to 3K – 4K when I go full bathrobe writer in 45 days.

3. First draft writing is important for building confidence.

Before my first 50K on one project, I always wrote as if doing a term paper the night before its due.  I wrote, edited, rewrote, wrote some more, polished that, etc.  By the time I got to the ending, I had lovely content leading up to it and the “grand finale” of finishing and being done at the same time was wonderful.  But facing such a large project, I had trouble.  My first two NaNo years were hell because I couldn’t let go and just type.  I made it to about 3K the first time, and only 8K the second.  I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I could tackle a project as large as a novel before resigning and becoming (for all intents and purposes) unemployed.

So this time (and as many of my blog posts display for all to see) I just threw caution to the wind and made myself ignore aspects I wanted to go back and change after a few paragraphs.  It required discipline to stay committed to that plan.  It also required that I let go of the control I relish in the creative process for the time being and just vomit the ideas and ramblings that came to me onto the page.  The experience was a watershed moment in my writing practice and I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a go.

I intend to finish the content of the book this way (probably another 50 – 100K) and then revise for the next two months.  Then I will follow the seasoned advice of many successful and published writers and toss the whole thing in a drawer for a few months.  In June or July (right around the time of Camp NaNoWriMo) I will pull it out and begin learning how to edit and develop a third and fourth draft.  Who knows?  Maybe it will be ready for an agent shortly after that.

4. Truth – “Find a niche for your blog and stick to it.” 

In posting my blog since I moved to Idaho for work in 2013, I’ve watched how interested readers/followers are in what I post.  My original idea was to have a daily snippet of writing, just a morsel, that readers could enjoy in less than a couple of minutes with their coffee. I discovered that I don’t do that well.  (Someone who does that really well is – http://myothervoices.wordpress.com/ although the content is not daily.)   I tried serials, but learned writing them “on-the-spot” daily is embarrassing since I didn’t edit them much prior to posting and later wanted to change the storyline or bury my head from all the typos.

I hadn’t learned that lesson until NaNoWriMo2014.  I posted unedited tidbits from my daily word count climb for all to laugh at and/or find amusing.  But since I slid around in the plot arc so frequently, and since there was no character development provided for a backdrop, it was hard to follow any story or stay hooked.  This was the valuable criticism from my lovely beta-reader and wife.  I agree.

Overarching all of this was the countdown theme.  My wife and I have set a goal for my return home once bills are paid and finances in tune for losing my income.  I thought sharing the experience of the countdown would interest some because, who doesn’t dream of quitting their job and writing full-time?!  I learned that to leverage that, I needed much more focus and time than I could provide to the blog.

My point?  The most popular articles on my blog since starting it are the ones dealing with the writing practice, habit, journey, and frustrations.  I love to write about those things almost as much as I like creating fiction.  So I believe I have found my niche.  Expect blog modifications to follow.

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