Three Ways to Make NaNoWriMo Work for You

NaNoWriMo. One of the most talked-about months of the year for authors and casual writers alike, but few actually take on the challenge. Fewer still finish it.

I’m one of those people. I have never used November to write 50,000 words in one go. Instead, I’ve used it to build my writing career up in a much more constructive way. Why? More importantly, how?

Call me crazy, but I don’t see many benefits in writing 50,000 words in one month. It burns people out, downplays the importance of planning and plotting, and gets people focused on word count instead of storytelling. That’s not to say that NaNoWriMo doesn’t have it’s upsides, because it certainly does, but I find larger benefits elsewhere.

There are three primary ways to make this challenging month work for your own goals.

Asking someone to write a novel in a month is a lot. Asking yourself to do that and then beating yourself up after the fact is even worse.

NaNo Hopefuls see these metrics and think they have to accomplish them, not realizing that, hey, guess what, you don’t need to write anything at all.

Do you have something that needs editing? A series you have to plan? Research you need to do? Do that instead. Set your goal to ‘storyboarding 20 pages’, or ‘take notes on the 13 untouched research books you have’. You’re not a failure just because you’re not actively drafting a novel.

NaNoWriMo Blog Banner #2: "Change the scope of your project"

50,000 words is a huge chunk, and that amount sets some people up for disappointment right out the gate. November is the holiday season, family obligations begin to pile up, and finding time to spend on writing is difficult. But remember this: 50,000 is an arbitrary number.

Yes, it’s the minimum necessary to be considered a novel, but aside from that, it doesn’t mean anything. Completing 20,000 words (or whatever your magic number is) is just as meaningful. Or a collection of poems. A series outline. Maybe even a perfected synopsis.

Stop expecting yourself to put down the same number of words as everyone else when your goals are inherently different.

 

NaNoWriMo Blog Banner #3: "Make your project suit your needs"

At this very moment, what do you need to do? What have you been putting off? What would benefit your work most at this very point in time, even if you’ve been avoiding it? There’s more to a successful writing career than just drafting a book. One of the ways I’ve made NaNoWriMo work for me is by aiming to knock out a big chunk of whatever it is I need to get done– even if I don’t want to.

For instance, I’ve been dragging my feet with making meaningful edits on my novel Death of an Immortal (formerly The Immortal). So for NaNoWriMo, I’ve set out to edit the remaining 49,000 words of it. I’m taking a chance to look at the huge missed opportunities that I would have otherwise decided not to deal with, and am instead tackling them. It’s a grueling process. But, it suits the needs of my book.

I would much rather make a leap forward in my writing career than have yet another 50,000+ story I need to edit.

 

Have you ever used NaNoWriMo outside of writing the traditional 50k? How did you change it up, and how did it benefit you? Comment below!

 

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Until next time!

 

 

 

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What I Wish I’d Known About Writing as a Teenager

What I Wish I'd Known About Writing as a Teenager

I started writing around age 7 and haven’t stopped since. Despite all the amazing things that come from writing at such a young age, there are cons too, like the weird sort of complex young writers often develop around their work. Here are just a few of the things I wish I’d listen to and taken more seriously as a teenaged writer.

“You will have to edit more than you think.”

I remember when I was eleven years old and finished the first draft of my first book. Picturing all the high-points in my head, riding that wave of excitement, I thought it wouldn’t need any editing at all. In my head, my writing seemed absolutely amazing. Then I printed it all out and looked over everything–and cringed. Well, maybe one edit would take care of everything… right?

Fool of a Took gif

I ended up editing that book 13 times before I put it out into the world, and even then I still think about un-publishing it. Now an adult, I talk to other young writers who also believe they won’t have to edit. I can’t help but shake my head. I’ve learned the hard way that only after multiple edits will something truly begin to shine–and those who think otherwise are either kidding themselves or are too deep in the trees to see the forest.

“You will exclusively write garbage for the next few years. Write anyways.”

On the opposite side of the coin, there are times I’d looked at my writing and wanted to give up. I hated every word, every letter of what I’d written, and wanted to throw in the towel. Why keep trying when I was so clearly bad at it?

Because everyone who’s good at anything, they once sucked. You don’t see their first drafts, their worthless scribbles or junk-drawer ideas. It took my time to learn this, but once I did, everything changed. The only way you’ll improve is by constantly, consistently trying. And if you don’t? If you give up? Then you will have missed out on so, so many opportunities to improve. I wish I’d spent less time agonizing over my failures, and more time instead building my skill from my mistakes.

Jake from Adventure Time saying "Dude, sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something."

“You’re not the exception.”

I say this without any judgement, but teenaged writers seem to think they’re special. (Heck, I used to, too. We all probably did.) Now, I love writers. We’re a creative, thoughtful, and determined bunch. But that being said, artsy people often have a sense of superiority amplified by whatever it is they find unique about themselves. Teenaged writers doubly so.

"I'm kind of a big deal"

I can’t tell you how many times I read advice telling writers x, y, or z and thought “that doesn’t apply to me/my work doesn’t have that problem/I’ll never encounter this”. I thought that me and my experiences were somehow outside of others’ knowledge-sphere, as if there had never been someone in my shoes before. (See the ‘you’re not the exception’ paragraph above.) How shortsighted– and how dearly I wish that I’d listened. Who knows how much sooner my writing would have advanced?

“There’s a legal reason why no one works with young authors.”

Sure, publishing deals for young writers happen. There are those exceptionally, exceptionally rare cases in which an agent will sign a young writer–but they’re almost unheard of for a reason. (To be clear, I’m talking about full book deals here, not magazine or contest entries, which are far more attainable for teens.) Why is this?

Because before the age of 18 in the US, you are unable to sign a legally binding contract. No large publishing house, nonetheless agent, is going to risk taking on a client they can’t sign a contract with. It’s difficult enough for them to find writers they want to collaborate with, and when you throw in the age issue? It’s a no-go.

Gif of Ariel signing her contract with Ursula

*I know that someone is going to throw out the example of Christopher Paolini in the comments, so I’m going to go ahead and preemptively mention that he published under his parents’ own company. 

“Listen to the advice of other authors.”

When reading up on advice from older, distinguished authors, I came across a tweet from a favorite author of mine that said almost verbatim “young writers, you shouldn’t self-publish your book. You’re going to think it’s good, and it’s probably not”. After being mad about it for a hot minute, I scoffed and wrote it off. I listened to that ‘I’m the exception’ mindset. But she was 100% right.

A gif of Kim Kardashian saying "Thank you for your lovely advice, but I'm not going to take it."
My dumb, 13 year old ass.

These distinguished writers are distinguished for a reason. They’ve been in our shoes, have gone through our struggles, and have come out the other side. If they’re charitable enough to share their insight, we should listen. On an even larger scale, it took me years before I read books like On Writing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and whatnot. I didn’t think it was necessary. I didn’t think that far ahead. But if the nuggets of wisdom are valuable, then so is the whole chicken.

 

The above only covers a portion of what I wish I’d known as a teenage writer, but what it all boils down to is that I needed to be more open to then advice of others, to be more realistic, and to know just how much more growing I had left to do. (Which I’m still nowhere near done with, mind you.)

What do you wish you knew as a teen?

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with my writings or be notified once my upcoming Mesopotamian fantasy novella comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


Until next time!

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My First Camp NaNoWriMo Experience

Camp NaNoWriMo Banner

So, you’ve heard of NaNoWriMo. But have you heard of Camp NaNoWriMo? I hadn’t until a fellow writer introduced me to it.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, wherein an online community of people attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Why? Because people revel in pain, I suppose. While few complete the challenge, it still serves as a good starting point for beginning a novel.

However, I never participated in NaNoWriMo before, largely because I felt the format of the challenge was too restrictive.

Camp NaNoWriMo is far more flexible. Essentially, you get to choose how many words you want to write/hours you edit for/pages you do a storyboard of/etc. during the month of July. It’s for any and every type of creative, and is largely self-determined. When I heard this, I decided, hey, what the heck. I had a short story I wanted to turn into a novella anyhow (The Stolen Sun), so I signed up and never looked back.

It has been a great kick in the ass. Apologies for the profanity, but it really has been.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Before Camp NaNoWriMo, I hadn’t written in over a year.

“Egads!” you exclaim. “How can a writer such as yourself not write?” Exactly. I had been so busy editing what I’d already written and trying to stop writing altogether that I simply had not written anything at all for a year. When I heard about Camp NanoWriMo, I decided to change that.

Day 1:

I joined my writing ‘cabin’, (a group of likeminded writer friends; in this ‘cabin’ you can update others on your progress, see others’ stats, etc.), updated my project info, and… didn’t write anything. In my defense, it was a crazy busy day, and by day 2 I had written 1,200 words. So there’s that.

Picture of a Cabin
While this is a far cry from my online writing cabin, I can dream.
Day 10:

At this point, my word count was 4,962–which meant my novella had already surpassed the original short story in length! I also had already gathered research materials at this point, 11 heavy library books on ancient Mesopotamia, and was incorporating historically accurate information into the story as I went. I was riding an immense writing high at this point, and had already done 2 write-ins with other local cabin members.

Picture of Some Research Material
A page from one of my research books. Here is depicted two lamassu, guardian beings, in the rocky Mesopotamian landscape.
Day 20:

This day was… less great. Still great, but I was feeling down because my writing hadn’t been as consistent. I had written over 1,000 words on each of the previous 3 days, and then nothing on day 20. In my defense, I was incredibly sick, but still. It stung. All I could do was hope that I’d be able to get back on that horse and finish my 20,000 word goal before August 1st. I was already sitting at 9,109.

A gif of Justin Timberlake looking scoldingly at the camera.
Me to me when I don’t write.
Day 28:

On July 28th, I reached cloud nine. After a few word sprints, many late nights, and sacrificing my lunch breaks and sleep to write, I had reached my goal of completing my first draft for The Stolen Sun. I didn’t hit 20k, but the story didn’t require it. It reached its natural ending at 17.5k. As you can see from my word count tracker, there were ups and downs on this journey. Days when I wrote diddly, and days when I made leaps and bounds. But ultimately, the biggest thing that contributed to my success was the accumulation of small, regular efforts.

Ending Word Count

Overall, I’m incredibly happy that I participated in this.

This whole project is a great way to kick one’s butt into gear and put some serious words on the page. The goal flexibility was really the stand-out factor for me here.

But ultimately, there’s nothing magical about the month of July. There’s nothing Camp NaNoWriMo gave me that I couldn’t have done on my own. Aside from a word tracker and a group of dedicated writer friends, all that was holding me back was myself.

I sincerely hope this month-long exercise has helped get me back into the habit of writing regularly. At the very least, it’s been a fulfilling and rewarding experience that I recommend every creator try. While I still need to edit my novella two or three times, this experience alone has been huge in getting me this far.

If you’d like to stay up to date with my writings or be notified once The Stolen Sun comes out, you can sign up for my email list in the box below. (I won’t bombard you with emails, just send you an update or article about once a month.)


Until next time!

 

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