Thursday, 29 November 2012

NaNoWriMo and Beyond - the Secrets of Success Part 2

So, here we are with one day of National Novel Writing Month to go. How's it been for you? Are you sitting under the glitterball of success as I mentioned in my previous post or has your forehead been in contact with your desk so often there's a dent in it (the desk, that is)?

Well, I've entered NaNo for three successive years now and I haven't hit the 50,000 word target once. And I'm totally fine with that - because I never intended to hit that target in the first place. For me, NaNo is all about cultivating the habit of writing every single day, because that's what works best, not some notional 1667 word goal. The thing to bear in mind about NaNo - as I also said in my previous post - is that it's your NaNo, not anybody else's.

Two years ago, when I entered for the first time, I wrote 36,228 words - which gave me such a thrill as I'd surpassed my self-set target of 35,000 words. I'd broken through the log-jam and created a significant body of work which simply hadn't existed 30 days previously. It was a great feeling.

Last year I entered again and I totally screwed up. I was in a bad place with my writing and was torn between projects. I even named two on my author detail page on NaNo, a sure sign there was trouble ahead. I swithered (a good Scots word for dotting to and fro in an undecided manner) anxiously between  the two and was master of neither. My confidence took a battering and I felt I'd never see my way clear again.

This year, the situation is different once again. This year I feel I've got a grip on my writing in the sense that I am now working lucidly on a project for which I have a strong passion. Yes, there are frustrations, doubts, episodes of sturm und drang - but at a deep level I have faith in this story and am relishing exploring its possibilities, even when there are so many possibilities I despair of ever managing them all!

This project began with a short story. The story was long-listed in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize, which was very gratifying, of course. Then I had an epiphany: this story had the potential to be More, Much More! It was a complete rush of blood to the head. The Muse, who'd been off on a gap year, suddenly was knocking on my door with every intention of staying for more than a day or two.

The project is a historical novel. I signed up for the Historical Novel Society Conference in London in September (you'll have seen my five reports about the conference last month). The conference, apart from being hugely enjoyable in its own right, provided me with a Goal and a Deadline, for I was going to see how much I could write by the end of September - I was going to pitch to an agent while there.

On 14th July I started. I vowed I'd write every day, right up to the Conference. And I did. Yup, I'm bemused by that myself! I went to London with 67000 words under my belt. Damn, it felt good!

After positive encouragement, I prepared to take a month off from writing in October, so that I could reinforce my story with some necessary research. This didn't work out according to plan: real life barged in with work demands and so on - and I ended up neither researching very much nor writing anything. I dreaded all my hard work and enthusiasm fizzling out - it's happened before. I'm sure we've all been there. New ideas and projects are no problem - its keeping the momentum going that's the challenge.

So we come to NaNo. I knew I wouldn't be able to write anywhere near 50,000 words, because my Fictionfire work demands have been pressing this month. I also knew that if another month went by without my first draft making any forward progress I'd start to lose faith in it - and in myself.

So I set my target: 20,000 words. This, I felt, was doable. This could mean 300 words one night, 1200 words the next - whatever I felt capable of, as long as 20,000 words were produced by the end of the month.

Not only do I set an overall target, but here's the greatest secret of success for me, and it's one I discovered in 2010 - and it's thanks to Jerry Seinfeld! Here's what you do: you take a sheet from a calendar and on every writing day you put a big red cross on it to show you wrote something that day. It couldn't be simpler! What happens is that the line of crosses spreads across the page and it would be horrible to see a blank box interrupt that sweet line of success! Doesn't matter if the word count is low - the main thing is that something was produced. All those crosses line up, all those daily word counts start to rack up and they amount to a lot more than a hill of beans when you're done!

I also record on the calendar what the word count that day was, and my running totals for the month and for the project as a whole. I've had to write in the middle of the night, so I go to bed anything between 2.00 and 4.00 a.m. I've literally fallen asleep on occasion - and my fingers have kept typing! I often don't know the next day what it was I wrote the previous night, so am eager to read it! Every night I start with blankness and force myself - really force myself to get going. Most times it gets better once the first sentence or so is down. Some nights it doesn't get better at all, but I keep grinding on.

I'm delighted to say that I hit my 20,000 word target on November 23rd and tonight I'll be reaching 90,000 words for the project as a whole. There's a long long way to go. After that, the thing may never sell. I'm a realist.

But I'm also a writer - and feel I can say that, when sometimes in the past I haven't felt I deserved that label. If you've been doing NaNo, you're a writer - whether you wrote 50,000 words or 5,000. If you didn't do NaNo this year, consider it next year - or choose any month for your own personal NaNo. Make it your own. Try the chain of red crosses. Set achievable goals. Have faith!

Here are the links to my posts on NaNo back in 2010:
NaNo with a Twist
Post-NaNo Post: How to Keep Writing!


Abiatar Festus said...

Very good advice. It's always encouraging to hear a writer (especially an established one) talking about difficulties she encounters, same problems that you can relate to. Then you know it's not easy for anybody, we all meet similar challenges and problems. Like you said, "New ideas and projects are no problem - its keeping the momentum going that's the challenge", I think most people would agree with this.

Lorna F said...

Thanks so much for your comment - I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Abiatar.

Suzie Grogan said...

Great post Lorna. I have written my 50,000 words for NaNo in the past 2 years (so have 2 unfinished novels sitting there taunting me!)but I didn't do it this year because I am writing a non-fiction book. So guess what - I have felt desperate to write fiction all month and have done little to the non-fiction. Your post is exactly right - NaNo is a great discipline and it is as you say all about allowing yourself the time to sit and write each day, even for a very few minutes.Hope your book gets picked up after all that hard work x

Lorna F said...

Thanks Suzie - I hope it gets picked up too! However, the priority just now is to get the thing done. Hefty revision lies ahead. Have you gone back to your NaNo novels at all with a view to revising/completing them? I'm very impressed that you wrote 50,000 words twice for NaNo! xx

Debbie Young said...

I love the idea of the Muse being on a gap year! I'm not a novelist, or even a potential novelist, as I write short fiction and short pieces of non-fiction, (ok, and the odd non-fiction book too!), but the notion f adapting NaNoWriMo to just writing SOMETHING every day is a great one. Will be tweeting this! Thanks for the inspiration.

Lorna F said...

You're welcome Debbie - and thanks very much for tweeting!