NaNoWriMo– and what I’ve learned from my many failed attempts!

It’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. As of the end of the day yesterday, I was ahead of schedule with 5,731 words.

So I was thinking about all the times I’ve tried NaNoWriMo. The times that I’ve watched November 1 roll in and November 30 fly by without writing a single word. The times that I’ve convinced myself I shouldn’t even start because I was too busy to do well. Did I really I manage to convince myself that it wasn’t an endeavor I cared to undertake? What about the year I did the story with Tandy, Deja, and the goddess? The multiple years that I tried to write Dragons of the Sun? The time I tried to get out an exaggerated account of all the (already exaggerated) stories I heard from my dad as a kid? And I’ve wondered, what has gone wrong every year? All these questions led me to wonder what I could learn from my past mistakes to improve my chances of becoming a winner (which just means that I actually hit the 50,000 word target by November 30).


Alright. Well, I think that  this is mistake #1: Failing through abstinence
I want to be a writer, and I love the idea of a whole month devoted to being the sort of writer who clings, with crazed determination, to the outrageous workload on an anorexic deadline. Therefore, I do want to participate in the organized madness and the community that goes along with NaNoWriMo!


So, the next mistake is that I have ideas about what type of stories I want to write. I don’t want to write the next Harry Potter, but I do want to write stories with a message. I want to be a particular story to be something like fantasy or something like science fiction, but with concepts and plots that have never been told before in the history of man. Um… yeah. I don’t have that type of genius. I am quite certain that the reason my friends and family like my writing is for the exact opposite reason– they can relate to things I’ve written because it sounds like something that happened to them or someone they know.

We’ll call mistake #2: Failing, thanks to a puffed up ego
This means that I should let my ego go and write whatever comes from my finger tips. Just write. Let it all out, and then, when I’ve got something to work with… well, that’s when it’s time to get clever, fix plot holes, and try to tie the ending to the beginning so that the stuff that happens in the middle has an actual point.


The biggest mistake I have made is waiting for the timing to be right. I think I make this mistake nearly every day in a dozen different ways. For NaNoWriMo 2013, I was super stoked on October 1, but I prevented myself from writing a thing until November 1. I outlined my stories in a journal that I still carry around with me to this day! I did research. Come November 1, I was tired. I had a wedding to go to. I had shopping to do. I was too too full from too many big, thankful dinners. Had I just started on October 1, I might have gotten more done than I did. The point is not to write only when the stars align and the Celestial Choir sings… the point is to write more until we’re writing everything we’ve ever wanted to write.

So mistake #3: Failing to seize inspiration when it strikes
This year, I have a plan for what I want to write, but if I feel inspired to write something else, I’m going in that direction.

For instance, last night, I stared at the fairy story for my nieces for an hour. I reread chapter three a dozen times, and when I got to chapter four, I couldn’t think of a single thing to write. The whole time, I was thinking of another project I wanted to write, and so, I went to a new page in my 2014 NaNoWriMo document. In half an hour, I had nearly 2,000 words. Just like that.


I cringe thinking back to my Dragons of the Sun story, I realize that while inspiration may strike once in a while… often, I have no idea where a story will take me. I frequently sit down, happy with the things I’ve written, and wonder where in the heck this story is going. I like the way everything is in my story, and I am so invested in my own characters that I can’t bear to really mess things up for them.

So mistake #4: Failing to plan
This year, I have a plan for what I want to write, but in keeping with learning from mistake #3,  if I feel inspired to write something else, I’m going in that direction. This might seem like it’s in direct contradiction to what I’ve learned from mistake #2. It is. I’m an enigma.

My plan for this year is to write a story for my nieces. I started with a short bullet list that included a beginning, a middle, and an end. That has been expanded into 6 acts with 10 characters. I’ve even got a timeline for each of the main four characters that includes a reasonable subplot. Also, there is a war between cookies and cupcakes.

I don’t intend for the story for my nieces to be longer than 8,000 words, so after that, I want to work on a collection of short stories. Well, maybe three different collections of short stories. Whenever possible, I’ll use an outline and character sheets. I’ll work hard to only write the parts of the journey that I love… but when inspiration strikes, I won’t let lack of a plan keep me from writing.



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