Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘National Novel Writing Month’

A NaNoWriMo break

In Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing, Writing Inspiration on November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

This month is National Novel Writing Month, when writers aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I love NaNoWriMo, but this year I’m taking a bit of a break from routine writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice, in 2013 and 2015, and I’m editing my 2013 NaNoWriMo book and some of my short stories and having fun with the process of adding little details and cutting out large chunks (which I save, because I have a hard time letting go).

Basically each week, I’m doing lots of editing and a tiny bit of writing.

In the process, I’m finding that taking a break from serious, constant writing is necessary to get inspiration, to get motivation and basically to hit a mental Refresh. I’m writing in little flashes, instead of my regular routine.

Right now, I’m working on writing prompts and a short story that became a sort of novella but isn’t a novel. It’s just a big fuzzy mess I can play around with, because I’m not working on it with a specific goal in mind. It’s there to work on when I step up to the plate to write—meaning, I’m meeting with my writer friends for a write-in or doing some mentoring with writing students.

Basically, it’s keeping me in the game until I’m ready to go off break and “clock in” rested, relaxed and refreshed.

Writing requires a lot of mental work, processing sensory details from the world, developing character identities and creating plotlines, and this work can be tiring without the balance of a three-dimensional life. Writing takes a great deal of brainstorming, thinking, evaluating, creating and, of course, revising.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a way to speed write through a draft of a novel or part of a draft, so that the characters and storyline are almost happening like real life, because every day, writers show up to do the inventing and creating. It’s quite the opposite of taking a break, but going all out for a project. That’s why I admire anyone who takes it on, both for the commitment and for the magic that seems to happen with fast, furious writing.

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, when writers pick their word-count goals for the month. The first one, I did 15,000 words and the second, 20,000, which spurred me into writing a bunch of short stories, including the one that’s become a novella or something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

It’s all part of the process, going from rest and refreshing to serious, fully-engaged, fast, furious and also fun writing.

Camp NaNo motivation/discipline

In Camp NaNoWriMo, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on July 31, 2016 at 11:00 am

Writers are supposed to be self-disciplined and motivated to write, right?

Not always so, and certainly not always easy with writers’ block, a limit of time or place, and life getting in the way.

That’s why Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July is a good option to offer that discipline and motivation with a bit of competition. The writing challenge offers writers working on novels, short story collections and other writing projects a numbers goal and a deadline. Writers pick how many words they want to write for the month and have 30 or 31 days to finish the count, depending on the month.

Writers can choose to be put in camps with other writers who have similar projects or goals, and can measure their progress in a group setting. I set my goal at 20,000 words, and because I like to do what I set out to do and hate last-minute writing, I reached 17,400 words by July 20. And then I thought, “oh well, whatever,” and skated through the rest of the month, writing less frequently with fewer words during each writing session. I was a little tired, though not less excited about writing.

I worked on a collection of short stories with the same setting of a coffee shop, tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales,” and I finished one story and wrote eight more during the month. In April, I worked on the same project but spent most of it writing a 15,000-word neither-here, neither-there project that I have to cut or lengthen to be an actual short story or a novella or novel.

Here’s a sampling of my writing days (as pulled from my journal):

  • July 6: I wrote 2,060 words in one-and-a-half hours, finishing a short story that was kind of strange.
  • July 11: I wrote 1,090 words in 40 minutes and am at 8,230 words for Camp NaNo, so far writing seven out of 11 days. I edited the story and added another 135 words.
  • July 13: I wrote 2,280 words in one-and-a-half hours.
  • July 20: I worked on finishing a short story and wrote 1,540 words in one hour, feeling good that I wrote and could solve the problem of the story’s direction. Later in the day, I wrote 1,540 words in an hour, finishing a short story in that time (and accomplished writing 3,140 words in one day, my record so far). It was kind of fun, and the voice was a little different.
  • July 28: I wrote a short story and wrote 2,830 words just to get the Camp finished. I reached 20,700 words exactly!

I love Camp NaNo, because you get to choose your goal and get some motivation and discipline as you work toward it, all within a month.

Final reflections on the 2015 NaNoWriMo

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Reflections on Writing, The Writing Life on December 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

I continued working on my novel past the Nov. 30 deadline for National Novel Writing Month.

I liked the discipline of aiming to write 1,667 words a day toward a 50,000-word goal. I liked marking my progress, seeing the results and knowing I was part of something larger—a community of writers trying to write fast and get that novel started or going.

I worked on my novel, “The Heat of Trouble,” as if NaNoWriMo were a six-week deal of daily word counts, because I wanted to finish it prior to my Dec. 11 surgery on my left hand. I had a looming deadline of finishing the book, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to type (at least two-handed) for seven weeks due do doctor’s orders.

When I started NaNoWriMo on Nov. 2 (not the 1st for me), I was at 34,000 words. I wrote 51,000 words during November, and now am at 100,436 words and still have a couple more scenes to write.

In other words, my book’s a tad too long.

According to Chuck Sambuchino at the Writer’s Digest , a novel can be 80,000 to 99,999 words “to be safe,” but anything over 110,000 words is too long or below 70,000 is too short. A novel 100,000 to 109,999 words might be too long but would probably be all right.

So, is my novel all right?

Generally, I try to write in the 75,000-to-90,000-word range, but this novel was a pantser with little planning, the approach I usually don’t take. My plot strings became a little entangled, and the characters took on larger roles or new characters showed up, most of it without my planning and as little surprises.

As I wrote, I realized I liked the pantser approach, because my self-editor went away and I just let the characters take over, with one thing leading to the next. I wasn’t looking far ahead for the outcomes, but let the book unfold as it wanted to (at least I think that’s what happened).

Taking this approach, I kept piling on the words. During the first week of December, I worked on my novel nearly every day, averaging 2,000-plus words each day and totaled 9,100 words for the week. I wrote 7 ½ hours, about three hours less than what I was doing during NaNoWriMo. I guess I needed that daily goal to push me even more, but at least I wrote a little.

The second week, I wrote 4,100 words and only could write for two days and didn’t finish my novel. This will give me something to look forward to when I recover.

NaNoWriMo reflections

In National Novel Writing Month, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on December 6, 2015 at 12:52 am

I actually can’t believe I did it: I reached the NaNoWriMo finish line.

I wrote 50,000 words in a month when I’d been hesitant about signing up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, at the beginning of November. I’d been a third of the way into my current novel project, “The Heat of Trouble,” and now am nearly done. I suspect I’ll finish in a week or two.

Most of the month, I remained behind on my word count and even took a week off from work and caught up and got ahead, but just for one day. When I returned to work, I immediately fell behind again and remained there, and I questioned whether or not I should continue.

I then figured I started, so I finished.

During the last full week of NaNoWriMo, I cleared my schedule as much as I could and wrote six of the seven days, focusing on catching up. I did this by upping my word count from 1,667 a day to 2,000 or 2,500 or even 3,300 one of the days. I also told myself that I didn’t have to do this every day, just for a week.

Yes, I love to write, but there’s balance of work, play and hobbies.

By the end of the week on Nov. 28, I reached 45,939 words, short by 737 words to keep on pace. I had two days left, so I knew I could do it. I made a file for my NaNoWriMo writing and found I’d edited out 602 words, though I hadn’t done much editing, so that meant 300 more words of writing for each day.

On Sunday, Nov. 29, I wrote 4,819 words in three-and-a-half hours, my record for the month. That brought me to 50,758 words, but then with the shortfall, I ended up with 50,138 words.

And I finished one day early.

I finished! Yeah for me.

But I kept going on Monday, just because I wanted to wrap up my book before Christmas. I wrote 1,562 words in an hour, bringing my NaNoWriMo total to 51,700 words.

More yeah. Double yeah.

Almost there with NaNoWriMo!

In National Novel Writing Month, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Discipline on November 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

Writing every day Monday to Sunday, especially after writing at work five days a week, was a bit challenging.

I felt worn out after work, especially with it being dark, but I pushed on for National Novel Writing Month. I found it hard to fit in writing every day between work, meals and going to the gym, plus anything social that I did. But I’d set a goal to write 50,000 words in November and was determined to stick with it.

I had staying power, all for the sake of virtual credit.

I came into the final full week of NaNoWriMo having written 31,845 words and behind by 3,162 words. I should have been at 35,007 words to be perfectly on track with writing 1,667 words a day.

The week was hard, and it was a challenge to catch up. Plus, I felt the lull, as if in some writing sessions, I had to strain to get the words. But I wrote anyway, letting the characters take over when they were willing. When they were harder to access, I kept writing and hoping my story would come out, however it wanted to.

Here’s my progress for the week:

Day 22: (Sunday): I wrote 1,717 in an hour-and-a-half, just a little more than the daily goal.

Day 23 (Monday): I wrote 1,872 words in an hour.

Day 24 (Tuesday): I wrote 2,410 words in an hour-and-a-half and started catching up, slowly but surely. I just knew I couldn’t skip a day if I was going to do this.

Day 25 (Wednesday): I didn’t write. I worked, went to the gym, met a friend and got home at 8:30 p.m., too tired to open up my laptop.

Day 26 (Thursday): I wrote 1,852 words in an hour, once again more behind.

Day 27 (Friday): I wrote 2,911 words in two hours.

Day 28 (Saturday): I wrote 3,332 words in two hours, feeling the pressure to catch up with only two more days.

So, now I’m at 45,939 words, short by 737 words of my goal of 46,676 words.

It was tough going, and frankly, I’ll be glad when this month is over, but I’m also glad I’m doing it. I’m almost there. Two more days!

Chugging along with NaNoWriMo (and finding inspiration!)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing Discipline, Writing Motivation on November 14, 2015 at 9:00 pm

During the second full week of NaNoWriMo, I had taken a week of vacation, meaning I could dedicate at least two hours a day to writing (or that was the idea). I planned one of my weeks of vacation to align with the month, just so I could have a week of living the writer’s life without having to go to a day job.

Though I wasn’t sure if I was going to take part in National Novel Writing Month, I knew I wanted to do some work on my literary novel, “The Heat of Trouble.” I decided to go for it and do NaNoWriMo after getting encouragement from some of my writer friends.

I found during the first week of NaNoWriMo I liked how it gave me a goal to keep me on track, even if I fell behind in word count toward the goal to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words a day. I wrote 8,240 words up to that point, but to be on track, I needed to have written 11,669 words, so I was short 3,429 words as of Sunday.

Here’s what I wrote during week two to try to catch up (and maybe even get ahead):

Day 8 (Sunday): I wrote 2,608 words, bringing the total to 10,848 words. (To be on track, I needed to be at 13,336 words). My word count was a personal record, besting out the top of 2,182 words from last week.

Day 9 (Monday): I wrote nothing, like 0 or zilch. I had plans all day and not a moment for writing.

Day 10 (Tuesday): I wrote 2,245 words in one-and-a-half hours, bringing my total to 13,093 words.

Day 11 (Wednesday): I wrote 631 words in an hour in the early afternoon and another 2,114 words in one-and-a-half hours in the evening. My total reached 15,838 words, still short of the on-track word count of 18,337 words.

Day 12 (Thursday): I wrote 3,352 words in two-and-a-half hours. My total reached 19,190 words, short 814 words for the goal of 20,004 words. I threw my arms in the air, at least mentally, exclaiming, “I’m almost there!” and “I beat my best!”

Day 13 (Friday): I didn’t write a thing, instead spending the entire day with my mother, which was totally fun. When I got home, late, I felt like I should write something, so I wrote my Christmas letter.

Day 14 (Saturday): I wrote 1,759 words in one-and-half hours in the morning and another 1,022 words in the afternoon.

By the end of the day Saturday, I needed to be at 23,338 words to be on track. I was at 21,971 words, short 1,367 words, so not too bad, though I would have actually liked to have pulled ahead.

As I worked all week, I found NaNoWriMo gave me something to work toward, and a community as a source of motivation to put in the daily hours toward the same goal. I thought about the writing as work, or fun-work, because in my day job, I write daily, so I figured I could write almost every day for NaNoWriMo and set aside the project for a couple of weeks, as recommended, edit it and start the sequel to my young adult novel about a 16-year-old girl who works in a coffee shop to save her and her sister.

In other words, I found the inspiration and motivation to continue with a project I’d set aside to work on something else. With that extra push, I expect by the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ll be done with my first draft or close to it.

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo (with some hesitation)

In NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm on November 1, 2015 at 11:00 am

Welcome National Novel Writing Month, when first-time and seasoned writers write 50,000 words in 30 days, which equals to about 1,667 words a day.

I debated whether or not to do NaNoWriMo again this year and hesitated doing so, because I’m in the middle of a project and have to get surgery on my hands in December. But then I decided to do what I can—50,000 words or half that, as long as I keep plugging away at my literary, character-driven novel, “The Heat of Trouble.” It’s about a waitress who can’t play her music because of underlying trauma.

As of mid-October, the last time I worked on my novel, I was at 34,302 words (plus another 820 words of planning, though this is a pantser novel despite my tendency to plot). I worked steadily on the project since I began in June, putting in one to three writing sessions a week, but in October, I began editing my young adult novel, “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars,” for about the 12th edit, though I’ve lost count.

I became focused on the editing and just wanted to finish, so I put my writing on hold. I completed the nearly month-long project on Oct. 28, three days shy of two years when I started writing the young adult novel about a 15-year-old girl who relies on money finding to solve her family crisis. I wrote the novel, which I originally called “The Money Finder” and later realized the title didn’t quite fit, during NaNoWriMo 2013, plus another two weeks in December, finishing the first draft in six weeks. I worked on editing over the next 22 months.

In 2014, I decided not to do NaNoWriMo, berating myself a little for not participating, but I didn’t have an idea for a new project, though I do plan to write a sequel to my YA novel and redo my memoir about growing up shy and awkward. Instead, I did more editing.

By 2015, I felt like something was missing—that was writing—and so I returned to my love of writing (editing is fun for the first couple of drafts, but after that, it feels like more work and less play). Being in the middle of a writing project, I can’t start a new one (with a full-time job, I need to focus the few free hours I have each week on one project, or I feel distracted, scattered and unfocused). Hence, my goal is to reach 84,302 words by Nov. 30. (Or at least 59,302 words.)

Why? Because the novel will be done, or close to it.

And then it will be back to editing. And more editing.

Benefits of NaNoWriMo

In Reflections on Writing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

Though I bailed on NaNoWriMo and have guilt associated with that, I thought I would return to my old notes about last year’s experience of writing 50,000 words in 30 days by a Nov. 30 deadline.

I turned off the self-editor and simply wrote, knowing I had a goal to meet by writing 1,667 words a day or doubling up when I missed a day or two. I got absorbed in telling the story, developing my characters and carrying along the plot I briefly sketched out in order to keep moving forward.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is about discipline and just doing it, not worrying about the final draft when it’s a rough draft with lots of potential. Writing daily, or nearly every day, allows the story to unfold more organically, one scene leading to the next as you let the subconscious and your speedy fingers take over.

Anyway, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing daily (which I learned last year and not this year, unfortunately):

  • I didn’t forget the beginning part of my novel, my character identities or the plot strings after setting aside my draft because I got busy with life and excuses.
  • I got excited about writing after work and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen with my plot and characters.
  • I focused on word count, instead of on the story elements, and got lost in the writing, so that it felt like I was just typing away without worries about what I was producing. I just didn’t care, because all I cared about was getting to at least 1,700 words each day. Oddly, by not caring, I had more fun and let the characters take over.
  • I operated on adrenaline because I had to write my daily word dose, but I could take off a couple days because a few days I wrote 2,000 up to 3,500 words (well, that happened once). My least productive day was 700 words.

Anyway, it’s nice to see that NaNoWriMo had many benefits, so next year, I will participate in the writing event, hopefully with the real-life-experience-to-novel that got me stuck this year.

NaNoWriMo Loser resorts to journaling

In Journaling, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 17, 2014 at 1:46 am

I gave up last week on National Novel Writing Month, but it’s because my journaling got in the way.

Or at least in part.

I believed I’d had a great idea for a novel based on a true life experience that I thought I had concluded, but I’m taking longer than I expected to work through and process it.

Instead of doing daily NaNoWriMo writing, I’ve been doing daily journaling that is getting longer and longer in length as time progresses. I typed up the journal entries over the past eight months about the experience I want to fictionalize to better understand the story I want to tell.

In the last two weeks, or the time frame of NaNoWriMo, I noticed that I’ve become wordier and lengthier in my journal entries. At first in my journaling about this experience, I wrote a few lines to a half-page that’s single-spaced, but now am writing one to two single-spaced pages a day. For the first time I wrote two single-spaced pages on Saturday, Nov. 8, holding steady to one to two pages over the past week.

That could be because I’ve been making the switch from more labor heavy handwriting to typing.

For my journal, I typed up nearly 83,000 words in 121 pages and since Nov. 1, 14,700 words in 21 pages, or about 700 words per page. My result for NaNoWriMo is an average of 980 words of journaling a day, not quite two-thirds of the 1,667 words needed a day to reach the end goal of 50,000 words by Nov. 30.

I noticed as I journaled more in depth and did it daily instead of every few days, because I had more to write, I could remember more. As I wrote, events of the day and even specific conversations came to mind and I became aware of details I’d forgotten about, at least at the conscious level.

But then as I tried to capture those specific conversations, I realized I found it more difficult to remember the actual words, as if I was trying too hard. I realized it was easier to summarize and put down the main interchanges, because in real-life conversations, what’s said often gets repeated. Alternatively, the idea in dialog in short stories and novels is to get to the core of the interchange, leaving out greetings, pleasantries and repetitions.

By switching from a paper journal to my laptop, I’ve been writing more and longer, and I’ve had more to say. So in a backward sort of way, I have let NaNoWriMo influence me, though I won’t be reaching the finish line. At least not yet.

NaNoWriMo Loser

In NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on November 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

I planned on doing NaNoWriMo this month, but the word No got in the way. My problem this past week was my excuses, so instead of blogging to encourage fast, furious writing, I’m commiserating with those of us who bailed.

Last year, I participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month, an international challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words a day.

I wanted to take part again this year, but I wasn’t prepared to write a novel I prepped for based on a true-life experience. I realized I was still too close to what had happened and wasn’t ready to write. I wasn’t being realistic giving enough time, thought and distance to process what had happened.

And yet I didn’t come up with another idea, so yet another excuse.

Here are my excuses for not trying a new writing project (I even considered doing a bunch of short stories): I am tired. I’m not disciplined enough to write daily (though I did it last year, so what’s my problem?). And I don’t know how to do pantser writing, or start in on the writing without a plan.

I know that the idea of NaNoWriMo is to do fast writing, not actually to write something perfect. I know that I can give myself permission to write a crappy first draft and just let go without the self-editor getting in the way.

But here I am blogging about avoiding National Novel Writing Month. As I do this, I wonder if other NaNoWriMo bloggers (or non-NaNos like me) are questioning their non-participation and avoidance tendencies. Is that like negating what’s supposed to get you writing in the first place?