I started writing when I was 9 years old. I'm 44 now. In all of that time, I have never written a novel in one month. In fact, to be honest, I always thought that people who did NaNoWriMo were way overachievers and I couldn't understand why they would want to do that. Why would someone want to write an entire novel in 30 days? Just didn't make any sense to me.
But all of that changed recently. I'm working full-time (and more), raising two kids and am writing books. I started writing novels seriously back in 2010 and it took me a lot of time. I just couldn't figure out how to make enough hours in the day. Between writing, work, exercise, family and all the normal chores and problems that crop up in one's life, it took me at least a year to write and publish a book.
But in January 2015, I wrote 61,118 words and completed the first book in a new fantasy series about witches. Want to know what made me change my mind and challenge myself? Three books that I recently read helped me see my writing in a different light:
- The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright
With Amanda Palmer's book, I learned to trust myself and to not be afraid to screw up, to write and to keep trying. The War of Art taught me that most creative people are fighting off "the resistance" -- that inner voice that's telling you to do anything but sit down and write. Pressfield is pretty blunt in his book and on how we can fight that voice. But it was Platt, Truant and Wright's Write, Publish, Repeat that was the third body blow that sunk home and made the impact that caused me to want to change. In the book, Platt asks: Do we not go to work when we don't feel like it?
I thought about this and realized that, no, I don't do that. I get up, go to work and have gone to work tired from lack of sleep when the kids were babies, worked at 4 a.m. to make a deadline and put in hours on the weekend to get the job done. Platt's point: If we're writers, then we need to start treating our work as a job and not a hobby. Boy, did that hit home.
How many times did I watch TV because I was tired or wanted to see a movie for "research." Or wasn't inspired to write so I gave myself off weeks at a time? The excuses went on and on, and my production level remained low. Platt and his co-authors made a really good point. They didn't pull any punches. Basically, I could read, watch movies and do "research" or push off writing because I was tired all I wanted, I would never get anywhere except through hard work.
With the holiday season coming around, I decided that I would write a rough draft of a novel in one month. I went to the NaNoWriMo website and realized that I would need to write around 1,676 words a day. How did I do this? What was the magic secret? I'll let Neil Gaiman tell you. Gaiman, in his tongue in cheek way, lays things out pretty clearly:
You can sit down and write or you can go on some crazy quest for the holy grail and pray/hope that magic will allow you to write. Hmm, I wonder which way is easier to do?
So what made me change my mind after decades of not being able to write so much in one month? The switch flipped in my head. When I was young, I never thought I could run a marathon. I've run three--my first one at 39 years of age. I never thought I could write a book in a month, but when I realized that I actually did believe in myself that I could do it.
But believing in one's self and doing the work are two different things. To succeed, here's my secret recipe:
Tell people that you're going to write a book in a month. Tell your friends, your family and everyone you know one social media. The act of telling is a powerful drug to kick in that competitive nature we have inside. When we say something, we want to follow through and to complete the task (well, at first, but you may also want to quit).
Make a Schedule
Create a Google doc, put all the days of the month in it, your daily writing goal, a column for your actual writing goal and weekly tallies. Here's a screenshot of my doc:
The schedule worked because it enabled me to see my daily word count. I saw my goal and then had to plan on how to achieve it. Either I needed to get up early to write or stay up late, there was no other way. To meet my goals, I treated writing like work. I was up by 5 - 5:30 a.m. and wrote before work. On the weekends, I wrote before the kids were up (and sometimes in the afternoon).
I will admit that I'm a driven individual. When I set my mind to something, I will do it (within reason). I met my goal because I busted my ass in January to get the writing done. Starting tomorrow, I'll be editing the book so that I can get it into shape to share with beta readers. Then I'll start working on another book while it's being read.
Was it easy to meet my goal? No, it wasn't. But it also wasn't impossible. What helped me is that I'm driven and I know how to help myself when feeling down.
Be Prepared for the Sucking
There were times that I wanted to quit, but I didn't. There were times when I was writing and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I was making things up at 5 a.m. in the morning. Sometimes that was good, other times it wasn't. But my goal was to have a cohesive book at the end of the month--a first draft. What helped me achieve my goal, was my realizing that it was okay to suck. I was writing a first draft and not the great American novel. I needed to start somewhere and I gave myself permission to suck. I focused on writing, making my word count and having fun.
What helped me in the dark times:
- Listening to good and uplifting music help me. (Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was a life saver).
- Exercise. I am still recovering from an Achilles injury, but start running again. The sweat, fighting against wanting to give up and endorphins helped me a lot.
- Read positive things, watch positive things, talk with positive people. Do not let negativity pull you down.
At the end of January, I made my deadline. I did it. I've seen many posts from people who have tried NaNoWriMo and have given up because they get behind early on or mid-way through. For me, and again this is only for me, my schedule and planning helped me succeed. I knew that I would have to give up TV or sleep, but that for the month of January I could pull this off. If I missed my deadline in the morning, I'd make it up at night before bed. And if I could, I'd write extra on the weekend to allow myself to get ahead of the word count.
What writing a novel in a month taught me is that when faced with the question: "Is writing my job or a hobby?" I now know the answer. I know where I want to go and I am going to work my ass off to get there. This doesn't make me special, better or a good writer, but I'll let you in on a secret. The more I'm writing, the better I'm becoming. The more I write, the easier it is to write. Overcoming that initial resistance, allows me to gain speed and to keep on going.
That's the secret that I learned last month: Writing is a mental game. If you can overcome your own doubts, fears and blocks, you can do anything. That's both the good thing and the bad. I never thought I could do this. I thought it impossible. I thought, I thought, I thought. And my thinking limited me and made me not even want to try. But I challenged myself and succeeded. If I can do it, then you can do it. Don't give up. Fight, strive, write!