Dear Diary: How I Won NaNoWriMo, Barely

Week 4

New Flash Fiction: Focus

New Merc Rules: Merc Rule 70, Merc Rule 233

This was the second year I attempted NaNoWriMo. So naturally I thought I was prepared. Figured it might be easier. Since, you know, I’d done it once before. Well… when you ain’t accustomed to writing 12,000 words every week, it can be a teensy bit rough making that transition. And it was. Like from wearing silk to a pair of sandpaper socks.

But I had a plan. More than 12% of one, anyway. (It’s good to have more than 12% of a plan. Just ask Rocket Raccoon.)

My goal was to come straight out the gate swinging for the fences. To crank out as much writing as I could right up front. Build a nice little lead to take some of the pressure off. That way I could write with less stress, and maintain pace without having to worry about the time I knew I’d lose when Thanksgiving hit. Because there’s just no accounting for how much time that family, booze, football, and endless food can steal right out from under you. But starting strong was only part one of the plan.

The second part was to include my November blogging, Merc Rules, and Flapjacks into the word count. Considering the novelette I was working on was only slated to be 30,000 words when finished, I knew I’d need more material to have a chance at hitting the 50,000 NaNoWriMo required. That, and I’d only just started my website again. There’s nothing like taking on a huge task like NaNoWriMo to completely halt all your plans. So instead of writing the contest off altogether, I decided to use it as an excuse to start kicking ass again.

I took my 13% of a plan and set my resolve.

Day one, I go charging in keyboard blazing. In the first week I start to establish my lead. By day ten I’m over five thousand words ahead. I’m feeling pretty good. Maybe too good. Because I start taking days off. Slacking a bit, only writing in spurts. I’ll write three or four thousand words, then relax a few days. This is all fine and good if you don’t have any imminent roadblocks coming up. Like say, Thanksgiving. But getting in the habit of relaxing and then binge writing was not a good idea before an anticipated break. Or at least it wasn’t for me.

After Thanksgiving, I charged right back into the fray, only to find my tools a bit blunted. Words came slowly, and my motivation had become a flimsy thing. Maybe it was latent tryptophan, maybe it was five pounds of whip cream and gravy slowing me down. It’s hard to say. But every letter I typed felt like I was chiseling it into stone.

By the time the last week rolled around and I found myself over four thousand words in the hole… It seemed the closer the deadline drew, the harder it was to make up those lost words.

I knew it was knuckle-down time. I had to put my nose to the grindstone to have any hope hitting my word count by the end of the month. I took to Twitter and rallied some support. With some moral support from my wife, fellow writing buddy Brando Calrissian, and others, I shook off my carpal tunnel and took my typing to new heights.

To date, the fastest bit of writing I’ve ever done is 1200 words in 15 minutes, and I managed that on day 27 of NaNoWriMo. Now, this might be a drop in the bucket to some typists, or even writers, but I’m damn proud of it. Especially considering my typical NaNo pace up to then had been 1200 words in an hour… Assuming I could actually get going. There were several days in the last week when it was hard to get more than 300 words an hour. I’d clack the keyboard and watch the clock tick away, knowing I was almost out of time for the day. (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know I was rhyming those words.)

Through some feat of muse magic and luck, I cranked out the last couple thousand words and finished a day early.

I did manage to learn some things after winning NaNoWriMo twice. And they’re pretty easy to sum up. I’ve learned that it’s more about willpower than skill. More about tenacity than a plan. More about morale than being practiced. What matters most is that you don’t quit. As long as you keep your ass in the chair, and your fingers moving across the keyboard you can hit your word count.

It might be dirty, it might be ugly, it might be completely unreadable. But at the end of the day that’s what everyone’s first draft looks like. Getting it written is the hardest part.

And that’s the whole point of this NaNoWriMo business.

Without an excuse to hammer out a 50,000 word hunk of… material, some of us—many of us—may never get through that first draft. But once that draft is finished you have something to re-shape. To edit to your heart’s content.

And that’s where the real work begins.

All in all, it was a very productive experience. I’d invite anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a shot. You learn a lot writing at that speed. There’s a certain confidence you get when you throw caution to the wind, write full tilt, and don’t look back. You can bet I’ll be doing it again next year!

Go forth and conquer,

J. D.

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