5 Things I’ve Learned as a NaNo Noob


It was October 31 and the deadline for submitting my final draft to my publisher for No Eye Has Seen: Book 1 Beyond the Valley. During the previous week, I had psyched myself about finishing Book 1 and diving right into Book 2 by participating in National Novel Writing Month 2014. Last year, I signed up but that was about all. But this year, I felt I needed to follow through. I had no idea what to expect, but having joined a few writing communities online, I felt I would not be alone.

I made my final edits and emailed my manuscript about 11am. The kids were still in school and I figured I had about four hours to set up for #NaNoWriMo before the Halloween festivities began. I was already tired, but the coffee was on and I was determined to stay up until midnight and dive in right away.

I downloaded my free trial of @Scrivener after watching the promo video on YouTube. Then, I transferred what I had for Book 2– the first five chapters and a chapter-by-chapter summary/synopsis for the rest of it. In under two hours I managed to learn the program enough to apply my summaries to the virtual cork board. I would be subtracting the 9190 words I’d completed already making my minimum total word count goal for November roughly 60K words.

Next, I signed up with the 10-Minute Novelists Google+ Hangout and scanned Twitter for all I could find out about @NaNoWriMo. What did word sprints entail? Who else was participating?

I would not be writing alone. First, my writing zone was in the living room. I could not shut out my family for an entire month. Since most days everyone else would be at work and school, I would still have a quiet writing block. I didn’t know how everything would work exactly, but I was eager to give it a shot.

So, here I am, 17 days in. Before writing a word in my WIP today, my word count is just over 45,000. Non-writers and even writers in my critique group drop their jaws when I tell them. Honestly, it has been a lot easier than I thought. Here is what I have learned in hopes that another “NaNo Noob” will find some inspiration and encouragement, regardless of where their current word count stands.

1. Have a plan, yet be flexible. When drafting my first novel, I learned quickly that once the actual writing began, the story took on a life of its own. Sure, I had my rough chapter sketches planned out, but being open to possible changes has added significant depth to my plot and characters and given me the freedom to just run with an idea regardless if it matched up with the other parts of the story.

2. You really can write a novel 10 minutes at a time. Back in April, shortly after I signed my contract, I devoted every weekend to 6+ hours blocks of writing in order to complete my novel. 50,000 words seemed like a tall order, but after knocking out 25k+ words all by myself in April, I felt confidant I could double that count with NaNoWriMo. I hated to lock myself away from my family after working all week at my day job. I had been struggling with the call to write and how I would not neglect my family in the process. Thus, I moved my desk into the living room and decided I would give the short-burst writing a try. I learned a little more about word sprints, and about giving my internal editor a vacation. Come midnight, I took a deep breath and let my fingers fly 10, 15, and 20 minutes at a time. In between sprints, I thought about the current and future scenes. By the time another sprint started, I was ready to go. By the end of Day 1, I wrote 3809 words!

3. Know You will Kill Your Darlings. After all, this was only the first draft of Book 2 and I had nearly one year to revise and perfect it. I was willing to accept that some of what I wrote would never see the light of day. Since I had just finished several rounds of edits and revisions for my first book, I knew there had been great improvements made since April. The revising, editing, and deleting processes had become my friends. Regardless of what I end up keeping from this first draft, I am confidant what comes next will be better than if I had written nothing at all.

4. Never Underestimate the Power of Community. I have no way of knowing exactly how many of the 45k words I have written so far would still be floating around in my head if not for our 10-Minute Novelists group. If I didn’t have that little notification blip ringing from my laptop and phone every time the Google+ hangout filled with other writers from around the world messaging they were ready to sprint, I would have made an excuse for why I couldn’t write at that moment in time. There have been several times I was not sure I would get any more words in a day, but decided to go ahead for 10 more minutes since others were doing the same. More than once, I ended up writing for at least another hour and knocked out 900-1500 more words. Not only that, but in between sprints, we have had lively discussions about almost everything. It has been great to get to know other writers and that their lives are not that much different than mine. We all struggle to balance work or other responsibilities, keep up on housework, drive kids around, plan meals, and even battle colds and migraines along the way.

5. Taking Advantage of Writer’s Tools and Toys Makes Writing Fun Again. I have not tried to use any sort of writing program before now. I know there are lots of them out there, but using Scrivener has been amazing. I love how I can start new scenes and move them around, make notes in the margin and keep track of my daily and project goals. It has saved me tons of time and allowed me to use those minutes for actually writing. At this point, I am not sure I will ever use Word for a first draft again.

Overall, this experience has given me the confidence that I can achieve my writing goals on a minute, hourly, or daily basis. I am looking forward to participating in the 365K club in 2015–my goal being to complete a first draft of the half-dozen novel ideas in my head by the end of the year to have plenty of material handy for when I endeavor beyond my current series, begin seeking an agent and turn this writing hobby into an actual career!


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