What I learned from writing a book in 30 days

Posted on December 3, 2009

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I did it!!!!!  Did you hear me roar all the way from central Virginia??

As some of you know, I participated in NaNoWriMo in November – tackling the feat of writing 50,000 words (more than I had ever written) of a book during the month of November.  “Winning” was simply a matter of crossing the finish line – getting to 50k by Day 30.  For me, it was like running a long race, with the same feelings of excitement, fatigue, despair, loneliness AND camaraderie, hope, momentum, more despair, wondering if the end would ever come, and, finally, triumph.  I did it as part of my quest to find my calling, and I learned a lot about myself, writing and working on something important.

How to write a book – or accomplish YOUR dream:

  1. Recruit – or find – a support team.  What a happy accident!  While writing is normally a solitary activity, I recruited two members of my writers’ group to join me as fellow WriMos (as they call participants), both to validate this crazy activity and to provide emotional support during this project.   Both of my friends helped me stay motivated during those long nights staring at an empty computer screen.  And the forums on the NaNoWriMo site provided so many ‘virtual’ teammates, from the WriMos moaning about just getting started a week before month end (!) to the WriMos suggesting that one’s main character develop a stutter (in order to get word counts up) or suggesting that characters break into song (nine hundred ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall generates a LOT of words!).  A team makes you laugh and distracts you from the desolation of writer’s block (or whatever creative block you’re facing) and also whups your behind when you’re lollygagging.  Having a team mate can generate those competitive juices.  When one of my friends sent out the jubilant email announcing the completion of her book, it motivated me to finish MINE on time.
  2. Know – and feel confident with – WHY you’re doing this crazy thing: A few people asked me ‘why are you doing this?’  I completely understood their confusion.  With no payoff, little likelihood of publication (of course, that’s the next ridiculous dream . . .), and a virtual guarantee of crap as the final product, attempting this made no sense – if you’re motivated by money, publication, or only producing the highest quality product.  But, for me, doing NaNoWriMo meant getting into the habit of writing every day, pushing myself to produce, even if my muse just didn’t feel like it, and becoming part of a community of writers.  For me, these 3 things are important hallmarks of a writer.  And knowing – and feeling confident with – my own reason for doing this crazy thing helped me face and answer the doubts and incredulity of nonbelievers.
  3. Don’t let perfect get in the way of the good. If I had set the objective of writing perfect chapters, I would still be staring at Page 1 of my book.  The wonderful thing about a contest that was all about quantity and not at all about quality was that my inner editor – sometimes known as that inner control freak – didn’t have anything to edit or control.  And, when you let your wild, chaotic, uninhibited self free of your inner editor/inner control freak, sometimes what comes out is surprising, amazing, hilarious, entertaining, productive and GOOD!  Let the editor/control freak come out later for quality checks, but let the wild child have its chance first.
  4. Have fun! There were times – a LOT of times, when I just didn’t think I had anything else to say, when the words dried up, when I felt that my plot was even boring ME so what was the point of continuing?  And I’d feel sorry for myself.  But, sometimes, I would just say, well, heck with it, if I’m going to do this, I might as well entertain myself.  Thus, great stretches of my book are filled with ridiculous puns, inside jokes, cliches and truisms.  And when I wrote those sections, I laughed my head off, and the energy of the story shows how much I was enjoying myself.  And, surprisingly, some of those sections weren’t bad.
  5. Take risks, experiment.  I learned about a program called ‘Write or Die’ during my 30 day project.  It’s a program that allows you to type in a word count or time goal, then emits a sequence of warnings when your typing speed dips below the target rate, until the final warning – and then the program eats all the words you’ve typed.  When I used that program, I could knock out something like 700 words in 30 minutes.  What productivity.  The other risk I took was letting my characters follow paths that were a bit unexpected or untraditional.  Some of my best plot turns came from these experiments.
  6. A little karma can help.  I noticed that many of the users sporting haloes (yes, angel haloes, signifying they had donated money to the website to support the cause) seemed to have higher than average word counts.  Wanting to leave no stone unturned, I sent in my donation.  And here I am.
  7. No excuses, just do it.  So many people did this in the midst of finals, while caring for children, while working long hours.  So many people had a 10K or 20K or even 30k or 40K deficit a week before the month ended.  And they all just did it, and reading the stories of crossing the finish line will make you realize that anything is possible.

SO – try!  risk!  DO!

Question: anyone else working on their dream, either a little at a time, or in 30 (or 40) day chunks?  How is YOUR effort going?  Any lessons learned?

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NaNoWriMo status: Winna, winna, chicken dinner!  Woohoo!

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