my nanowrimo story (or challenging yourself as a writer)

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) rapidly approaching next month, there have been tons of blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts, and forum threads about how to survive NaNoWriMo without losing your mind.  Tips on snacking, maintaining healthy diets, live events versus virtual events, forming and sustaining bonds with other participants, getting support from home, and prioritizing your life during November have been flooding the internet for weeks now.

Please, humor me while I add my own two cents for the newbies out there who are thinking of trying out this thing called NaNoWriMo.  I’m not going to write out a list or bullet point things for you to remember.  Again, there are some 80gazillion blogs out there that have already done that.  Instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about my experiences with NaNoWriMo and what I’ve learned from the experience thus far.

In 2009, a friend told me about this thing called National Novel Writing Month where you tried to write an entire novel the 30 days of November – 50,000 words.  I thought it was an interesting concept.  I’d been writing on and off for years but had never really done anything worthwhile.  This was also the first time I had ever given any consideration to a story’s length in terms of word count.  Having not been serious about writing at any point, I had never even thought about it.  Since that time, I have kept constant track of my word count – mostly because I’m obsessive like that.

I think I clicked around the site once or twice right before the event, but decided that I didn’t need to sign up for it – I was just going to do it on my own.  I started it – and I started it strong.  But not having done anything other than given myself an arbitrary goal, I quickly strayed.  Not having anyone to talk to or forums to troll, I had no idea about quantity versus quality or locking up the inner editor.  I think I made it 4 days before I started going back and editing what I’d written.

I’d made a goal of 50K in 30 days but I had no one to hold me accountable.  Needless to say, I didn’t even come close.

In 2010, I didn’t think about NaNo at all until October 31 – the night before.  The friend who initially told me about NaNo was trying to decide whether she wanted to do it or not.  So at some point late that night, I signed up.  All I had was this idea about a girl whose best friend’s older brother was a washed up pop star.  That’s it.

It was really, really hard, you guys.  I had one friend I knew who was doing it – or rather, I was forcing to do it with me.  I went online and discovered my local region.  I went and lurked about the chatroom, had some word wars, but generally kept to myself.  It was hard, but I did it – how?  Probably because I knew I’d beat myself up if I committed to something and didn’t follow through with it.

Besides, I really, really wanted that little blue bar to turn purple.

What I took away from this year was having some kind of accountability helped.  Even if it was just the website tracker letting me know how far I had come and how close I was to reaching my goal.

*It should also be noted that in this year, I was pretty crazy busy – I think I technically did this in three weeks, not four because of a family event. Not that I’m bragging or anything. :p

By the time 2011 came up, I had decided that I was going to take this a little more seriously.  I signed up online again and then went into the forums.  I posted in my local forum and the chicklit forum (because that’s what I thought I was writing at the time).  Then I forced myself to go to one of the live events.

You guys, I had a blast.  I laughed, I learned, I got free candy…definitely worth the trek out to Lexington (because dude, Lexington is faaar from where I was living at the time).  I was super proud of myself for at least putting some faces to the names I’d seen floating around the chatroom.

Two things happened this year that changed my life: 1 – I made initial contact with the girls of NaNoPants with whom I would become very close the following year. 2 – I met some awesome online girls and went on to form the Cheerleaders – an online writing group that spans across Europe and North America.

This is the most important, very best thing you can do when it comes to NaNo: Go to an event.  Connect with the people you talk to online.  Put faces to names.  Make friends.  Because these people are your community and they can help you.  You have no idea how wonderful and amazing it is to have friends who are passionate about the same thing you are.  I have the world’s best writing group because of NaNo (NaNoPants FOREVAR).  If I hadn’t gone to that event, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  Seriously.

Also, doing all of this?  Made NaNo that much easier for me.  Having people to commiserate with and celebrate with made all the difference.  Knowing you’re not alone is so important.

Since the 2011 NaNo, I have had a regular writing habit.  No, I don’t write every single day, but I write habitually and that’s what makes the difference.  If you really want this thing – to be published and paid to write – you need to write on a regular basis.  That has been the biggest gain I’ve gotten from these experiences – a writing habit.

But last year, 2012? This year was the year that really turned everything around for me. I started off by rounding up the Cheerleaders (with my ‘co-captain’, Kelly) and suggesting a mini-NaNo to get ourselves going for the year.  I honestly believe this is why we managed to stick together.  Several of us had been overwhelmed with November and had taken December and January off – but committing to another goal with a group of people really pushed us in the right direction. We’ve been damn near inseparable (as far as interwebs go) ever since.

Then I found out about the Camp NaNos during the summer – since I had fallen so hopelessly in love with NaNoWriMo, I instantly committed to doing both (there are two every summer).  The first one was in June, and luckily for me, several of my local WriMos were planning on doing it as well.

I’ll never forget heading over to Cool Beans to meet up with Sara and Jessica for a write in.  We got along so well, that we ended up spending most of that summer in the coffee house.  (Probably one of the best summers of my life.)  Sara had been soaking up all this knowledge about books and publishing and editing and agents and editors like a sponge and she desperately needed to wring herself out – luckily for both of us, I was there to soak up all the knowledge she could squeeze out (I feel like there could be a dirty joke in here somewhere).

I blew June’s camp out of the water, scraped by in August (although to be fair, I bought and moved into my first house that month, t00) and was charging full-steam ahead into November.  Last year was a blast, you guys.  So many cool people (some weird ones, too) and great experiences.

I knew going into this one, that I could do the challenge so it was time to challenge myself to something new.  This is something I don’t think a lot of people think about when it comes to NaNo – or maybe I just haven’t seen a lot of it.  The initial challenge (50K in 30 days) is definitely hard and absolutely nothing to sneeze at.  But when you’ve done this thing six times (as I have) you begin to realize that 50K in 30 days isn’t so hard for you anymore and you need to set yourself some new goals.  Whether it’s a higher word count or a new genre or a new POV – whatever you can think of – there should be a constant pushing of yourself.

What I love so much about NaNo is that it took me to the next level for my writing.  It gave me my consistent habit, it gave me the tools I needed to finish something without agonizing over every word, and that’s where it ended for me in terms of the traditional challenge.  In 2012, I decided to take it that step further.  I decided I wanted a completed manuscript in a new genre – so I chose fantasy.

It was really, fucking hard.  I had never written the genre, read it minimally, and didn’t know what I was doing.  But I’m so glad I did it.  I ended up with 70,000 words that month and newly stretched writing muscles.  It was glorious – I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hated the damn thing but I was so proud of myself for branching out.  I swore I’d never look at the manuscript again.  But I had done something different and it was damn rewarding.

So now, it’s 2013, and in this year I’ve only done one of the camps.  I decided to go back to my roots and write a love story for April’s camp – actually it was a rewrite of my very first NaNo.  I was able to set my own goal that month and I set it high – 70K.  I will tell you guys that I will never again set myself a goal that high.  It was damn near impossible with everything I had going on that month.  How I finished, I have no fucking clue.  Seriously.

It also got me to another point about myself as a writer: As much as I adore NaNo, the fast paced writing of quantity over quality wasn’t for me anymore.  I found that with the previous two NaNos, I had started out strong but quickly slipped when it came to quality.  And I know, I know, you’re going to say that the whole point isn’t about quality – but when you’re at the point where I’m at – trying to revise something until it’s query-able – you need to have quality in your first go around.  I finished April’s camp, but the rewrite I did?  I have to rewrite it again.  I did last November’s at close to 70K, but I’ve spent the better part of this year world-building and rewriting that one too (because yeah, I went back to it despite my claims to never look at it again).  And that’s why I didn’t do July’s camp this year.

The point of all of these stories is this – NaNo is definitely worth it.  If you need a push to get you to the next stage of your writing career, then do it.  I will always champion for NaNo because I love what it did for me.  Just remember the point of the challenge is just that – to challenge yourself as a writer.  Wherever you are in your writing, use the spirit of NaNo to push yourself to the next step.  If you’ve never written before, try for that 50K – or even a smaller goal.  If you’ve hit 50K a couple times – try stepping up your game with a higher goal or a new genre.  Something, anything to push yourself and find out what you like and don’t like.  You’ve always written high fantasy?  Try something contemporary.  Stretch your muscles and see what fits.

I tried horror for the first time this summer.  I absolutely hated every single bloody second of it.  And that’s okay – but I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t tried.  I also wouldn’t know how much I love writing mythology (it’s a love/hate thing, really) if I hadn’t tried fantasy for the first time last year.

Discover your voice, flaunt your style, test your limits.  Find what works for you.

In other words: Just do it.

Health, Peace, & Happiness,

Sign up for NaNoWriMo now at and feel free to add me, Lindsay Allison, to your buddy list.  You can also find me by clicking the picture all the way at the bottom of the page, to your right.

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