NaNoWriMo 2017: I Did It My Way

Uhh, Leanne, it’s mid-November. NaNoWriMo started three weeks ago. Why are you posting this now?

Well, mostly because I’ve been so wrapped up in actually doing NaNoWriMo that I haven’t had time to blog about it. But the lateness of this post also makes a point: you can tap into the NaNoWriMo spirit anytime you want! It doesn’t have to be November 1. It doesn’t even have to be a full month. The point of NaNoWriMo is to commit, publicly or privately, to a writing goal. The standard goal is 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. But that doesn’t have to be your goal.

I did my 50,000 words last year, mainly to prove that I could. I wrote a draft of a YA novel that I’m quite proud of, and I learned a lot from that process. But after I’d finished, the draft just sat there. So I resolved that this year, if I did NaNoWriMo, I’d do it in a way that served my greater writing ambitions.

There were two main problems with last year’s approach.

Problem #1: I wrote outside my category. My focus is on adult historical fiction, because that is the category I most want to break into; it’s too early in the game to split focus into a different genre. This year, I resolved to stay on target with a book that fits my category.

Problem #2: The demand of 50,000 words causes me a lot of anxiety. I was able to do it last year mainly because I was home on maternity leave, and I was lucky enough to have a newborn who napped a lot. I was able to take my time, writing upwards of 2,000 words a day and taking a day or two off for creative space. This year, the idea of fitting 2,000 words into my time-constrained writing sessions gave me a panic attack. I have a full-time job and full-time kids; I have to write when I can, and I’ve already scheduled as much time as possible. Demanding that I fit in 1,000 words between 5:30 and 6:10 AM is just too much pressure. What if the baby wakes up early? What if I didn’t get enough sleep? I felt that the 50,000 word goal wasn’t worth the loss in mental health.

Instead, I decided to do NaNoWriMo my way.

I just sent a draft of my novel set during the Great Blizzard of 1888, The Loss of Our Mothers, to my agent. My next novel is a generational saga about three women and the ways religion played a role in their lives, and I decided to write this book for NaNoWriMo. It’s in my category, and I had already done some preliminary character work on it over the summer. But I didn’t want to just crank out a draft, so I decided that I would write, or at least start, one scene every day in November (except Saturdays; I believe in rest days). The scenes didn’t have to be linear; in fact, it was better if they weren’t. This would serve two purposes. First, I could explore the characters through scene without the pressure of adhering to an outline or hitting word count on a draft. Second, I might come up with some plot points that might make it into the true first draft.

Results so far

I started this version of NaNoWriMo on November 1, and so far, it’s going well. I missed a few days last week when my son was in the hospital (long story; he’s doing much better now) but otherwise have stuck to my committed six days a week. Some scenes are longer than others; some are finished, some are not. And that’s okay. I’ve noticed that my average is about 1,100 words per day, which isn’t bad, considering I wasn’t focused on word count. Best of all, I’m really happy with the material I’m generating, and I’m positive it will contribute to a much stronger first draft. I may be re-working my entire novel-writing process here!

Have you ever considered doing NaNoWriMo on your terms? True, if you don’t follow the usual rules, you won’t get the certificate at the end. But how much does that matter, compared to a month of productive writing?


4 Responses to “NaNoWriMo 2017: I Did It My Way”

  1. You go, Leanne! It sounds like tailoring NaNo to better suit your needs and lifestyle was a good decision this year – especially since you’re pleased with how the new WIP is progressing so far.

    I’ve never considered doing NaNo, since I’m not a fast writer and my writing schedule is very limited. I will say, though, that the first draft of my current WIP is working up MUCH faster than the first draft of my previous WIP. And I already know a couple reasons why… so I might write a post about it for my blog once that draft is finished.

    Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, btw!

  2. Leanne Sowul says:

    Thanks, Sara! I would look forward to reading that post. You know how much I geek out over writing process 🙂

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  3. Good for you! I’m all for tailoring a challenge like NaNoWriMo to make it work for you. Strangely enough, I’ve not done a writing challenge, but I’ve done a couple of sketching challenges. The practice of doing something every day is what benefits me the most, and I’m preparing to jump back into the practice of sketching daily after losing it back in the spring. Summer and fall so far have been ridiculously busy and I’m just starting to be able to lift my head and reevaluate what’s what.

    I have a couple of non-fiction book ideas rolling around in my head, and I want to play with the NaNo principles to start to get them down on paper.

    • Leanne Sowul says:

      The sketching challenge sounds intriguing, Kathy! I’ve also had some of my musician friends pick up a “practice for 100 days straight” challenge. I’d love to do that, but it would eat into my writing time, and I already play so much music for my job. Maybe someday. I think challenges like these are generally worth the effort, and I always learn something from the experience.

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