Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How NaNoWriMo saved my life

Thanks to Sandie, Diane and Rachel for the invitation to post about my experience of NaNoWriMo last year. Okay, okay. I'll admit the title of this blog post is a bit melodramatic, and not true in the literal sense. But the 2007 NaNoWriMo challenge did save my writer sense of self, as well as my writing dream. Let me explain.

In the previous ten years before November 2007, I was in Writing Drought Hell. And this is an understatement. As all you writers know, when you're not writing you are miserable, depressed, in a waking nightmare that doesn't seem as if it will ever end. Well, you get the picture. That was me. I had always wanted to write a novel, but since 1997 I found I could not write one creative word. I tried almost everything to get me started writing again - counselling, writing courses, reading how-to-books and interviews with authors, trying to come up with answers as to the reason/s why I couldn't write thinking that if I knew that I could solve the problem. After two years of putting off NaNoWriMo, I finally decided it was time to give it a go. Hell, I was desperate.

But I was also scared shitless. Would I be able to write at all, let alone 50,000 words in 30 days? What if I couldn't? Then I'd have to watch while my dream of writing a novel went up in smoke. The pressure I was putting on myself was enormous. "Just sit down and start writing," advised my well-meaning hubby.

On November 1st, that's exactly what I did. I had already read Chris Baty's 'No Plot? No Problem!' a few years before, but re-read the parts of the book that related to each stage of the challenge. For those of you that haven't read this book, I recommend you pick up a copy, as I found it invaluable in helping me get through the month. You can order a copy from What attracted me most to this challenge, was that the aim was to write as fast as possible in order to silence the inner critic. This is exactly what I needed.

Part of what I had internalised was about 'what is the best way to write a novel.' I had these beliefs drummed into my head that I must plan and plot and outline before writing an actual sentence. Needless to say, I never planned or plotted or outlined. So I decided to do what Chris Baty recommended and start from scratch. I had no idea what I was going to write until I sat down at my writing desk on the first day of the challenge.

It must be said from the outset that I thought there was no way I could actually write 50,000 words in 30 days. I had been going through a writing drought remember? Even though I knew that was the goal of the challenge, I told myself the aim was for me to write consistently throughout the month, and I'd be happy if I achieved 10,000 words. Imagine my surprise when I actually managed to write 54,032 words by the end of the month!

The writing didn't come easily at the beginning. To be honest, it was a struggle. But then a funny thing happened. The writing became easier. I got so into the story and the characters that there were days when I doubled or tripled my daily word count target of 1,667 words. This gave me the buffer I needed, as I was able to have a break for a few days towards the end of the month. This was extremely helpful, as I was starting to feel run down and needed a break from the writing.

Oh, and BTW, I did manage to have a life during the challenge. In addition to working 32 hours per week in a demanding and draining job, I had a household to run, did a 4-week romance writing course, attended social engagements, and celebrated my second year wedding anniversary. I also have fibromyalgia (which is a chronic illness characterised by fatigue and chronic pain) to contend with. And I am the biggest procrastinator in the world! I found that achieving my daily word count only took me a couple of hours a day. Admittedly, it was harder to achieve the word count during the working week, but I made up for it on my days off work.

I don't believe I could have achieved what I did without the support of the RWA NaNoWriMo support loop. The sense of community and camaraderie made the challenge more fun. Who else could have provided friendly competition, shoulders to cry on when times were tough, and hugs when things went well? I initially tried to keep up with Sandie who had a formidable word count. That's what spurred me on.

Writing without an outline, or without any idea which direction the story was going, was fun. I jotted down notes at the end of the day on what my next scene would be about. I also kept a record of the dates I wrote and the word count I achieved, and felt enormous satisfaction at seeing my word count increase. Writing the ending of the story was the most difficult for me. But when I did, I was ecstatic! Writing 'The End' was the best feeling. I had finally done it. I had written a first draft.

A month later, I read over what I had written. There were a lot of holes that needed fixing, but I was surprised that the writing wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. This first draft still languishes in my bottom drawer. I might re-write it one day, but it needs a hell of a lot of work. Nevertheless, as some wise person said (Nora Roberts?): You can't fix a blank page. Participating in NaNoWriMo and completing a first draft (even if nothing comes of it) was one of my best achievements. It saved a big part of me - the writer - and my mojo returned after having gone AWOL so many years ago. Most of all, I proved to myself that I COULD DO IT. And if I can do it, anyone can.

Tell us about one of your achievements, writing related or not. What did you doubt you'd ever accomplish, and that made you proud when you finally did? I'd love to hear your experiences. You might also find it helpful to remember this achievement during the month of June when times get tough and writing 50,000 words seems impossible.

I'm looking forward to joining all of you for the June 50ks in 30 days writing challenge.

Angie :)


Sussan Marz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sussan Marz said...

Angie, an inspirational story! I enjoyed reading about your NaNoWriMo experience.

I've yet to experience the NaNoWriMo frenzy, so I'm looking forward to the frenzy in June. If I get through that, it might very well be one of those things I never thought I could accomplish but am so proud I did.

Angie said...

Thanks for reading my long post, Sussan!

I'm looking forward to doing the June NaNoWriMo 'frenzy' with you - it will be a blast! And we'll all be there to support each other.

I'm sure you'll be proud of what you manage to achieve during that month.

Sandie Hudson said...

Angie, thank you for sharing your experience with NaNo.

Funny thing about how things work out, because I have to say you inspired me throughout November. With each chapter you wrote and shared with us, were an incentive for me to continue with my own writing. Which was the purpose of the loop, and boy didn't we have a great time together.

I'm getting excited about June, scared but excited.

Thanks again Angie.


Anonymous said...

Well this is inspiration of a different kind. Watching someone you know achieve their goal is sooo inspirational. Because it shows that all you have to do is do it! Mr Nike got it right. So now come June we're all gonna 'just do it!'.
It's a wonderful story Angie, thanks for sharing it with us.

Angie said...

Thanks Rachel and Sandie for your kind comments, and for inviting me to share my story. I also got a lot out of sharing my experiences and reminded myself that I could 'do it'.

Sandie - yep, I've got the same fear and excitement about June. Can't wait to share the journey with both you gals again :)

You're both right - watching others achieve their goals can be inspirational, and doing NaNo with all you guys last year was certainly that.

Rachael Blair said...

Coming in late here - but Angie that was an A-Mazing story! I remember how fab your writing speed and count was in November and it was great re-living it all again. I have every confidence June will be another great month for you!!!

Dani M said...

Hi Angie

I want to do the challenge this year but I was having doubts because I have CFS and Fibromyalgia. But now I'm inspired to give it a try -- besides, all that time I spend resting seems like a great opportunity to think about that most elusive of things, 'the plot'. Thanks for your story, knowing what i know about cfs/fms, I am mightily impressed!

cheers Dani

Angie said...

Thanks Rach - it was fun doing NaNo with you last November, and am looking forward to our June challenge this year.

Dani - I sure do empathise with you. CFS and Fibromyalgia are very challenging to deal with. There are days where you won't be able to write as much as you hoped - I had lots of days like that. But you'll be surprised at how much you can achieve. I'm so glad you're wanting to give the writing challenge a try. Will you be joining us in June or waiting for the NaNoWriMo challenge in November? I'd love to have you on board in June. Be sure to let us know if you plan to join us. And you can rest assured that there'll be at least one person (me) who will understand what you're going through with your chronic illness.

Angie :)