Wednesday, December 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo, the month that was and is no longer

By Julie

Like the leaves from the tree in the photo on your left, November is gone. December is upon us, and for several of us at What Women Write, that means a huge sigh of relief.

At the beginning of the month, Pamela wrote of how as a group, we'd decided to make some writing goals in honor of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it's affectionately called. Or NaNo, as it's sometimes not so affectionately called when the weariness sets in.

We thought we'd do a wrap up and weigh in now that it's over.

You heard from Kim last week.

Kim talked about her writing process and how a marathon to write a massive, untamed number of words over the course of a month would have completely messed with not only her mind, but her fictional account of her great-grandfather's life. Nonetheless, we also saw how the group dynamic she experienced at our retreat contributed to a productive month for her, even in the midst of sick children AND animals plus holiday travel.

You also heard from Joan.

She started out with good intentions of completing thirty thousand words on her work in progress, but quickly found that it wouldn't work to do it that way, and a new story wiggled into her brain and didn't let go. In a little more than two weeks, she managed to write more than fifteen thousand words on a brand new idea, one she hadn't spent time brainstorming or outlining at all. Then, she decided it was time to lay the pen aside for the holiday weekend and spend time in the real world, not always easy for us introverted writer types. Word on the street is she had a lot of fun.

Susan says:

I wrote about 7,000 words, and focused on my NaNo goal for about, hmmm, 24 hours. Then life got in the way. In addition, since I wasn't starting a new project and wasn't really following the rules of the challenge, I felt a little freer in creating my
own rules, which meant a slightly more structured, but still chaotic, writing life. Overall, November was a very good writing month for me, especially because of our writing retreat – I left rejuvenated about my work and what I was trying to put to paper.

As far as NaNo or NaNot? I'm not on either side of the fence. I can see great advantages if your full-time work is writing, but I can also see how upending your apple cart by attempting to completely change your style can be a detriment. I just say, stay focused and push forward at whatever pace works for you. To those who completed 30,000 to 50,000 words last month? Wonderful job! Keep writing!

And our fearless leader, Pamela,
who reserved our retreat space, organized the food, made room assignments, loaded most of us up and chauffeured us, and overall made it a great writing weekend, says:

I didn't really do NaNo in the true sense of the movement. I did take a renewed look at my WIP, set about embracing the story and got better organized with it. All that is a round-about way of saying that I didn't accomplish much in November. :) Though I did take another look at polishing a completed project (along with Joan), and that edit will be completed by week's end. Plus, I managed to keep up with my job. So, hard to complain.

As for me
, Julie, my own original goal was to add fifty thousand words to my work in progress, a kind of modified NaNo goal, as the "rules" call for a brand new project.

Two years ago, I set a goal of adding forty thousand words to "finish" a manuscript. Imagine my surprise when I made that goal, only to discover over the next several months that it took another thirty-five thousand or so to really finish it. But I would never have made it to "the end" had I not written the 40K, because those are words I mostly kept – much of the earlier stuff eventually got cut. I truly found the heart of my story that month.

This year, I figured I should up my goal and see where the challenge took me. It soon became clear, though, that 50K would exceed the pace that kept me sane and produced material I wasn't ashamed to read again. I wasn't embarrassed to revise my goal down to forty thousand, telling myself it was kind of like the offering goals they used to post in the country churches I attended at various times in my life – the "Praise the Lord" goal and the "Hallelujah" goal. Had I met the 50K hallelujah goal, I probably would have then proceeded to collapse on the floor for the entire month of December.

I'm happy to report, however, that I squeaked in with 40,253 words at 11:50 p.m. Monday night and am still quite alert.

It wasn't an easy month. Not by a long shot. My final writer identity crisis came in the very last weekend, after the turkey and dressing had been cleared away. My brave husband wouldn't let me give up. He spent time with me Saturday evening brainstorming the story I'm writing, helping me to see it is an important story with a universal message. I'd pretty much declared it worthless and insignificant after struggling to write day after day and being sick to death of it, and that bothered me more than I care to admit.

When I took Barbara (Samuel) O'Neal's Voice Two class a few years ago, it became clear how important it was to me to identify topics that go beyond entertainment and address subjects that challenge readers – ones that get people talking. I am so grateful to my husband for that pep talk and not letting me quit.

My plan now is to let those 40K words "set a while." They'll simmer and stew while I finish deep editing my last story and begin pestering agents with it again. My next goal is to add perhaps another ten thousand words or so to it this month and then maybe even try another marathon of sorts in January and February to complete a rough draft.

And now for a drum roll, please!

Big, huge accolades go to Elizabeth, our solitary "winner" in the true spirit of NaNoWriMo.

She signed up on the site, followed the rules to a T, and clocked in on time for her final count. After watching her work like a speed demon at our retreat, none of us were surprised to see this message to the group early Monday morning:

And . . . 50,928! I'm done!

Elizabeth went on to say:

I found a novel I really like after all, and now I'm far enough in to quit the ridiculous waffling I've been mired in since summer (or earlier) and so I'm going to finish this dang book, and if I don't get an agent with the queries I've got going, then I'll query this come spring or whenever it's done.

We couldn't be prouder of Elizabeth for putting her mind to this task and getting it done. Not only that, but her nine-year-old daughter met and exceeded her own NaNo for Kids goal and plans to continue and finish her story and self-publish it on Lulu.

The way I see it, with a little guesstimating, the members of What Women Write tallied up well over 115,000 new words this month, not to mention a wealth of new knowledge about how we write and how far we can push ourselves.

And that's no little feat.

What about you, readers? Anyone else care to share about their November goals and results? Please weigh in with a comment!


  1. I registered for NaNoWriMo and ended up writing more than 51,000 words by the end of the month. I passed the 50,000 mark on the 24th, which surprised me. I had decided that I should try to write 2,000 words a day, because that would give me room for some Really Bad Days along the way, and it turned out that that was a good strategy for me. Mind you, there's a lot of dreck in among the treasures, and I'm nowhere near the end of the story, but I am very pleased with myself for having met the challenge. Now what I need is the self-discipline to set my own goals, as you did, and meet them.

  2. Wow, congrats, Sandra! And in time to enjoy the holiday, even, if you celebrated Thanksgiving. I'm very impressed! I hope you do keep working on that manuscript -- you've done too much to quit now! :)

  3. Oops, I see you're in Canada, so maybe not last month. ;-) So, a quiet end to a busy month.


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