November is over, and for most people that means becoming busy with hectic holiday schedules, but for those who participated in NaNoWriMo, it means they finally get a chance to breath!
National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) is a yearly writing project that challenges writers across the globe to write 50,000 words or more in one month! Obviously this is a great feat, so here at Writers & Books we are incredibly proud of our two staff members who participated in NaNoWriMo! Sarah Brown and Emma Lynge took on the challenge, totaling over 119,000 words! Early in November, we asked them what their goals for NaNoWriMo were, and we followed up with them to see how it went!
What was your word count as of November 30th?
Sarah: 50,870! I actually finished November 27th, after a huge push during Thanksgiving. I made it!
Emma: My wordcount as of November 30th was 68,159. It seems like a lot, but keep in mind, I started the month off with half a novel already.
Is your novel finished and do you have any plans for it?
Sarah: It’s a complete story—for now. Of course there are edits and revisions to make, but that last line I wrote was always where I intended for the story to end. I’m absolutely taking a break from it at the moment, but I still find myself thinking of the characters and the story and wanting to come back to them. I know I’m not done with them for good!
Emma: I’ve got about three fourths of “The Midnight Game” written, and then the last scene. It’s almost done, but not quite! I’m definitely going to keep working on it—I’m in a better place with it now than I’ve ever been. But I’m definitely going to take a bit of a breather before pushing forward!
Was there ever a point where you felt like quitting?
Sarah: Definitely. It was hard in the beginning to get started and realize I had a month of it left, but the real challenge came for me in the middle. I got really sick for a while during the month, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up with it and take care of myself. Then I just realized I was using being sick as an excuse to give up when I should be using it as a way to push myself forward! So every time I couldn’t sleep because I felt crummy, I just wrote instead. It actually ended up helping me get ahead.
Emma: Oh boy, you better believe it. On November 18th, I opened up my laptop to keep writing only to see that I had somehow lost four days’ worth of work. I generally keep the document open the whole month—telling myself that it’ll always be up in case I have a flash of inspiration—which, looking back, is probably not the best idea. Even though I set my Word program to autosave every five minutes, something didn’t save right, and I lost about 6,000 words. It’s probably why I don’t have a finished novel at the end of the month, but I think NaNoWriMo is all about being proud of the work you’ve actually done, and not beating yourself up over the goals you didn’t meet. I only got through it by telling myself that I’d write the scenes better the second time around—which I think I did!
There are a number of NaNoWriMo forums and inspirational tools online. Have you taken advantage of any of them?
Sarah: Nope—not a single one. I haven’t even been on the NaNoWriMo website this month. Most of my inspiration came from asking my friends for a random word or place, and then making myself incorporate them into the novel. How else would “Taco Bell,” “tractor”, “hamster”, and “hedge squid” fit into one story?
Emma: Since I bend the rules all the time and things like word count are kind of secondary to me, I tend to be a solo flier when it comes to NaNoWriMo. I did have a great support group this time, though—having both Sarah and my boyfriend also participating in NaNoWriMo made me want to cheer them on and also pushed me to write harder.
Did you ever scrap a significant amount of your novel? If yes, how did you make up the word count?
Sarah: No. Not saying I still won’t once I go back in for a more thorough revision, but most of my quick edits were adding major chunks of words to make the story line up better.
Emma: Well, I guess I did scrap some stuff, though not on purpose. On the day of the disaster where I lost 6,000 words due to a save error, I was in the middle of a pretty crucial scene that I’d been worried about writing for a long time. I actually think losing it and then having to re-write it from scratch helped the quality of writing—because I’d already written it once before, I was less nervous about how it would turn out and I think that helped me loosen up and get into the flow of writing better. Ultimately I never actually caught up and finished my novel, but I’m proud of the words that I did get down!
At what point did you formulate a plan for your novel? Did you stick to it?
Sarah: In the beginning when I was creating a lot of the character and the world, I knew exactly the scene to end it all with. While I was writing from the beginning, I kept thinking of more scenes for the end as well, and eventually I reached a point in the middle where I knew the next bunch of scenes until the end, and then it was really easy—that’s why I could finish early!
Did you ever find that you digressed from your original plan or did you tend to stick to it?
Emma: I think the biggest goal that I accomplished this November was actually planning out my whole novel. I started the month knowing a lot of general things about the second half and a couple specific scenes here and there, but I didn’t have a step-by-step plot yet. Now I do, and even though I didn’t actually finish it, I know exactly how the rest of it is going to play out, which is huge for me.
What have you learned about your writing habits through this process?
Sarah: I have learned that I absolutely should not also try to edit as I write. In the beginning of the month, each day I would sit down to write by starting with editing the work from the day before. This took an insanely long amount of time and caused most of my stress with writing. Once I quit doing that, I could easily write my word count for the day in two hours usually. Also, at the beginning of the month, a good friend challenged me to “write the worst novel” I could, and I took that to heart. The hope was that it would help me not worry about making it the best novel it could be and would focus on just getting words out everyday. It worked, in its weird way, and I’m finding the results aren’t actually that bad at all, but fun and quirky. Overall, I learned that I can write so much better when I am not thinking about the quality of my writing. Ironic, isn’t it?
Emma: I’ve learned that, with this book at least, I’m very dialogue-driven. A lot of times I would find myself ONLY writing the dialogue of a scene, in order to go back in later and fill in the rest of it. I usually consider myself a setting-driven writer, but when speed is required, dialogue carries the day.
Will you continue to make writing a habit?
Sarah: Of course! I don’t really have an excuse not to anymore, since now I know for a fact that I can write when I don’t have a single idea. I think writing that much every day is not going to become my writing habit, but I know how much I can push myself with my writing now, and there’s no going back!
Emma: Of course! The other goal that I’m proud of this month is that I actually did get a significant chunk of writing done every day. It feels great! I might not do as much writing every day, but I definitely think this is a good habit to keep up.
How did you manage the time? Did you have to sacrifice other aspects of your life?
Sarah: I pretty much stopped having a social life or doing much of anything besides work and writing. This was partly due to being sick as well though; it worked in my favor. It was a struggle, but I was willing to get through it for the month!
Emma: It was a lot of just forcing myself to write when I had even the tiniest chunk of time. Waiting for my pizza to come out of the oven? Write. Driving to errands with my mom? Write. Can’t get to sleep? Write. And the other aspect was really making writing a priority above other things. Do you really have time to watch that movie tonight? No, you’re still a thousand words short for today. Although I’m definitely going to try to keep up with writing every day, it will be nice to have some more breathing room!
What were the best and worst parts of NaNoWriMo? Would you do it again?
Sarah: The worst part was struggling with writing daily. There were quite a few days where it made writing not very fun, and that was really hard to get through as someone who has loved writing my whole life. At the same time, it was valuable to truly realize the extent of what it means that writing is work, and that it takes a lot to write every day and keep at it. The best part is that I wrote over 50,000 words in less than 30 days!!!! I learned more about what kind of person I am through seeing my dedication to continuing, and that I might even be a better writer when I have no idea where I am going. Without a doubt, I would do it again, many times over.
Emma: The best part of NaNoWriMo for me is that no matter how much you actually get done at the end of the month, there’s this huge sense of accomplishment in what you’ve written. That, and having other people there cheering you on! The worst part is, of course, having writer’s block and then feeling the time crunch. Despite that, I’d definitely be willing to do it again next year!
What advice do you have for people who want to participate in NaNoWriMo next year?
Sarah: First, tell people about what you are doing! I periodically posted Facebook updates on my word count, and the overflow of comments and support I received was really heartwarming and helped get me through. Honestly, there were days where the only thing getting me to keep writing was being able to post my word count afterwards and feel proud of that.
Second, find out what works for you and shut the rest of it out. If it’s writing at a certain time only, or planning it a certain way, or if you can’t reach the word count every day but you’re still writing regardless, then wonderful! Perfect! Stick with it, and don’t worry about anything else. Find what gets you through and don’t stop! At the end of the month, it’s you and your story, whatever you have of it, and you’re the only one who can make it work.
And most of all, just keep going!!!
Emma: I would just say to keep in mind that there is no such thing as total failure. Not in writing—not ever. Even if you don’t “win” and get the full 50,000 words, you’re still exercising your creativity and you have more than you started with.
You can read excerpts from Sarah’s and Emma’s novels in the links below!