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Winner-180x180

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In case anyone was wondering, I pulled out another win for NaNo 2012. Yay me! My winning word count was 50,331.

From participating in four NaNos and one Camp NaNo I’ve learned that each experience is very different from the others. There is absolutely no way to predict how it will go based on how past NaNos went.

This year was really odd for me because while I never truly struggled or suffered complete agony in trying to get my story from head to page, I was also behind for pretty much the entire month. Out of the thirty days in November I was only caught up on word count on five of them.

But at least unlike my Camp NaNo 2011 loss, I was never deeply in the hole. The furthest behind I got was somewhere around 5k words, so it always felt doable, which encouraged me to keep plodding forward. So the lesson learned from this one I guess is to just keep moving and you can surprise yourself.

At 50k words the novel isn’t complete. I’d estimate the story is somewhere between one-third to one-half done. Which means there’s a lot of work yet still to do if I want to complete the first draft.

This one was the biggest mess I’ve written, and that’s including compared to my first NaNo. That one was a mess structurally because I had no idea what I was doing. This one is a huge mess in terms of the writing, which is all over the place. One of the only things that kept me moving was allowing myself to ramble. A lot.

If I ever complete it and go on to work on a second draft it will require not just cleaning up, deleting, and revising, but a lot of actual rewriting. But that’s not as daunting to me as it used to be. The idea of all that work involved used to mentally freak me out and make me want to quit, but I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy editing. So it doesn’t matter to me now nearly as much how messy the first draft is. At least it provides the framework of the story to work on.

So that’s been another valuable lesson. Don’t worry about what I’m spewing out, as long as the story I wanted to tell is located somewhere in the muck. Anything and everything can be fixed later, but you have to have something to fix in the first place before you can get anywhere.

I haven’t written any more on it since the last day of November. My motivation was low this year, so I’m enjoying the break from worrying about word count. But I hope that at some point in the coming months I’ll feel inspired enough to get back to it and see if I can get a second complete novel under my belt.

I hope the rest of you who participated this year had a successful NaNo. Even if you didn’t make it to 50k, if you wrote some part of a new original novel you accomplished something!

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In the fall of 2010 I was getting ready to do my second NaNoWriMo. I had jumped into my first one in 2009 five days late, with only vague ideas about what I’d be writing, and pretty much no clue what I was doing.

So when I got an email about a workshop being given specifically for NaNo 2010, I signed up. It was called Speed Drafting, and was taught by Renda Dodge, one of the Seattle NaNo Municipal liaisons. The workshop was free, but for $10 you could buy a workbook to go with it.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my 2010 NaNo was my most successful, both in terms of word count at the end of the month, and in terms of going on to actually finish the novel once November was over. I learned a lot at the workshop, and then taking time to fill out the workbook in the days following helped me really get a handle on the story I wanted to write.

The workbooks that Renda created were what I’d call teaching workbooks. They weren’t just worksheets to fill out, they contained a lot of information about hooks, plot types, types of endings, and so on. Last year Renda published a book called, The Indie Writer’s Workshop, which covers a lot more material than just what was presented in the workshop I took. I haven’t seen the book, but I’d imagine it’s helpful to beginning writers.

This year I decided I wanted to create my own workbook to help me get focused on plotting my novel. I’ve been thinking that might help me be more successful again. I used Renda’s workbook as a starting point, adapting some her questions to my workbook. I rearranged some things to be more linear to fit how my brain works, and I also added a lot of my own material. It’s a bare bones workbook, with nothing in the way of teaching materials.

The main idea is that the workbook helps you brainstorm ideas for your characters and plot, so you have something to work from to write your novel. If you’re not a big planner, I think the brainstorming can still help, in that you get a bunch of ideas in your head about the story you want to tell. And if you are an outliner, you can use the worksheets to help you create the outline. (Which is what I intend to do.)

As I was working on it, I thought others might find it useful, so some of it is designed with that in mind. Originally I was going to host it on Google Docs so anyone could go and download it, but when I went to sign up I wasn’t happy with some things in the TOS.

So instead I’ll just offer that anyone who would like a copy can email me using the contact form (tab at the top of this page), and I’ll email it to you. (For privacy, feel free to use a fake name and a throwaway email address*.) You can request either Word .doc format or .rtf format. It’s designed to be printed out and written on, it’s not a form you can use on your computer.

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* Everyone should have what I call a throwaway email address. Sign up at Gmail, Yahoo, or some other free email site and create an email account that is specifically for using when you don’t want to reveal your real info. That way you can register at various sites around the web without any worries.

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NaNoWriMo 2012

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It’s almost that time again! The Office of Letters and Light are gearing up for National Novel Writing Month.

For those unfamiliar with the event, thousands of people from all over the world attempt to write a novel in a month. The goal is to write at least 50K words in the thirty days of November.

At lot of people think about writing, but never get around to actually doing it. Or like me, have dabbled in the past, but never got anywhere. By signing up and committing to do NaNo, it pushes you to finally take that big step and DO IT. Having people from all over the world cheering you on to success is a big help.

The beauty of the thing is that by having a short deadline with a challenging, but doable word count goal, it frees people up from the things that may otherwise hold them back from writing. Constant forward momentum is the key.

The mantra of NaNo is: Don’t edit.

What’s that you say? Don’t edit? No, that can’t be!

YES! Editing is for later. NaNo is for the (very) rough draft. By stuffing your inner editor into a locked trunk and letting the words flow, regardless of how craptastic they may be, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. It doesn’t matter if what you write is complete drivel, you can fix it later.

Some people call NaNo a contest, and it is in a sense. But you are not competing against other people, you’re competing against yourself and the deadline. No one ever sees what you write, unless you personally show it to them. The writing is not judged. The only thing you have to do to win is to write the first 50K words of an original novel before midnight on November 30th.

This will be my fourth NaNo, plus I did the summer Camp NaNo in 2011. I’ve won all three NaNos, I failed at camp. Out of those three wins I’ve only gone on to complete one of the novels after November was over. (NaNo 2010.) I even went on to completing a second draft. But then I stopped there, because I just don’t have the skill necessary to make it into a polished manuscript at this stage.

So what’s the point of even doing it, you ask? The first year I took it up as a personal challenge. I just wanted to see if I could even do it, since the most fiction I’d ever written prior to that was a few pages here and there. The sense of accomplishment I felt when I crossed the 50K mark at the very end of the month was a feeling that is impossible to describe.

And best of all? I can actually say I have written a novel! How many people do you know who can say that? (If you regularly hang with published authors, don’t answer.)

After my first time I was just kinda hooked on participating. It’s exciting, painful, frustrating, and elating. Plus, I got my best friend involved for my second year, so now we participate together and she’s a great writing buddy.

I will likely never be a skilled enough fiction writer to submit my work to a publisher. But I’ve already learned so much about writing it’s incredible. And it makes for a great hobby!

If any of this sounds the least bit intriguing, go to nanowrimo.org, click on Help in the upper right corner, and read the participation information and guidelines. Then sign up!

What have you got to lose? Even if you only write 5K, if that’s more than you’ve ever written before you accomplished something. And you’ll gain an entirely new appreciation for the authors who write the books you love to read, I guarantee it.

For tips on why I think timelines are important in writing novels, see my NaNo post from 2010 here.

Maybe I’ll see you around the NaNo forums. Though, I go incognito there.

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