Saturday, November 14, 2009

The NaNoWriMo Experience!

The Joy of NaNoWriMo: Or Crystal Meth for Writers
By Cat Connor

For the last three years, I have taken part in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. The first year wasn’t a success for me, but it set me up. I had a taste. I knew what was possible and I liked it.

The second year, I discovered I was already signed up to do NaNoWriMo. No conscious choice needed. I knew I wasn’t prepared to have a string of failures under my belt. I had to do it. (And I was already using familiar terms to explain what I was doing. “I’m doing Nano, you?”)

The joy of pounding the keyboard got me over the dreadful frustrating slowness of the NaNoWriMo site. I ignored everyone and everything around me. I told my kids I was busy and wouldn’t be available for anything all month. And unless there was copious blood and or unconsciousness involved the little ones (and grown ones) were to leave me alone. I got so organized I surprised myself. I utilized the crock-pot to the fullest. I did everything required of me, quickly and efficiently, and it was on with the writing.

I did it. I wrote my first kiwi novel, a fun spy/thriller type novel that totally kicks ass. And one day when I get time, I will polish the hell out of it and send it out into the big wide world.

Last year – reeling from a string of rejections and disgruntled with the whole publishing industry I did Nano again. Same deal – I was already signed up (and I will not have a failure next to my name!) this time however I wanted to write the fourth book in a series. (Turns out it’s the fifth book, but never mind)

I did it and then some. I passed the 50,000-required words; I think the word count was around 80,000. The novel is tremendous (and sitting here waiting for polishing.) The difference in word count came from using established characters that I knew very well indeed. I still had no clue about plot. This didn’t matter, because frankly I never do when I start a story. It just happens. It was much easier writing with familiar characters.

It’s all looking rather straightforward. Hell, all you have to do is 50,000 words in 30 days. Easily achievable. (Yet I failed the first time but we don’t have to dwell on that.) It works out to fewer than 2,000 words a day. Then, I discovered that people actually planned for Nano! The whole thought of planning felt like cheating (and I struggled with being able to use established characters, because that felt like cheating too). Yet it’s apparently not. I didn’t plan for my first two attempts. I just sat down and wrote, no freaking clue about the characters that would show up, plot, none of it. I winged it from beginning to end. And it was fun but it wasn’t as easy as the third year.

This year, I thought I’d flag NaNoWriMo itself and do a 50k challenge at Backspace (a writer’s site I belong to) instead. That way I can write the 50k I want to write to finish a novel I’m working on. Then, I went over to the Nano site and found myself already signed up. (This is getting to be a habit.)

I have to do it. I just have to.

Time could be an issue. In all seriousness, this November may drive my family to the edge without adding Nanowrimo to the mix, and I suspect that all it will take is the whisper of Nano to make them throw themselves from the cliff.

Things have changed dramatically since November 2008 when I was an aspiring novelist collecting rejections. This year I have a publisher. My first novel is out and my second due for release on Nov 10th. (This means interviews, guest blogs, a release party, and all the other fun stuff that goes with a new release.) Then there is the little fact, that I’ll be away and be starting Nanowrimo two days late. Our youngest is now at afternoon kindergarten and that means 10 hours a week disappear into the great abyss. Plus, pre-Christmas craziness. Birthdays. School commitments.

Doing NaNoWriMo for the first time is probably not insane. Let’s face it – you don’t really know what it’s like until you’ve tried it. But there really is no excuse for the torturing of families beyond that once. That being said, I don’t know anyone who has only done it once. That’s the hook. You do it once just to see - but it’s insidious. It gets in, before you know it, thirty days are gone in a haze of word counts and challenges.

It’s like a drug.

It’s crystal meth for writers. (But even cheaper and easier to obtain.)

I’m sitting here dreading every second yet knowing I have to do it. The sad thing is I’ll love it while I’m doing it – while in the clutches of the frenzied writing watching that word count go steadily higher. Resenting every interruption, neglecting everyone except my characters. Living on adrenaline and coffee. Unable to sleep unless I’ve written at least 2,000 words a day, but not being happy until I achieve more.

It’s a drug.

I’m an addict. Hello, my name is Cat Connor and Nano is my drug of choice.

I fully expect to find NaNoWriMo on the DEA drug information list in the next few years. The effects are far reaching and it’s most definitely open for abuse. It’s worldwide and they’re already pushing it to kids.

Roll on November; I can’t wait to start my fourth Nano experience! I may be away from the keyboard for the first few days…but I’ll be writing longhand so I don’t get behind in word count.

So anyone else doing Nano?

You know you want to.

Cat Connor is a crime thriller writer. Catch her blog at: Click here Or find her on Twitter: Click here

National Novel Writing Month: Every Writer’s Cure
By Sera Rivers

Walking Sleep, throbbing eyes, anxious fingers – these are the symptoms of NaNoWriMo.

Don’t worry. There is a cure: November 30th.

Every autumn, exhilaration builds as I anticipate November 1st. I don’t know why, but the thought of writing 50k words in a mere 30 days is the greatest thrill I have ever encountered. I have successfully completed two NaNoWriMos, and cannot wait for this year’s to begin.

It is a love/hate relationship for me, but well worth the lack of sleep and pressure I force upon myself. The first year I joined just for fun. The book I wrote still sits on my hard drive. I was just testing my ability.

Last year, I wrote the first 54k of my memoir in November and completed the manuscript just three months later.

I have been revising my memoir all year. I often question the point of NaNoWriMo. Sure, I threw a plethora of words onto my computer screen; but I wonder: is the amount of work to perfect my haste worthwhile? Absolutely. There is certain honesty to throwing a story down on paper in a panicked surge. With a clock ticking away (how short of a month November is), there is no time for writer’s block, that perfect word, or layered characters.

The story must be written, skeletal, but written nonetheless.

The book I will write this year will detail my journey through the special education world to find a proper diagnosis for my son. I have written a rough draft of the back-story five years ago. I now want to incorporate what I’ve written with the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to create a finished manuscript. My work in child advocacy and my shared story on my website, Diagnosing Parents, has put the book in demand. While, I will not be able to “count” the words already written, NaNoWriMo will force me to complete the manuscript.

With two years under my belt, I believe myself to be a NaNoWriMo expert. I know what to avoid and what to embrace. The past two years were tricky for me because I worked fulltime. With much discipline – waking up earlier and staying up later to write (I calculated a minimum of 1668 words a day to win), I was able to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge. This year, I have time in my favor.

Thanks to the wonderful world of “unemployment,” I can methodically plot my daily writing assignments. I have outlined the book so I will stay on track. My next step will be to gather research material to have on hand for reference.


I better hurry. Time is drawing near.

NaNoWriMo is the trickiest game to play. It loves to throw life at me, despite my plans to do nothing but snuggle by the fire and write. NaNoWriMo has discovered the art of maneuvering time. Where does it go? Who gets to play with it? I remind myself that I must dodge rush hour traffic, avoid lengthy appointments and climb out of domestic duties. In order to defeat NaNoWriMo, I must contort, contract and crawl through small windows of time.

Ahh, NaNoWriMo. I live for the ecstasy. I live for the agony. Just 30 days of the year dedicated to nothing but words. It is a writer’s spiritual retreat. Some people fast; some people meditate; others journey to the highest or deepest parts of the earth; my spiritual journey begins each year with NaNoWriMo. It forces a new project for the forthcoming year.

Writers, I urge you, spend 30 days of your lives feeling nothing but nausea, insomnia, and utter despair. Join me for NaNoWriMo. Write. Write. Write!

I hope to see you at the finish line.

Sera Rivers is a writer, creative writing instructor, and child advocate. Writing credits include the Chicopee Special Needs Kids Examiner and Southwoods Literary Magazine. Sera is in the midst of editing her memoir, Don’t You Want Me?—a powerful story about her experiences growing up in a fanatically religious household, which led to her unhealthy patterns with men and a search for her true beliefs in God.

Learn more about Ms. Rivers via her websites:
Click here
Click here
Click here

Or contact her at:

NaNoWriMo Save My Life
By Emilie Staat

NaNoWriMo saved my life. Or at least, my writing.

Let me tell you a story.

Summer 1992. Two girls sit on the stairs of an apartment building, their heads and shoulders crowded close together over a notebook. They are ten and twelve, the only girls in the neighborhood, and they’re taking a break from roughhousing with the boys to work on a story. A., the elder, rolls her eyes as E., the younger, says, “We should re-read the whole story first. We can edit and we’ll remember where we left off.” A. takes the notebook and flips to a clean, fresh page, saying, “Let’s just get started.”

Summer 2007. A. is a nonfiction editor and a new mother. She doesn’t have time or energy to write. E. has just finished two writing degrees in seven years. She has a lot of ideas, but she doesn’t write. She is crippled by the critical voices in her head. They’re so loud that she can’t hear her characters speak to her. The characters whisper. The critical voices – they holler, “Show, don’t tell! This is garbage!”

Fifteen years changes a lot. It didn’t change my friendship with A. (for I am E., the younger), but we both had drifted so very far away from our youthful joy in our shared story. I’d just moved to a new city and started a new job as a paralegal. A. hadn’t written for years.

I don’t know where I first heard about National Novel Writing Month, but I know my first exposures to it were disdainful sneers about NaNoWriMo telling everybody that they can write, creating a hobby atmosphere around what some of us spend years and lots of money learning to do. In the fall of 2007, I felt very far away from the writing community I had spent years cultivating and really only knew one other writer in the city who I could talk to about what I was (writer) but wasn’t doing (writing).

So I researched NaNoWriMo – 50,000 words in one month! I bought the book, No Plot? No Problem! And I sent out the infamous e-mail. Confess to attempting something crazy so that whenever you’re tempted to quit, you’ll be too embarrassed not to keep going because you told all those people. And it works. I send the e-mail and asked my family and friends to support me by occasionally asking about my progress. A. received this e-mail and though we live 300 miles apart, distance has never distilled our friendship and she became my avid supporter.

I won NaNoWriMo 2007, which means I wrote 50,000 words in one month. It was one of the most freeing and educational experiences of my life. There was no time to worry about the quality of my writing. I could only write. Those crippling critical voices receded and my characters turned up their volume, sometimes screaming me awake in the middle of the night. The pace is so intense (over 2,000 words per day average) that you can only revel in your story and your characters, can only do your best to get their bones on the page. The flesh will come later, if it turns out your extended writing exercise is something you want to pursue.

A. and I did NaNoWriMo together last year, but neither of us finished. I cheated on the NaNo rules and tried to do 50,000 new words on an old book (my thesis). So while I didn’t finish, I actually did get a ton of new writing done. NaNoWriMo 2008 reminded A. that she’s a writer, not just an editor of other people’s work. Doing NaNoWriMo together – that reminded us both about the joy of playing with words that we knew so easily, instinctively, on that long-ago apartment staircase.

This year, A. and I have started early by sending each other writing exercises most days. For the first time, I’m reading the forums and talking to other participants in my area. When November 1st comes along, we’ll just get started. We’ll get our first NaNoWriMo Pep Talk and we’ll chuff each other along. And we’re gonna win this year. Because now that I’ve told you about our crazy attempt – we both just have to keep at it until we finish.

Emilie’s NaNoWriMo Must List:
Send the e-mail. My 2007 e-mail went like this, if you need a template:

“Dear Family and Friends,

I'm going to write a novel in November. As part of National Novel Writing Month (check out:, I will start writing a novel of 50,000 words November 1 and finish by midnight on the last day of November.

By reading this email, you've already done all I need you to do as my support team. NaNoWriMo recommends you tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel so that when you're tempted to quit, you can't possibly because people know you're doing it. So thanks!

If, in the course of November, you'd like to drop me a line of encouragement or ask me how the novel is coming, I'd love that. And of course, all of you should consider writing a novel in November as well!! NaNoWriMo favors output over literary quality. As they say -- December is for editing.

Those of you on this list are family members and writerly friends who I care about. In those dark days when I'll question what the hell I'm doing, knowing that *you know* I'm supposed to be writing a novel may just keep me going.

All my love and thanks,

Read Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! Cheap copies are available online.
Use the Write or Die application online. [ Click here]

When you finish each day’s writing, have goals for what scenes you want to write the next day.
Eat and sleep – try to maintain a schedule so you’re geared up to write when it’s time to write.

Emilie Staat lives and writes in New Orleans. She’s thatagirldarling on and maintains her sanity at her personal blog: Click here while finishing her first novel.

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