Things I’m learning from NaNoWriMo

I suffered a crisis of confidence during this last week of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). One week left to write–including Thanksgiving day–and I still had 18,000 words to go.

Could I do it? Maybe.

Was it worth it? I was starting to be less and less certain.

I’ve been demanding a bit more of myself during this year’s event. I’ve been revising (a big no-no) and doing a fair bit of pre-writing, so that when I did write, the material was good. It’s been great for my page output—I’ve written far more than I would have otherwise—but with 18K to the finish line and far too few days to write them, revision and pre-writing would have to go by the wayside. Doubt attacked. Should I be pushing so hard? Am I neglecting family in order to meet a meaningless goal? Will I even be able to use the writing I’m producing?

Time and again, reason told me to quit. Time and again, I kept plugging forward. I knew I probably couldn’t make it, but I couldn’t…quite…give up.

There are a few days left until the finish and, miraculously, I think I’m going to make it. In the end, this year’s NaNo is proving to be incredibly beneficial, despite all my doubts to the contrary. So…here’s my partial list of what I’ve learned during this month of craziness:

  1. You know those little motivational emails NaNo sends out every week to encourage writers forward? They really help. Encouragement isn’t a waste of time, but a way to refill my creative tank.
  2. When doubt attacks, just keep plugging forward. Experience shows that I’ll (eventually) come out on the other side.
  3. I’ve learned that if I practice long enough, even I—and avowed pen-and-paper gal—can learn to write first draft material on the keyboard. It’s much faster!
  4. Even when I feel like I’m writing useless schlock, it’s never long before the scene starts to come to life for me. Maybe I won’t be able to use this draft of the novel word for word, but through the practice of intense word production, I’ve made discoveries that will appear in the final draft. Over and over again.
  5. Reaching for an impossible-seeming goal stretches me in more ways than I ever expect. It’s led to a month of rediscovering what I value about writing—and rediscovering how to balance writing with the rest of my life. It’s also stretched my ability to write quickly, which is a valuable thing for any writer to learn to do.

Even if I don’t write another  word this month, I’ve already gained more than expected from this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Sometimes, pushing yourself is the only way to discover what you’re capable of doing…and discovering your best is, I think, one of the keys to thriving on the writer’s road.

:-) Cheryl

The Barefoot Burglar

I’m writing draft #1 of my latest YA novel—and every once in a while, I lose my forward momentum. That’s usually a sign that I’m missing something. Even though I *attempt* to do a thorough job mapping out plot, characters, and setting ahead of time, I hit inevitable bumps and hitches when I actually write the story. The trick is knowing what to do about them.

One of my favorite strategies is to travel to the area where the story is set—in this case, in the San Juan Islands in the Pacific NW. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds to hop on a plane, fly up there, and rent a sailboat for a week, so sometimes I substitute research of a more practical bent…like reading the area’s local newspaper.

You gotta love living in a time when you can read about the sheriff’s clothing choice at a recent speech to the San Juan Lion’s Club, or find a blow-by-blow account of the Wolverines’ latest soccer match.

Not that I’ll use the soccer game scores in my book. However, the case of the barefoot burglar is definitely going to inspire some local color for the tale.

The barefoot burglar is a local teen who’s been on an 18-month spree of breaking and entering, theft, and, most recently, joyriding in airplanes. Apparently, he has little trouble avoiding the local police force—which shouldn’t be such a big surprise, because the islands don’t have the manpower to track down one kid on several islands filled with vacation homes, trees, deer, and the occasional bald eagle.

My favorite character in the tale isn’t the kid, though. It’s the mother, who threatened to chase reporters off her property with a shotgun—and then proceeded to give them a lengthy interview. She talks about her son with a mixture of sympathy, worry, and pride. She told reporters "I hope to hell he stole those airplanes — I would be so proud. But put in there that I want him to wear a parachute next time." (from Gene Johnson’s AP article “Teenage burglar moves on to stealing planes, eludes police on islands north of Seattle”.)

Yeah, this is the kind of character detail that makes me grin. Two sentences and you can totally picture this woman, right? Thanks, Ms. Kohler. You’ve helped me find my way back into the story!

:-) Cheryl

Another brain-body link

As a writer who always has more projects than time to pursue them,* I’m always tempted to spend all my free time writing. ALL, as in skipping meals, sleep, exercise, laundry, and other more or less essential activities.

You probably all know what a bad idea that is…but just in case you need some extra encouragement to step outside your writing space occasionally, recent research published in the Journal of Health Psychology found a direct link between exercise and how people feel about their appearance. That is, people who exercise have a better body image than those who don’t—whether or not they’re actually physically fit. It seems that the act of exercise boosts self-esteem, even if the exercise doesn’t immediately knock off twenty pounds.

In my experience, I write more quickly and productively when I feel good about myself. Kinda cool to know that, in addition to all its other benefits, exercise can help keep my mind in a great place to create!

So…get out and exercise. And then write!

:) Cheryl

*This is a character trait, not a simple question of needing more time; my project list grows to fill all available time plus 25-50%. Believe me, I’ve tested.