Please Don’t Hate Me: How to Over Achieve at NaNo.

I am having a great NaNoWriMo. Ridiculously so. 8 days in, I have a wordcount of 42218, a daily average of 5277. I’m on track to achieve my goal of a complete novel in November (my goal is 100, 000 words). I have become, in short, the exact type of writer who, this time last year, was the bane of my NaNo experience. Last year, I plodded slowly along, struggling to hit the daily minimum. In fact, most NaNos, I have plodded along in the dust of my faster writing friends.

So, what went right?

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I’ve completed NaNo a few times, but I’ve never written a complete book. I thought I was just a slow writer. Then I discovered Rachel Aaron’s writing productivity book, From 2k to 10k: How to write faster, write better and write more of what you love. Great title, right? It’s a brilliant book. Rachel Aaron spells out the importance of managing your time, planning what you write (such as spending 5 minutes before a writing session jotting down what the important points of that scene are and how you’re going to get to them) so that you spend your writing time as efficiently as possible, and bringing enthusiasm to your work. Most importantly of all, in addition to sharing her methods, she makes you believe that you can do it. That however you write, by studying your writing habits and tweaking your surroundings, you can refine your methods and improve your output. That belief alone is pretty much worth the buying the book for (although she shares the gem of her book for free on her blog. Read it here).

Now, Rachel’s methods are very much geared towards plotters rather than pantsers. I am somewhere in the middle of both camps, and while the first days went by in a rush of words and enthusiasm and 5k days, by day 4, it was becoming a bit of a drag to get up at 5:00 am and write, even with my notes ready to guide me. I was still hitting my daily goals (3334 — which is really good! On par with my best days of previous NaNos!) but I wasn’t hitting the 5k highs that I was. I was bored.

So I turned to the enthusiasm part of Rachel’s equation, and spent some time reminding myself why I love these crazy characters. I compiled my book for epub and read it, and was surprised to see that all of the horrible things I imagined were wrong with my story weren’t there. Weird. I also discovered that while big blocks of uninterrupted writing time work very well for Rachel Aaron, but that when I’m struggling with the enthusiasm side, that short sprints work best for me. Sprints stop me worrying, and once I’m past that initial barrier, my enjoyment of the story carries me through. It will even carry into fresh, unplotted scenes, and that varying planned and unplanned writing gives me the mix I need to keep enjoying putting words on computer screen. I — and this is not the case for most writers I know — live alone, so it can get pretty lonely. Sprints (and the lovely M/M Writers comm) provide a social aspect to writing that I find absolutely essential at these times of lower enthusiasm.

Another really valuable thing that Rachel Aaron introduced me too was keeping tabs of when I write and how much I write. I’ve discovered that I am useless at night, unless I have sprints to keep me on track. I also discovered that the only thing I accomplish trying to write in breaks at work is frustrating myself. I looked at the numbers, realised it wasn’t worth it, and decided to use that time to read. I am reading articles by authors about writing, and a collection of books about writing books, Writing Success. I’m still working my way through it, but so far I’ve got a lot out of the parts written by James Scott Bell and Mary Demuth.

What I learnt from James Scott Bell (in addition to his advice on plot structure, which I got from Write Your Novel From the Middle another book that I highly recommend), is goal setting. He suggests looking at what you achieve now, increasing that by 10%, and believing that you can do that. I’d sort of subconsciously done this already, by deciding that I was going to increase my output with Rachel Aaron’s advice, and it really is amazing how quickly 3000 words a day became my new ‘minimum’ and 5000 words became ‘normal.’ I think the fact that I am writing so well right now is a combination of Aaron and Bell’s advice working in tandem. He also recommends things like checking your e-mail only twice a day, which I need to start doing. I have a bad habit of sitting in my inbox, waiting for an e-mail.

Mary Deluth, on the other hand, mentions that you’ve got to take care of yourself. She reminds us that it is important to have a writing support group, but it is also important to have people who care about you the person, and with whom you can share all parts of your story-writing journey. She puts this in spiritual terms, but it really is just taking care of you. I recently decided to share the fact I write gay romance with my Mum, and she responded far better than I ever imagined — by giving me story advice (“Why don’t you let your vampires have a little dog. Dogs make everything better.”) Talking to Mum about what I want my stories to express and what I am struggling with has contributed to me being much more centred and focused when I sit down to write (even though her advice drives me nuts– they’re vampires! How are they going to let the dog out during the day?).

James Scott Bell and Mary Deluth also recommend reading. Previous NaNos I have said “I don’t have time to read!” but by devoting dead/unproductive time at school to reading, I make myself enthusiastic and excited about writing, and keep myself fresh. And I get to read!

And finally, in totally personal changes, I am making all the use I can of my slow cooker and freezer! I have been making soups, curries, stews, anything that cooks slowly and freezes well. I made a big batch of baked oatmeal, cut it into slices and voila! A week and two days of breakfasts! I’ve also been baking one big thing at the weekend. Chocolate cake, apple cake, last night I made scones.  Having an afternoon snack waiting when I get back from work means that I don’t go to the convenience store, buy junk food and then crash a couple of hours later (I can load up my baking with fruit, etc). Baking makes me feel creative and happy, and it is a complete project, so I feel like I accomplished something (I am a goal orientated person who likes finishing things). So it is a nice little boost/change of pace.

I’m aware that my circumstances are different and that I have a lot of advantages — a quiet apartment to write in, only myself to cook and clean for — that other writers don’t have. But I hope that by showing how I took Rachel Aaron’s methods and tweaked them to my own circumstances/writing style, I can encourage others to experiment and try something new.

Thanks for reading! Thank you too to LM Brown for offering feedback on this post! Please let me know if this helped, or if you have discovered a method or resource that really helped you take your writing further!

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