NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Officially, NaNoWriMo.org emphasizes the month of November. The essential idea is that a writer sets a goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.
I only got to 12,000, but that is the best I’ve ever done. So I did get my shirt, this year, for the first time. I decided I can wear it in good conscience. Let me tell you why.
First of all: Plague Year. The deluxe version, with Trump in charge. So move that challenge setting all the way to the top. Under such circumstances, getting anything done on my novel, at all, should count extra. The exponential effect of 400% then becomes downright reasonable.
I first tried NaNoWriMo in 2013, when I had a lot of non-fiction under my belt. This helped me feel ready to admit I could never leave that beguiling, fickle, partner known as fiction. I accumulated less than 2,000 words on my various November attempts since then, until this year. What changed?
One important angle I learned is to embark on this 50k/30 days trick at the drafting stage of my novel. I start by throwing ideas into some kind of outlining program. At this point, they can be in any order, and made of paragraph fragments. But when the ideas sprout into actual characters, interacting in scenes, I’m ready to start drafting those pieces into being.
Despite 2.5 completed novels, a top NYC agent, and considerable cleverness and determination, I never made it “over the top” to actual publication. Deeply frustrated and actually angry, I turned to non-fiction blogging. I created a following, honed my craft, and self-published my first book, The Way of Cats. I was ready to get back into the arena.
When I’m outlining, scenes arrive in my brain in any order. That’s how I draft them, too. One of the beauties of our tech age is the abundance of wonderful programs to keep this ball rolling. My absolute favorite word processor is Scrivener. But I don’t, necessarily, draft with it.
Drafting is the first setting of actual prose on paper. Not the scraps of ideas of the outline stage, nor the buffed-up product of the polish stage. Drafts run free and wild. I let them pour out in all kinds of ways.
I have dictated them into my phone in the middle of a forest, or used Microsoft SwiftKey Keyboard with my iPad, standing in line at the deli. My current favorite method is a Chromebook and this site: Writer, the Internet Typewriter. I find this the ultimate in cheap portability.
We need to let our brains go anywhere, and that’s why the proper tool combination is so valuable. Because the drafting process isn’t about the fiddly bits. Not about editing and not about stopping.
To speak in simplified neurological language, drafting is left-brained, while editing is right-brained. For best results, do not cross the streams.
It takes some discipline to simply keep going. Even though we just used a cliche and committed a typo and what an awful name we gave that person who appeared in the scene out of nowhere. Does not matter. That’s what Second/Third/Fourth Draft and the whole Polishing stage is for.
First Draft is the magic time. The quickest way to break the spell is to stand over our creative child like some schoolmaster. This is one of the reasons I use a different device and program for First Drafting than I do for the later stages, when my Mac and Scrivener really shines. Using the correct thinking and tools is how we train our brain to stay in their lane.
This year, my cozy mystery, The Cat’s Pajamas, signaled me it was ready for the First Draft stage in late October. After years of research, and months of throwing ideas into Mindmeister, the planets were aligning.
I planned this book as the first in a series, set in the Roaring Twenties. Such a demanding task, combining multiple book longevity with historical context, doesn’t necessarily require such a long on-ramp. Many a writer found their main character demanded more adventures, or one compelling image was enough to launch into drafting. My own workflow seems to work best when rooted in deep topsoil, at the point where I’ve accumulated enough scenes at the sentence, or paragraph, stage.
When we get ready for any 50,000 words in any 30 days, go for it. This is about Flow, that elusive creative stage discovered and named by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. When we are running on curvy roads in this new muscle car, learning when to shift, how to lean into the turn, and the best way to handle the accelerator, we drive.
We keep driving until we get to the garage. That is when we tune the carb, rotate the tires, and give it a loving wash and polish. Only then.
If we focus on drafting and do not stop, we arrive at 50,000 words, which is enough for the next stage. I’m still drafting. I will draft until I get to the end. I’ll figure out where everything fits, later. Only then will I correct typos and give them better names.
Until then, I put my mental pedal to the imagination metal and drive like a bat out of hell. Window open, grinning big enough to get bugs in my teeth, soaking up the amazing scenery.
That’s how we get a novel.
Yes, my cozy mystery has a cat in it. (A theme in my life.) Check out my author page on Amazon. +Follow me to get notified of my novel-in-progress, The Cat’s Pajamas.
Chromebooks come with the Google Suite, which includes the Docs word processor for turning that draft into a polished work. Both Writer and Docs will work offline, too. Because we still shouldn’t be hanging in that coffee shop. Yet.
TaMara here – I’m happy to highlight our authors’ works, just send me an email and we’ll get started.