How to Turn a NaNoWriMo Loss into a Long-Term Win

NaNoWriMo Participant 2017So here we are in November, and a whole load of overly optimistic (or overly crazy) writers around the world are heads down writing like mad for NaNoWriMo. Chances are you know lots of people doing it, but if you don’t know what it is, National Novel Writing Month challenges you to write a 50k word novel in just 30 days. Yes, you have to be a little bit crazy to try it.

I’ve been that crazy six times already. But I’ve only hit that magical 50k three times (since having children, I’ve not managed to come anywhere close!)

As many people as you know doing NaNoWriMo, you’ll probably know just as many who decry it as a joke. An event that promotes terrible writing (by encouraging quantity of words over quality). And they’re right. It is more than likely that your NaNo novel will be terrible. As all first drafts usually are (especially when written in a caffeine-fuelled blur of just 30 days). But what does that matter? Your first draft never sees the light of day.

Many, probably most, NaNo novels will never find their way through to publication, and are destined to languish on hard drives, abandoned and forgotten. But there is light at the end of the literary tunnel here. Let me tell you about one of my NaNo stories.

In 2011, I hit NaNoWriMo with a story called The Bottle Stopper. It was about a little girl, eight years old, living in the care of her abusive uncle. She was blind, because he had blinded her. She worked in the back of his apothecary shop, bottling his ‘miracle medicine’, which was, in actual fact, nothing more than river water and a sprig of lavender. I won that year, penned 50k words. 50k awful words. 50k words that sat on my hard drive for years.

In October 2015, I published The Bottle Stopper. It certainly wasn’t the 2011 version, nor was it any of the other three versions that had followed. It’s still about a girl, but she’s 17 now, and she can see perfectly well. The abusive uncle is still there, and she still bottles his medicine. Beyond that, it bears very little relation to the original.

But that idea, those characters, and that conflict carried through to the book as it is today. It may have taken another four years, but that book was finished, and published. It also contained a whole supporting cast of characters rescued from other unfinished books (some of which were written for NaNo). The Bottle Stopper is the first book of The Paper Duchess quadrilogy.

So what I’m saying is this: a good idea never dies. Even if your NaNo novel is utter trash, the ideas are salvageable. The characters can be resurrected. And the story can still be played out. Some day. And my terrible NaNo novel evolved into an entire series. So a loss at NaNo doesn’t need to be a loss forever. It can, in time, become a great big win.

Insecure Writer's Support GroupThis post was written as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Onwards and Upwards

Insecure Writers Support GroupToday is November’s instalment of Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which sees hundreds of writers and bloggers worldwide discuss their own insecurities, support others with theirs, and offer advice for overcoming them. If you want to check out the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

I’ve been thinking hard over the last few days, trying to figure out what I’m feeling insecure about this month. Strangely; nothing. (That’s so unusual for me, I’m actually wondering if that very fact should be making me feel insecure: maybe I’ve forgotten something.)

But actually, I’m feeling pretty positive. Although, that in itself may seem bizarre in the light of a few facts: I’ve just released my latest book, and I’m waiting for reviews. I’m failing miserably at NaNoWriMo, and it’s only day 4. I’m working on my next book, the second in the series, so I should be worrying that it won’t match up to the first. I still haven’t tackled formatting my paperback, and time is not on my side with this.

So, where on earth is this positive feeling coming from?

I’ll tell you. Because, despite everything, I’m still going. I’m still moving forward, albeit at my own pace. But that is no bad thing. I don’t care if I win NaNoWriMo or not. Because the 50,000 word limit, the 30 day deadline, that’s someone else’s rules, and I’m doing well living by my own right now. I’d rather end November with 30,000 good, usable words, than 50,000 worth of drivel.

So this is my advice for you today:
Ignore the people telling you you’re doing it wrong. Ignore the conflicting advice, and the ‘should be’s, and the ‘would be’s. Because if you’re happy doing your own thing, and it’s working well for you, that’s all the proof you need. You’re doing great, so carry on!

Why I’m a NaNoWriMo Participant

NaNoWriMo Participant 2015November brings with it the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which sees writers all over the world attempt the crazed feat of writing a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

I’ve participated several years, but haven’t managed to complete the challenge since 2011. But, I’m feeling positive this year. My life is very different, and I have more time to write than I have for a long time.

Everyone comes to NaNoWriMo for different reasons. In fact, every year I do it, I approach it with a different goal in mind, a different attitude.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that NaNoWriMo is a game for ‘pretend writers’, or ‘people who wish they were writers’. That it floods the self-publishing market with drivel, that it promotes bad writing. That’s fine, and they’re entitled to their opinion. What they’re not entitled to, is to tell someone else they’re wrong for doing it.

Everyone writes in different ways, uses different methods, strategies, routines, and rituals. The important thing is finding out what works for you, and running with it. Not telling other writers they’re doing it wrong simply because they do it differently.

For me, NaNoWriMo promotes some good writing habits:

  1. Writing every day. Real life always gets in the way of writing. There are emergencies, unexpected events, and the basic need to spend time with the people around you. The real people that is. And writing daily is a habit that can easily fall by the wayside. But it is a good habit, and it’s easy to get rusty and out of practice.
  2. Turning off the inner editor. So many writers simply have trouble allowing themselves to simply write. And to write badly. All first drafts need work, that’s why they’re first drafts, rather than final drafts. And the sheer speed required by NaNo, means that there is no time to listen to that inner editor, to keep going over and over the same parts to get them perfect.
  3. Getting something finished. I’m not good at finishing things I start. I’m a giver-upper, and I always have been. When things get tough, I’m always tempted to throw in the towel. But the sense of competition (against both my fellow NaNoers and that little word count graph) keeps me going. I can finish things by myself, I’ve proved that, but I find using NaNo helps. So, why not?

I know that a lot of what I produce during NaNo will end up as a sacrifice to the big red editing pen, but then, a lot of any first draft does.

And, why should I worry about what anyone else is doing? Whether they’re writing terrible fiction, whether they’re planning on sending that terrible fiction to agents, or publishers, or planning on publishing it themselves. There was bad fiction before NaNo, and there’ll be bad fiction after it too. We’ve all written it at some point.

So, that’s why I participate in NaNo. Be a naysayer if you will, but live and let live. If it works for someone, don’t criticize them for it.