I signed up for NaNoWriMo once before, and tried it unofficially another time, and I didn't finish either time. I didn't even come close. Finishing, and finishing early on top of it, felt really, really good!
Here are a few things I learned over the last month (in no particular order)
- It's good to have a plan.
- I'm usually a pantser (someone who discovers the story as she writes, rather than plotting first), but this time I started out with what I called a Fuzzy Synopsis (as opposed to the legendary Dreaded Synopsis) - it was just a vague plan of my story arc and the points I wanted to hit. I kept the file open a lot and it became a place to throw things I saw coming down the road, but that I hadn't gotten to yet.
- I also used a calendar. For years, my writers group's "Goals Guru" *lizzie has encouraged us to use a desk calendar to track our writing progress through the year. I've never been good with the paper calendars and usually track it in my Google Calendar instead. NaNoWriMo turned out to be an exception, thanks to a lucky purchase. Months ago, I bought a $1 calendar mouse pad at the craft store. It was a horrible failure as a mouse pad, but it's the perfect size to keep on a little stand between my keyboard and the shelf my laptop sits on. On it, I tracked each day's goals and progress.
- I needed a better plan for laundry. I washed the clothes, but very few of them got put away. I've been wearing wrinkled clothes from a basket for three weeks. Hopefully by next November, LilGirl will be well-trained in putting away her own clothes. I won't hold out the same hope for Hubby - that's a battle I gave up on years ago. But we will have a better system in place by then. We won't even talk about the rest of the housework.
- It's good to reward yourself. Some nights it was tough to make my word count. On Monday nights I bribed myself to get done early so I could watch Big Bang Theory. Other nights, I told myself that as soon as I was done I could watch the new episode of The Guild. Once or twice, the bribe was a shower. I tried to keep the bribes non-food-based, but I have to admit there were nights the bribe was a piece of dark chocolate.
- It's good to reward your family, too. The last couple days of writing were tough on LilGirl. Her reward for letting me finish was getting out the Christmas dollhouse we haven't taken out of the box since we moved into this house four years ago.
- Sometimes you have to be your own Jillian Michaels. Sunday, the final day, was the hardest. I knew I had to do 8000 words in two days, which is more than I've ever done in that amount of time. A strong feeling of being overwhelmed started to come over me, but I knew I would kick myself forever if I came so close to finishing and didn't make it. So I broke out the sticky notes and the Sharpie and wrote myself a note that said "Four sets of 2000 words and you're done!" 2000 words is less than I had been doing each night. It was do-able. I promised myself a break between each set and got to work on the first one. It worked. Even though I had another day to finish, once three sets were done and it was only 6:00 pm, I knew I'd finish on Sunday. The last 2000 words were the hardest. My brain was full of all sorts of other things I could be doing, like reorganizing my bookmarks or cleaning my keyboard. I wrote another note, "2000 words to go! WooHoo!" and stuck it to the calendar, then dove in. A couple hours later, I was done. (You can see the sticky notes stuck to the calendar in the picture above)
- The rumors that you don't shower much during NaNo is totally true. Sorry to those of you who had to put up with my stinkiness.
- I can do this! After struggling along with another story for literally years, it was good to set that one aside and come out with a whole new story in under a month. Yes, it needs a lot of editing (boy, does it ever!) but it's light years ahead of the other story for the amount of time I've spent on it. This has extinguished one doubt among many about my future writing career - that I can work to deadline without having to spend years on a single story. I've given myself a deadline for editing and submitting my NaNo story, then I hope I'll be able to return to the other story with renewed vigor and finish it. By next November, I should be ready to jump into another fresh story and do it all over again.