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How Participating in NaNoWriMo Can Help You Be a Better Writer - Guest Post by Rachel H.T. Mendell


It's Swap-It Saturday!!! Please welcome Rachel H.T. Mendell to the blog! She will be talking about what she's learned from many (MANY) years of participating in NaNoWriMo! Whether you've done NaNo before or have never even heard of it, these are great tips for setting deadlines and following through! I am over at her blog talking about how to beat query letter frustrations, so pop in and say hi! I'd love to see you there =) Take it away, Rachel!

In 1997 I walked into the living room and announced to my family, “It's finished! My first book is done!” It had only taken me nine months to write. Since then, I have learned a lot about writing novels. Joining other writers for National Novel Writing Month each November sharpened the skills I already had and intensified my focus.

I first tried NaNoWriMo back in November of 2006. I was writing for the paper, but I really wanted to be freelance. I hoped a finished novel could propel me to the ranks of the Successfully Published Authors.

I've participated every year since 2006. I did not win every year (reach 50,000 by November 30). Failure always hits me hard, but it taught me some valuable lessons about myself and attaining the goals I set.

THE YEARS I DID NOT WIN

  1. I failed to be at my computer working on my novel every day

  2. My idea for plot and characters ran out of steam – I didn't have a plan

  3. I'm no good as a Pantser (writing by the seat of my pants)

  4. I had too many words left to write in the final 5 days and just plain ran out of time

The Pantser method did not work for me. I tried the challenge once from the seat of my pants only because I totally forgot about NaNoWriMo until the last days of October. I was able to push myself to write drivel, but planning ahead makes the experience much more enjoyable.

THE YEARS I DID WIN!

  1. I gave myself permission to write complete and utter drivel

  2. I pushed myself to write every day, even when I didn't feel like it

  3. I created a plan ahead of time, a plot, a few characters, a setting, and emergency rations

  4. I kept to my daily word count and tried to more than I needed to each day

Writing a novel in one month gave me confidence in my ability to make my fingers fly. With practice I was able to crank out 2,000 words in one to two hours.

Writing a novel in a month gave me the ability to take on more and longer writing projects during the year. Hey, if I can write 50,000 words in a month, think what I could do in a year.

Completing a novel, beginning, middle and end, created a story pacing inside of my head. Anyone who writes novels will tell you that as you move along you get the “feel” for what needs to happen next: a catchy problem, a flawed character, a side kick, a little backstory, a little dialogue, action, a character fault, another character fault, a descent in to a dark night, a little relief, more trouble and still more trouble, resolution, explanation, and happy ending.

Persistence is the queen. If you are persistent, every day, you will reach your goal.

Deadline is the king. The deadline is what makes the race to the finish line work. Sure, you can poke at a novel a few days a week forever, but without a deadline, it might never get done. Now I give myself deadlines for everything I do.

I'm an introvert and love doing projects all by myself with no input from anyone. But I learned that having a few people by my side, encouraging me once in a while, brainstorming when I need it, cheering me on, poking me in the side when I fall asleep, really helps. There is an internal accountability nudging me when I know there are people out there, even if it's only cyberspace, who know who I am and know I am trying to write a book. I don't want to let them down.

SOME ADVICE FOR WHEN YOU SIGN UP

  • Give yourself permission to write nonsense.

  • Give yourself permission to poke at it a few times a day.

  • Give yourself permission to write side stories about each of the characters, playing with their backstories and creating connections between them to see what they do. This content may be cut if you decide to edit your novel at some point, but every time I did this exercise I discovered a new event, a new character connection that propelled my novel ahead.

  • Choose someone you can trust to brainstorm with you. I had friends to help me create names, situations, settings, and possibilities. Last year (NaNoWriMo 2016) I asked my 16-year-old daughter to help me with the plot. She created some interesting characters and also thought up some great scenarios that would have the reader chasing wild geese. It was fun. I didn't always follow her ideas, but our little chats always always, always sparked enough material to get through another 1,700 words for the day. There was also the added irritating benefit of the daily, “Mommy, did you get your word count in?” … usually when I was relaxing in front of a movie I wanted to watch.

A FEW TIPS FOR MEETING WORD COUNT

  • Make sure you write more than you have to each day. The exact word count to get you to exactly 50,000 by November 30 is 1,667. I pushed for 2,000 words. Even if you only write one word more (1,668), you will have an edge on the next day's writing.

  • Schedule some days that you can do two or three writing sessions – for me that was Saturdays and Sundays. This is a great way to catch up or work ahead.

  • If you have to skip a writing day, do it. Just make sure you increase your daily count proportionally.

Plan ahead

  • During the month of October plan your writing sessions, prepare your family and friends for your marathon, and gather helps for when you get stuck

  • Sign up for NaNoWriMo online. They have pep talks, writing prompts, 5 minute writing sprints, local write-ins, and lots of help for the 200,000+ folks that do it every year.

  • Have a basic plot – a problem to solve – a situation to work through

  • Have a setting

  • Have characters you have been getting to know, taking notes, talking to them when you are waiting in the doctor's office, listening to them talk so you can get that dialog right, thinking up quirky and strange back story that will or will not be included in your final draft.

  • Keep a stash of snacks and extra coffee on hand. Stock up!

RESOURCES TO HELP YOU

National Novel Writing Month Website – encouragement, rules, advice from those who have gone before, quirky thoughts and inspiration, online communities, Word Sprints, hook-ups with other WriMos, and a long list of books that were written during NaNoWriMo and eventually published. Some day my book will be on that list.

No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty – This book tells the story of how National Novel Writing Month got started in 1999 and the craziness that grew exponentially since those first 20-some people tried to write a novel in a month. Baty gives advice and encouragement to those of us who have a difficult time coming up with 1,700 words every single day.

Fast Fiction and The Playful Way to Serious Writing are two gems by Roberta Allen I use. They will help inspire you during the third-week doldrums.

Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days by Denise Jaden – Last year I used this book to help me focus on my goal. Jaden's book gives tons of advice for the planning stage of NaNoWriMo in October (which is allowed), daily encouragement and prompts for all 30 days and even a chapter on what to do with your novel once you have gotten your “WINNER” award. I plan on using this book again for National Novel Writing Month 2017.

I'm excited about my 2017 novel-to-be. Come see me on the NaNoWriMo website to see what it's about!

Rachel H.T. Mendell writes freelance from home in her office that she grabbed when her sixth child moved out (it's much nicer than the converted closet she wrote in for almost 20 years). Rachel writes novels, poetry, plays, essays, novels, columns, articles, short stories, novels, long letters, guest blogs, devotionals and experimental allegory. She has been published in various magazines as well as the Galion Inquirer, The Morrow County Sentinel, the Crestline Advocate and online at Richland Source. You can find a few of her articles in Heart of Ohio Magazine and floating around cyberspace. You can find her books “Love to Write Every Day” and “Love to Write Every Day Workbook” on Amazon. She keeps a blog, Domestic Mobility, and has recently started a website. Rachel happily answers emails at mendell.rachel7@gmail.com. She is married and has seven children and one grandson. When Rachel is not writing, she's gardening, caring for chickens, rabbits, cats and taking walks around the property. She lives with her family in Morrow County, Ohio.

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