Please welcome Kim Bridges, a writer who works with our friends at Girl Friday Productions in Seattle, to the blog this morning. Kim, like myself and others on Book Country, will be participating in NaNoWriMo. To celebrate, Girl Friday Productions is offering a really exciting giveaway: a grand prize of a free edit of your manuscript! Five additional prizewinners will receive a swag pack from Girl Friday Productions. Go here to learn more about the giveaway.
With the changing of the seasons comes one of my favorite times of the year: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. NaNoWriMo takes place in November, and the goal is to write 50,000 words by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. In addition to the word count, the ultimate goal of NaNo is to complete a draft. Parts of the draft will be bad (there’s no way to avoid it when you’re writing so much so quickly), however, you may surprise yourself with how much of it is good. But it doesn’t matter how much of it is good: what matters is that when you finish, you will have a completed draft of a novel.
I have participated in NaNo twice, and I took very different approaches both times. The first time, I used a plotline from a short story that I’d written. Having a solid outline helped me write a stronger draft, but I was unaccustomed to spending so much time writing every day; I fell behind on the word count and had to write 15,000 words over the final two days.
When I NaNo’d the following year, I didn’t really have any notes about the novel I was going to write; I had only a vague notion of characters and plot. I still fell behind on the word count, but instead of having to write 15,000 words in the last forty-eight hours, I only had to come up with 10,000. Part of the difference the second time around was that I didn’t care as much about what I was writing. My expectations were very, very low.
These two different experiences taught me a lot about writing and about myself as a writer. I spent much more time on my draft the first time I completed NaNoWriMo because I already knew the story and the characters. I had higher expectations for what the finished draft would look like, and I think that I largely succeeded. The second time, my story didn’t look anything like what I thought it would. The draft itself doesn’t have very many inspired passages; however, I gained something very important: a new idea. When I work on that draft again, I won’t be keeping very much of what I wrote initially. The second draft will be a very different story, but I don’t think I could have gotten the idea I have now without going through the process.
Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to write something bad. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting everything to be perfect. I have so many stories that have gone unfinished because the beginning was never strong enough for me. There was always a better way to compose those opening pages. If you lower your expectations enough to allow yourself to write badly, something magical happens: you will start to write better. I believe that this is the heart of NaNoWriMo. It’s not about writing well; it’s about practicing and getting everything out. In the words of Jane Smiley, “Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.” Try not to worry about things not sounding perfect. That’s what second and third drafts are for. Most importantly, write, and write a lot.
If you’re new to NaNoWriMo and would like to participate, here are some tips to help you get started:
- Set goals for yourself. The daily target word count is 1,667. If you need a day off once a week, try to hit 2,000 words on the days that you write.
- Time how long it takes you to write so that you can fit it into your schedule. My average speed was about 1,200 words in an hour. If I was really pushing myself, I could hit between 1,500 and 2,000 in an hour.
- Tell your friends and family that you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month. It’s a big undertaking, and you’re going to want support from those around you.
- Turn down plans with friends if you need to write. If you are like me and typically put off writing in favor of seeing friends, having a reason to say, “No, I need to focus on myself right now,” can be very liberating.
- Visit nanowrimo.org, and/or follow along on their Facebook page and Twitter. You can meet other participating writers and attend events in your area.
- Most importantly, take care of yourself. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Cry if you need to. There may be times when you want to quit, and that’s okay. If you don’t finish in time, it doesn’t negate your experiences. And remember, there’s always next year.
I missed NaNoWriMo the last couple of years, but I’m very excited to be participating again this year. I will be posting daily updates on Twitter. If you would like to track my progress, you can follow @GirlFridayProd or find me at www.nanowrimo.org/participants/kim-bridges.
Happy writing, everyone!
Seattle writer Kim Bridges works at Girl Friday Productions, a full-service editorial firm co-helmed by Book Country member Andrea Dunlop, a frequent contributor to our blog. Learn more about Girl Friday Productions on their website, and find them on Twitter.