2019 marked my TENTH year taking of part in National Novel Writing Month.
I had planned to do my usual process; writing an update each weekend throughout the month.
However, some health stuff kicked in, some day-job stress happened, and I tested out a theory for myself with a #NaNoWriMo Writing Update Vlog each week instead.
I have previously made videos for Youtube regarding my self-help teaching, but these are meant to be rougher, informal catch-up chats and I did not want to spend hours compiling footage, syncing audio clips and doing a snazzy intro and outro… So it was an experiment in “film, check, upload” and just being a bit more human.
Want to see them? Click here.
A Decade of Writing
As this is my tenth year, I wanted to summarise specifically the things which were new and different to ‘the norm’ for me. I’ve written multiple posts over the years about my lessons and tips, and if you want to explore two main summaries of my view on NaNoWriMo, see how it supported my wellbeing, and my key techniques for completing the challenge.
Top Five Tips
With those posts giving some clear ideas of how my journey through NaNo has evolved, let’s jump into 5 key lessons from 2019: From this year’s challenge.
The earliest lesson for me was how much I can write in a five minute sprint. A sprint is essentially a timed challenge to write as much as possible against the clock; often with other people. It’s generally more of a community effort instead of competitive: everyone is congratulated on writing a single word.
But the power in sprints wasn’t clear to me fully until a few years in. This began in 2013 with an ebook by Rachel Aaron called “2k to 10k” [affiliate link] when I really got serious about my writing methods. Ever since, I know that a 5-minute sprint could net me 250 words. When you’re used to writing 1,000 words in 40 minutes, the idea of halving the time just by setting five minute timers is really quite motivating!
2. Single POV
This was my 16th novel, and the first I’ve ever written with just one point-of-view character. Yeah. I know.
All of my favourite books have multiple points-of-view, and I specifically enjoy giving the audience two sides of the story. I like, as a reader, knowing things the protagonist doesn’t, and waiting for them to discover the secrets I know. I have tried to write in a single point of view before, but i’ve always caved around 20,000 words and added a second viewpoint. This year though, I did it. I completed 50,000 words of one, single point-of-view. This was an interesting learning curve for me, as in the 9 previous years, I only needed 25,000 words per character (and in some cases, I had 3 or 4 points-of-view!)
3. Deadline Panic
I’ve always been one of those people who began essays with plenty of time, then left them, knowing I’d “started” until a few days before the deadline. If it got too close to the deadline, I’d freeze up, and get it done. I was not finishing things the morning it was due, but would not sleep much for the 2 nights before hand.
This is also a theme with NaNoWriMo: a dip by the mid-point and then a full-day-sprint-to-finish at the end. Again, this was still my process this year. However, I’ve finished novels outside of NaNoWriMo, so I don’t need a deadline to complete things. I had hoped to not fall too behind, but I guess that’s true for most of us, right?
Either way, I know I can write 1,000 words in about 35 minutes at a push, and I wrote 5,000 on the final day. That push of a deadline is still a strong motivator for me, although I don’t leave things until last minute very often anymore.
4. Community: Discord, FB and Write-ins
This was especially interesting this year. I began NaNo in 2009, practically living on the forums. In 2016 I made it to my first in-person write-in. In 2017 I doubled the number I attended, and in 2018, I helped the launch party with the local Municipal Liaison.
This year? I didn’t go to anything in person. I didn’t even sign in to the discord channel. I sprinted twice with a friend over FB messenger.
And this is definitely another reason I wasn’t as productive this year. Having a community around you is a solid 50% of the NaNo momentum, and this year, I didn’t have that. I didn’t have a bunch of people saying “give them a magical acorn” or “are there pangolins?” which are funny, silly and get those creative possibilities flowing.
5. Plotting Methods
The final lesson for 2019 was that around crafting a story and the beats within a piece. I focused specifically on the Save the Cat [affiliate link] structure when I got lost or needed direction, as my outline was pretty much thrown out by day ten.
So when I got stuck, I looked over the beat sheet for one of the plotting methods I like, and worked out what ‘should’ happen next. “Oh, next they need to make a decision that moves them away from the goal.” That framework gave me a foundation to then plan the next move: to ask myself what that character would do next, what decisions they had ahead and how they would decide.
I’ve used the seven-point story structure before, but this beat sheet, based on script-writing, has just enough small detailed points to actually guide the next step without being massively prescriptive about how the story will unfold.
Did I Win? [Spoiler alert… ]
I completed the 50,000 words within 30 days.
I use NaNo as an exercise in creativity, not for getting a “workable” draft; so I use it as an experimentation space and dont have high expectations. I write outside of NaNo to complete clean drafts for my publication journey. Thus, I don’t know if I will return to this story, and I’m ready to rest my tired fingers for now. But I will always be a writer: I don’t think that’s going anywhere.