This was my first year attempting NaNoWriMo. I didn’t officially register since I hadn’t decided to participate until November had started. Surrounded and inspired by participants in my online writing group, W.A.N.A. Tribe, I thought I’d give it a try and bumped Word Count up to the top of my priority list.
The Unexpected Challenge
Everything was going well until the last ten days. I was having a terrible writing day. Zero ideas, zero inspiration. When I had decided to join in the fun, I had an outline and half the story had been plotted. It was easy to write since I always knew what came next. I had done the thinking and the planning ahead of time. But I had stopped to focus on that 50,000 words word count.
As the days went by, it seemed to me like the words flowed less and less until the day nothing flowed. I realized that I only had ten days left when at the end of one day I had written something absurd like 163 words. That’s barely a paragraph! I was so discouraged. I announced to my online writing group that I was giving up on NaNo. There were only a couple of people in the chat room at that time but one of them was Kristen Lamb, W.A.N.A. founder. She challenged me to write 500 words in 40 minutes. If I met the challenge, she would give me a free class. I won that challenge by writing 518 words. That made me feel so much better about my abilities. I would go to bed that night knowing that I had made a splash in the bucket instead of a drop.
How did I end up writing so much in so little time without a jumping point? Two things:
- I’d been offered an incentive – the class with Kristen Lamb
- Kristen told me to get out of my own way and just write: follow the muse
I want to elaborate on the latter. Her words really struck me because I was trying so hard to stay within the frame that I’d made it too narrow in my mind. When in fact, any kind of art is always in mutation. Until the paint is dried, until the song is recorded, until the poem is read to an audience, until the clay has hardened, the artist always has the ability to add, remove, or change with their own imagination being the only restriction.
I’ve always scene my outlines as guides through the story. I never felt that I had to write a scene exactly like I had planned it. I always felt like I could add scenes, change the plot direction, do whatever I wanted as long as the story made sense. For whatever reason, I thought I was stuck and I needed someone to point out that I wasn’t actually stuck.
I, more or less, pantsered my way through the second half of the story. I did get lost once as I wrote some scenes out of sequence and had to update my outline but I didn’t let it get me down because I needed to hit that 50,000 words word count. And why? Because there was another incentive.
While I felt better about myself after completing Kristen’s initial challenge, I doubt I would have hit the NaNoWriMo word count on November 30 without more motivation. I suspect Kristen knew it too. After I wrote the 518 words in 40 minutes, she offered me a second incentive: a free consultation with her on my story if I hit the magic number. I wrote like a maniac for ten days and by 6 pm last Friday, I was done. 50,086 words! I sent her my story and relaxed for the entire weekend. I didn’t want to do, read, hear about writing for 48 hours.
It is a first draft and I would say an unfinished first draft. While the beginning, middle and end are all there, I want to add another 10,000 words. I have some ideas for a few more scenes that I didn’t have time to write. This week, I’ve happily been reviewing my work, pleased with its current state and updating my outline. So it’s not finished, but it will be done soon. The incentive this time: being able to hand off a completed novel to an editor so I can get it to my readers early next year.
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What incentives have motivated you? Or how do you motivate others? I love hearing from you. Leave a comment.