6 Reasons NaNoWriMo Doesn’t Work For Me (But Why It’s Still Great)

IMG_9029For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is the idea that, every November, writers can sit down and get 50,000 words on paper, writing a novel in a month. That’s 1,667 words per day. You upload it to the NaNoWriMo site, and if you get those 50,000 words, you win!

The idea is to spark creativity and overcome self-doubt. Some people would like to write a novel, but can’t get the words on the page. Having a set goal like that is supposed to encourage people to silence their inner critic and just go for it.

I love the idea, and I participated (and failed) for about four or five years. It took me a long time to figure out why it didn’t work for me, but I get it now.

Here’s why:

  1. I consistently “fail” at daily tasks. I don’t know why this is, but it is. On Facebook, I was nominated for that 7 days/ 7 black and white pictures challenge. I missed day 5. I got back to it and posted my day 5 the next day, but I always do it. In years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, I’m usually full steam ahead for about the first week, and then I start missing days. It’s just not my work style, I guess.
  2. I need to work from an outline. In the past, I’ve been a “pantser,” meaning I just write by the seat of my pants. It never worked for me. I struggled to finish; I did multiple drafts; my point was lost or I forgot to tie up threads. Then a friend recommended Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. This book makes so much sense to me. It’s not an outline, per se, but rather a set of story points one must work toward.
  3. 50,000 words isn’t actually a novel, so I’d have to add a lot more to it to make it one. I write YA, which is the shortest novel you can get, outside of middle grade. Word count for YA ranges from 55,000 to 79,999 words, according to Writer’s Digest. I always have to put more words in, and don’t want to start at a deficit. My style tends to be pretty stripped down anyway. “Plot-focused,” one of the writers in my group calls it.
  4. It stresses me out. There are days when I can put 5,000 words on paper. But I don’t write every day. And if I miss a day or two with NaNoWriMo, I’ve already “failed,” so what’s the point in continuing?
  5. I don’t care about praise or fake badges. Studies show that badges in fitness apps and praise for doing things increases the likelihood that someone will do a behavior, but that stuff doesn’t work on me. I think it’s great when it does provide encouragement for people, but it doesn’t work like that for me. (Neither does advertising or “hard sells.”) Knowing that, at the end of the month, I’ll get a “congrats!” for “winning” isn’t encouraging for me.
  6. November doesn’t work for me. I’ve actually thought about doing my own personal NaNoWriMo during April or May, any month that isn’t so crazy. But something about November, which is stuck between Halloween and Christmas just makes it crazier to me. In November, I want to take down Halloween decorations and put up Christmas ones. I want to bake cookies and travel to see family. I do write in November, but not at the crazy, flat out pace that NaNoWriMo requires.

I know I sound like a Negative Nancy, but I actually think NaNoWriMo can be wonderful for people who are struggling with writing that first novel. For anyone who wants to write but suffers from self-doubt, those first steps can be the most important ones. For people who do respond to routine or praise, it can be a great encouragement. Plus, the NaNoWriMo community is welcoming. They have events all over the country where people can go and write together.

If you’re on the fence about whether to try NaNoWriMo, at least check it out. They have progress trackers, pep talks, support, community, etc.

For me, I just like the idea more than the reality.

Have you ever done or considered doing NaNoWriMo? What do you think about it?

 

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Five Things Friday

One

What I’m Reading

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s not a book I would have picked for myself, but I’m enjoying it. It was a birthday present from a friend. I love getting books as gifts because it challenges me to read things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

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I started Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, on audiobook. It’s to fulfill the Popsugar Reading Challenge Category: A Steampunk Novel. So far, it’s okay, but I can’t say I’m loving it.

Two

What I’m Writing

In my August edition of “Five Things Friday,” I told you I was just starting the edits on Not Dead Enough. I’m happy to say that I’ve finished the paper read through. Now for the oral read through, and then I’m ready to start querying it… yay!

I’m also still working on my other book, The Cycle, and I feel like I’ve gotten into the groove of writing it. Normally I wouldn’t be working on editing one book at the same time I’m writing another, but these are so different that it’s no struggle keeping them in separate mental compartments.

Three

What I Read This Week

I finished Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (rated 4 stars on Goodreads). I can’t believe I’ve never read this before!

The new Writer’s Digest issue.

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Apparently Alan Alda is a writer… who knew?

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

Well… I was cleaning up around the house. Let’s just say I have an older dog and leave it at that. I was also editing and writing.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

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These guys made me laugh with how they’re passed out, like they’re exhausted!

What have you been up to this week?

5 Things Friday

It’s been a busy month for me, and while I have a lot of great ideas for posts, I don’t have the energy to do them justice right now. So, instead of skipping today, I thought I’d do a fast and fun five things Friday. (It’s apparently a thing.)

One

What I’m Reading

Because I tend to reach for things I’ve already read when life gets stressful, I just finished rereading The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

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Two

What I’m Writing

I’m just about to start seriously editing the last novel I wrote, Not Dead Enough, a YA thriller about a teenager whose boyfriend died in a car accident. But when she starts getting messages from someone claiming to be him, she has to question if she’s being stalked, or if he’s somehow communicating with her.

I’m also writing a novel tentatively called The Cycle about a woman whose children get taken into foster care. She grew up in foster care and group homes. The story is told with dual timelines of her at 13 and 22. Actually, that’s probably what made me think about The Language of Flowers.

Three

What I Read This Week

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, which I rated 4 stars on Goodreads

Four

When I Wasn’t Reading

I was writing, chauffeuring my two sick cats to the veterinarian, finishing some touch up work on the bathroom I painted awhile back, and walking the dog.

Five

Favorite Picture of the Week

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This greedy squirrel is pretty much constantly eating. One of my cats loves watching him, and we call her a “TV addict.”

What have you been doing this week?

 

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The Pros and Cons of Writing in Coffee Shops

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Epoch Coffee, Austin TX

For the past four weeks, I’ve been taking my cat for daily medical treatments. The vet’s office was about 20 minutes (or so) away from home, so instead of running back and forth, I parked myself in a local coffee shop and worked there.

I’ve always had this romantic notion of working in coffee shops. JK Rowling talks about her time writing Harry Potter in coffee shops, and it’s always seemed like the perfect place to get work done.

There’s coffee, and fewer distractions, and usually plugs for my laptop. What more could I ask for?

Well…

The Good

  1. It’s an uninterrupted period when I can get work done. I have difficulty setting aside time to write. Because I enjoy it, it feels like it should be low on my priority list. I’m working on that, but it’s still a thing.
  2. * Fewer distractions of a certain type. There’s no laundry to be done or dishwasher to unload. There are no dogs begging for attention, or cats laying across the keyboard.
  3. Great atmosphere. I love the way coffee shops smell. In independent coffee shops, I love the artwork, and the interesting decor. I enjoy the torn up couches, and watching the variety of people who patronize them.
  4. *Essentially no wi-fi. The coffee shop I most frequented had unsecured wi-fi (which I’m always wary of), and it was slow. So slow, I didn’t use it. Which was good because I wasn’t getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook, etc.

The Bad

  1. More distractions. But wait… you just said there were fewer. Yeah, fewer homestyle distractions. But there’s music I don’t always like playing over the speakers. One day, there was a guy tapping his flip flop shod foot on the floor. It made a slapping sound, and I wasn’t the only one who was thinking about stabbing him.
  2. My favorite seat was sometimes taken. I spent the most time in a coffee shop that had armchairs and couches, as well as wooden chairs. Finding seats where my feet touch the floor is difficult. This place had one particular chair that seemed sized perfectly for me. I could put my back against the back and still have my feet touch the floor. But I wasn’t the only one who liked it.
  3. Gathering up all my stuff when I went to the bathroom or leaving it to fate. I’m not a very trusting soul (at least not with my laptop). Maybe it’s because, as a therapist, I worked with lots of people who stole. I’d see other people leave their laptops and be amazed at their ability to trust. I did it once or twice, but it was too uncomfortable. After all, I only have to be wrong once. Of all the things I own, my laptop is my most beloved.
  4. If I want to listen to music I like, I have to wear headphones. I’m moody when it comes to liking music when I work or not. But no matter what, I’m not a fan of headphones. The earbud type hurt my ears, and the over ear ones can be cumbersome to travel with.
  5. It’s too noisy. Sometimes I just like silence. I took to wearing headphones with nothing playing, just to block out some of the noise. Most days, I left with a headache.
  6. Lots of temptation. I try not to eat a lot of baked goods, but scones are a special love of mine. Coffee shops always have tasty looking scones, muffins, croissants, etc.
  7. It was freezing! In the winter, I laugh sadistically at my husband when he begs to turn the heat up and just tell him to put on more clothes. This place was so cold that when I walked outside into the 109 degree afternoon, it actually felt good.
  8. *Essentially no wi-fi. If I wanted to look something up, it was slow to do so. I didn’t blog while I was there because I couldn’t get online. (And yes, I could have written them offline and then posted them later. But I didn’t.)

The Verdict

It’s not my thing. Even the positive of having a certain time set aside to write doesn’t outweigh all the reasons I didn’t like it, in my opinion. I’ve read articles by people who love working in coffee shops so they can be surrounded by people but not have to interact with them, but I’d argue that I was interacting with them, far more than I wanted to. I was listening to the buzz of their conversations, their flip flops slapping, fighting with them for the good chair, not leaving my stuff so it didn’t get stolen.

That being said, I’m an extreme introvert who’s happiest when I don’t have to leave my house for several days in a row. I like quiet, and I see no problem with eating meals alone or not talking to other people for extended periods of time.

What’s your opinion on reading or writing in coffee shops?

Collecting Rejections

Stack of books

Some famous “rejects.”

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about dealing with criticism. Which is hard enough, but in some ways, dealing with rejection is worse.

I “collect” rejection stories. Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected 30 times. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling, was rejected 12 times. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was rejected 38 times. And on and on and on.

I pull these stories out whenever I need to remind myself that a rejection doesn’t mean the story is bad; it just means that it didn’t find its match. It’s kind of like dating that way. I’ve abandoned many books that other people loved, and loved books other people hate. Unless a book is actually poorly written, whether or not it’s “good” is more about the taste of the reader than the actual story. And even then, I like some “poorly written” stories.

Recently, I had a tough rejection. I have a goal to get a story into a particular online magazine. I read it, I follow it, and I know what type of stories they take. My story is better than some of the stories I read there. Not better than all of them, but better than some. (This is, of course, my extremely biased opinion.)

Usually, this magazine rejects within 30 days, so when a month came and went, my excitement built. And built. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t mean they’d accept my story, but of course, I didn’t listen.

When they had the story 75 days, I got a form rejection back with the usual, “Thank you but this wasn’t a good fit for us.” My heart plummeted. But on the bottom was a “PS,” the email equivalent of a handwritten note. It said: “PS We enjoyed this story, but it didn’t make our final cut.”

(insert screaming face)

Truthfully though, I really appreciated that feedback, because it told me what I believed; it was a good story. Just not quite good enough? Too similar to another story that’s being published soon? Drew the short straw? I don’t know. But since a publication I respect liked it (even if they didn’t publish it), someone else probably will too.

I recently read a story about how someone, inspired by Stephen King’s tale of collecting rejection slips on a nail on his wall, has made it a goal to get 100 rejections this year. Because, with rejections, come acceptances. I think that’s a pretty great attitude.

So, instead of being upset by this latest rejection, I’m just going to add it to my collection, and see how many I can get this year. Last year I got 15 rejections and 1 acceptance on short stories. This year, so far, I’m at 14 rejections and 1 acceptance. Considering we’re only at halfway through the year, I’ve done 100% better than last year.

Now I just need to keep up the good work.

Related posts: Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.

Feeding My Soul

calico cat with book

Goblyn loves books too!

Once upon a time, I wrote stories and novels just for fun. I typed them up, polished them, and let them languish on my computer. Writing fiction was a job other people did, but not me. I went to work, came home, read books, and wrote stories.

One day, after I’d finished writing my (3rd? 4th?) (bad) novel, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Why don’t you ever try to get anything published?”

Well, honestly, it had never occurred to me.

This was back in the days before I used the internet for everything. Back before I had a computer in my pocket. So when I first started my journey, it wasn’t like I could just Google “how to get published.” I had to do research and such. I tried sending off short stories and querying agents regarding that really bad novel. And things went nowhere for me. I’d never been critiqued, and I honestly didn’t know I needed to be.

(I’ll tell you about my torrid love affair with adverbs sometime. *shudder*)

See, I’d been praised by teachers all my life for my writing. So I figured that since I did a great job at writing papers, I was good enough at fiction too. I had concentrated on Psychology and Philosophy in college, and hadn’t taken English classes. They bored me, and I figured I had nothing to learn. (Don’t judge… it was the arrogance of youth!)

Eventually, I found online critique groups, and after learning how to take criticism (the subject of Friday’s blog post) my first short story was published for the amazing amount of $50.

I told everyone, and I’m not a “tell everyone” kind of person. Most of my friends were supportive, but one said, “Really? You put all that work in and only got $50? It doesn’t seem worth it. How many hours did you spend on that story?”

And just like that, some of the air was let out of my bubble. I probably spent 10 hours (or more) on that story. So that works out to $5 an hour? That’s not even minimum wage. Not to mention all the stories I’ve spent time on that will probably never be published.

But then I remembered how many hours I spent writing stories just because it was fun, never intending them to be published. Some people watch TV, some people surf social media, some people watch the stars, some people read books. Hobbies don’t have to be profitable. And doing what makes my soul happy doesn’t have to make money.

I write because I love it. I love it when stories get published because I love to share things that make me happy. If one of my novels gets published, that would make me happy too, for the same reason. (And, quite frankly, because there’s something exciting about seeing my name in print.)

But if the novel never happens, if I just continue to blog and publish short stories, that’s okay too. I’ll keep writing, keep improving, keep trying and having fun. Because what my friend failed to understand was that it’s not about the hours spent or the money I make doing it. It’s about the fact that I’ve been in love with stories for as long as I can remember. And the ability to tell a good story is something special. If I can tell a story that makes other people think, or feel, or empathize, then I’ve done something amazing. I can’t put a price on that kind of connection with other people.

Do you feel that connection to others when you write or read stories?