When I undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge this year, I was skeptical that I would be able to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Despite successfully completing NaNoWriMo the last two years, I had more doubts this year than ever before. My day job has been busier, and regular family responsibilities have made it hard to find time to write all year long. Why would things suddenly change in November?
Yet, as we get close to the end of the month, I managed to stay on track! 50,000 words not only looks possible but likely. What’s different? This month, I changed the way I wrote in three ways.
1. I embraced the crappy first draft. I'm a perfectionist at heart, and even though I've tried to treat the process of writing a first draft as more of an exploratory activity resulting in an unpolished manuscript, I never could. I used to tweak and edit as I wrote. It made the editing process easier, but I wound up spending a lot of time and energy on the first draft. For NaNoWriMo, I've been writing and not looking back because I had no choice. There wasn’t time to come up with a better way to phrase something or to fix a scene that was painful to read. I know large sections of my NaNoWriMo novel are crappy, but even the crappy parts have been useful in guiding me later on in the story.
2. I let my characters take charge. I'm a plotter in more than one sense of the word. Yes, I outline and think through the entire story before I start my first draft, and this year’s NaNoWriMo was no different. I’m also a plotter in the sense that I focus on plot over character development or world building or anything else. This month, as part of writing a crappy first draft as fast as I can, I found that I often let my characters take charge. I'd write about things they did and said that I normally wouldn't have if I was more focused on moving the plot forward. I have no idea whether I'll keep some of the scenes I wrote, but I feel like my characters became more fully developed as a result.
3. I'm writing everywhere. Before this month, my first drafts were written in MS Word documents. That meant that I could only write when I had access to that document, which was when I had my laptop with me. For NaNoWriMo, I tried writing via Evernote. I created a new note whenever I started a new chapter. Thanks to my manuscript living in the cloud, I could write wherever and whenever and on any device I wanted. Throughout the month, whenever I had a few free minutes, I'd pull out my phone and type a few paragraphs. They weren't lengthy passages and sometimes didn't move the plot forward, but those bits and pieces really added up.
These new habits may or may not make me a better writer going forward, but they'll make me more productive. Using Evernote, or another cloud-based solution like Google Doc or Quip, is something that I definitely plan to continue doing. Even if I wind up scrapping my NaNoWriMo novel, I'll have developed new habits that will help me in the future.