By Amy Evans
We’re almost at the halfway point for NaNo, and as it’s my first year participating, I wanted to take a step back and reflect on my progress. I know there are other writers participating for the first time, and who also might find the challenging overwhelming. It was not a surprise to me that 50,000 words would be immensely difficult to accomplish in 30 days, and here are some things I’ve learned about my own writing process:
I started NaNo prepared with a two page outline for my novel, including character sketches with their backstories, setting descriptions, and a general overview of the plot, including sub-plots. Once I got into writing each chapter, I realized that it would have been more helpful to prepare detailed chapter summaries as well. I had previously reasoned that, since I am a panster rather than a plotter, that a paragraph chapter summary would be enough. In fact, this slowed down my writing process.
I had already known, before starting NaNo, that I was a slow writer. Rather than get everything down on the first try, I would find myself revising each sentence to make sure it sounded good (knowing, still, that it will require many more edits before it is ready for publication). I knew it would be difficult getting out of my head and training myself to just leave the sentences as they are, but I didn’t know just how difficult this would be.
I had already prepared research for the larger historical elements of my story, but since the plot develops as I write, I got bogged down with fact checking the little details as I wrote. For example, one of my characters arrives in St. George’s harbour, Grenada, in the early 19th century, having sailed from the port in Liverpool, England. I wanted to create an accurate picture of bustling trade activity in the harbour, and what it would feel like arriving in a foreign land. I knew from prior research that the rum, cotton, and coffee trade had been the predominant exports of the island in that time. I knew the oak barrels of rum would be rolled up the gangplanks of an East India Company vessel, but which estate was operating at that time? Giant bales of cotton were loaded onto the ships, but was coffee loaded in crates or sacks? This was all to be conveyed in one paragraph in the first chapter, so you can imagine how much extra time it will take to research the small but important details as my story progresses.
Alternative Ways to Up Your NaNo Word Count
Now that I have learned more about my writing process for this particular novel, I brainstormed some ways that will up my word count — perhaps you can benefit from these as well!
Brainstorming and Free Writing
I spent 500 words on a detailed description of the sea creature summoned by the goddess Calypso (my novel is a historical fantasy). I also wrote a 1,000 page diary entry by the character I mentioned earlier, on his thoughts of the slave trade and forced servitude in Grenada. He will later become deeply involved in a slave revolt in Trinidad, and throughout the story his reflections on enslavement of Afro-Caribbeans will be integral to the plot. This information will end up in my story at some point, so I consider it a contribution to my word count.
Detailed Chapter Summaries
Before starting a new chapter, I will now be writing a 500-1,000 word summary for each. This will ultimately speed up my writing process, and I’ll get a clearer sense of how each plot detail contributes to the overall story. I am writing my chapter summaries in paragraph form, but bullet points may work better for other writers.
A Different Approach to Dialogue
In the first few weeks of NaNo, I’ve also found that dialogue writing has slowed me down. I learned that it is more natural for me to write it in script form, and then go back and add descriptions of characters’ reactions, body language, etc. later on. I got this idea from acclaimed romance author Stephanie Queen, who writes dialogue by considering characters as actors in a play or film.
Changing My Mentality on Free Writing
Early on in the challenge, I would jump in to writing with my go-to writing playlist for writing Caribbean historical fiction. While this is hugely beneficial to immersing myself in the creative atmosphere of the time and place, it didn’t do much to discourage my constant self-criticism and compulsive urge to revise each sentence. Now, before sitting down to write six days a week for NaNo, I take 10 minutes to close my eyes, relax, and listen to some of my favorite songs on my playlist. I treat it as a sort of meditation, reminding myself that NaNo is about following your heart and creative writing instincts and leaving each sentence as is. Each day, I push thoughts of editing into the future, and repeat this mantra: by god, write like the wind. Write like the wind, I say! If listening to music and writing is new to you, check out my recent article on how instrumentals can benefit creativity. Be sure to check out fantasy author Michael Cairns’ rules on enhancing creativity and nailing word count as well!
A Note to Our Readers
It has been my immense pleasure contributing to the Kobo Writing life blog, interacting with authors and receiving their insights on articles they’ve found helpful. Life consists of a beautiful cascade of experiences, both positive and negative, making us grow as individuals. The best part of this blog is the feedback we receive on content and authors sharing their reflections on writing with one another.
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It is not too late to start NaNo, and there are no rules against continuing the challenge after November! You can sign up for NaNoWriMo 2019 at nanowrimo.org.
Amy works on Author Engagement for Kobo Writing Life. She helps answer author questions and comes up with creative blog content. Amy studied Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa and Publishing at Ryerson University. She has worked as a content author of literature study guides and as an online literature educator.