Going into NaNoWriMo last year, I was never going to have been able to win. I had good intentions, but always fizzled out a third of the way into the month. As I look back, one of the main issues I struggled with was writing in isolation.
None of my family or friends knew about, or understood what I was doing. They had never heard of NaNoWriMo, so it was hard for them to offer support. And I didn’t do a very good job of explaining how important it was to me. That was a mistake, by the way – one that I fixed going into NaNo last year.
In addition to not having a lot of support, I’m a freelance writer and editor, so I have to work on paying projects during the day while working on my novel at night. After working by myself all day, taking on a huge project like writing a novel in isolation at night just didn’t work for me. Without any support, I often opted for social gatherings instead.
Last year I sought out other writers who were participating in NaNoWriMo, knowing I would need community if I had any chance of winning. I attended a write-in on October 31 and we wrote from midnight until 1:30 or 2:00 am, but I just didn’t feel like I clicked with the group. Nothing against the group, at all, but it just didn’t work for me.
So I went looking elsewhere and found @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter. The account is manned by writers around the clock (with a few exceptions), who lead other NaNo writers in brief word sprints.
Here’s an example: “One more #1k30min challenge left [meaning, the goal is 1,000 words in 30 minutes]. We’ll go from :45 to :15. Optional prompt: you reap what you sow.”
When you see a sprint such as this, you sprint for thirty minutes and then report your word count back to the NaNoWordSprints account. You’ll see other writers doing the same and you’ll be able to interact with them if you want to. And if you get stuck, the writing prompt may help.
In the middle of November last year, I went to a Perkins one evening and ordered a pot of coffee. I’d written myself into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. I powered up my laptop, opened Tweetdeck (in which I have a column dedicated to the NaNoWordSprints account), and joined in on the latest sprint. While putting fingers to keys – rather than sitting around and trying to figure out how to get past my sticking point – an idea occurred to me. And it changed the course of the entire story.
Knowing you are sprinting frees you up to simply write, rather than worrying about writing perfectly, or even worse – merely thinking about writing. The healthy spirit of competition is helpful as well. As a writer who edits as he writes, I’m a bit slower than the average sprinter, but I found myself doing less editing as I sprinted, knowing I could always go back and fix any issues during revision. This is the spirit of NaNoWriMo, and once you grasp it, you find yourself in a writing zone. Finding that zone last year helped me to win for the first time.
Lee Warren is an author and a freelance writer/editor from Omaha, Nebraska. You can find out more about his books and articles by visiting www.leewarren.info. And you can follow him on Twitter @leewarren.