Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot! A few posts ago, I remarked on the professional writer’s troubled relationship with National Novel Writing Month. But let’s be fair! Today, I have asked YA fiction writer L. Jagi Lamplighter to comment on the lessons we might learn from NaNoWriMo–welcome Jagi!
Time Management and the Writer: Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo
Every year, people who have never written before, or who do not write at any other time of the year, participate in the phenomena of NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. For some reason, the goal “write a novel” has been recast as “write 50,000 words,” even though most novels are longer.
Still, 50,000 words is a great deal to produce in one month! It is amazing anyone can do it!
But they do.
Which brings up the question: how?
How do people who normally do not include writing in their daily schedule find the time to write 50,000 words in one month?And what can we writers—both fiction and non-fiction, newbies and old hats—learn from these efforts?
Before I answer that question, let me say just a bit about my own experience with NaNoWriMo.
I am a professional writer. I write novels. Every week day, I sit down to write the same way many other people head off to the office, man a shop, or do the many other things that workers do.
I write day in and day out.
A couple of years ago, I thought it might be fun to participate in NaNoWriMo. I write anyway. Why not join in the general fun that friends had with their NaNoWriMo adventure? I would start a new book, a project I was toying with, and see if I could produce 50,000 words in the month of November.
I quickly learned that I could not afford to participate.
This question is most easily answered by chronicling the difference between my progress and that of a friend during this most recent November. I will call my friend Nan Owrimo.
November dawned crisp and clear. The autumn leaves turned late this year, so splashes of orange and red were everywhere. The air smelled of newly-falling leaves. The sky was a brilliant blue. Bright and early on the first workday, Nan and I sat down to write at our respective desks.
My goal was to put in as many hours writing as I could in the month of November. Nan’s goal was to write 50,000 on an idea she had been playing around with for some time. Nan has never written a novel before, but she does write short stories.
By the end of the first week, we both had three chapters, about 10,000 words. While hardly 50,000—or even a quarter of 50,000—it is a respectable beginning.
Week Two came. Nan had a bit of a rough spot, one of her children became ill. She made up the lost time at the end of the week when her husband surprised her by making dinner for the family. This gave her all of Friday evening to write.
By the end of Week Two, Nan had another two and a half chapters—for a grand total of 18,000 words.
By the end of Week Two, I had cut my three chapters down to two—for a grand total of 7,200 words.
While Nan was cranking out words, I spent a whole day of Week Two doing research on castles. The research led me to some specific details that really made my scene come alive. When I added this, I realized that some of the material in my first three chapters was not needed yet.
It was good stuff, but too slow for the beginning. I cut it out and put it aside to use later.
The result was a much quicker, much cleaner first two chapters. They turned out to be a very good springboard for the next stage of my story. I soon knocked off another two chapters. After reading these four chapters, my beta reader felt they were among the best stuff I had ever written.
Now, what would have happen had I shot for that 50,000 word finish line?
First, I would never have taken the time to do research. I would have figured that I could add description later. This means, I would not have had the insight brought on by the specific details I discovered. I would not have shortened my first scene. Which means that whatever I wrote after that would have been quite different from the next two chapters I actually wrote.
Had I plunged ahead, I would have ended up at the end of the month with 50,000 words that needed a tremendous amount of revising—probably which went in a totally wrong direction. Basically, all the extra time I invested in November, the extra hours I took from my family and my normal routines, would have been wasted.
Instead, however, I worked with care, and I came out with a strong beginning to what will hopefully someday become a fun novel.
As a professional writer, I could not afford to put quantity before quality.
But does this mean that Nan also wasted her time?
Nan finished her 50,000 words, to the cheers of her friends and family. She had never written anything so long before. Now she knows she can! Nan has some revising to do, but she’s well on her way to finishing her first novel!
The most valuable lesson Nan learned is: she can find the time to write!
Which brings us back to our topic: what can writers—all writers—learn about time management from NaNoWriMo?
The first answer: Writing is possible.
The number one thing writers can take away from National Novel Writing Month is that it is possible for busy people to find time in their schedules to write.
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, whether the goal is a certain number of words, like Nan, or just more hours spent writing, like me, when writing becomes a priority, it becomes possible to find the time to write.
Even those who can’t produce 50,000 words a month on a regular basis, might be able to find enough time to produce 10,000 words a month.
Or 2,000 words a month.
Any regular writing, kept up over time, will eventually lead to a finished work!
The second answer: Writing intensives need not be limited to November.
Looking back at Nan’s experience, one cannot help asking: Getting extra help and putting other work aside for one month is all very fine, but isn’t it a bit unrealistic to expect Nan’s husband to make dinner every Friday?
The extra push we get when we make something a temporary priority goes away when it becomes an every day occurrence. Whether Mr. Nan wants to cook dinner every Friday to let his wife write is between him and Nan, but, in general, we can make allowances in or normal schedule for brief periods of time that we cannot make on a regular basis.
One reason NaNoWriMo works for many people is that it comes only once a year.
If the point of Nan’s experience was that she found the time to write; however, then the point of mine was: an intensive focus on writing need not be limited to those trying to write 50,000 words of fiction in the month of November.
November is a great month to hunker down and concentrate. The summer is behind us. The craziness of the holidays is still in front of us. It is a fine time for doing serious work.
But so is February! What better to spice up the Dark Blue Month than a writing intensive?
Or maybe the summer is when your schedule has extra flexibility. Maybe others take time off, and you’re stuck at home. In which case, August might be a great month to pick for your own private period of intensive writing.
If having the focus of a special period, like NaNoWriMo, helps us humans keep our focus and make extra allowances, then we can use that fact to our advantage. But it doesn’t mean that we have to do it the way everyone else does.
Set your own goals. What works for you? Do you write about nature? Pick the three months that inspire you most and make those months your writing retreat times.
Can you only get away for a week a year? Make the most of it. Have you own private Writing Week.
Do you want to break into the short story market? Set yourself the goal of producing five finished stories in the shortest amount of time you can.
Or whatever works for you and your schedule.
And if you do try a writing intensive, you might find a silver lining. One of the periods you carve out for yourself in order to hit your goal may turn out to be a time period you can continue to use on an ongoing basis.
Which is what happened to my friend Nan.
All that time spent writing in November led Nan to realize that Tuesday nights, after the children are in bed, may work for her on a regular basis. She’s revising her 50,000 and hopes to finish her novel within a year.
Someday, you and I may get a chance to read it.
As for me?
November is over, and holiday madness is upon us. I won’t be getting much writing done in December.
But I have my sights set on February and March.
Let’s see if, this time, I can avoid the cold of mid-winter by hunkering down and finishing the novel I started this NaNoWriMo!
L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of the YA fantasy: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. She is also the author of the Prospero’s Daughter series: Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained. She has published numerous articles on Japanese animation and appears in several short story anthologies, including Best Of Dreams Of Decadence, No Longer Dreams, Coliseum Morpheuon, Bad-Ass Faeries Anthologies (where she is also an assistant editor) and the Science Fiction Book Club’s Don’t Open This Book.
When not writing, she switches to her secret identity as wife and stay-home mom in Centreville, VA, where she lives with her dashing husband, author John C. Wright, and their four darling children, Orville, Ping-Ping Eve, Roland Wilbur, and Justinian Oberon.
Her website is: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/
Her blog is at: http://arhyalon.livejournal.com/
On Twitter: @lampwright4
The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Unexpected-Enlightenment-Rachel-Griffin/dp/1937051870
Read the first four chapters for free: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/chapter-one-the-treacherous-art-of-making-friends/