M.H. Norris

I feel like so often, I shout my triumphs on this column. I talk about how I did this or I did that. So, I feel it’s fair that I talk about when I don’t succeed.

Last month was NaNoWriMo and I entered it full of plans and dreams. Those plans and dreams made it about halfway through the month before they fizzled. That’s not to say I didn’t get stuff done in the writing department, it’s just that I didn’t get to the magical 50K.

So what happened?

A few things. I’ve thought about it and decided to share with you so maybe something will help you.

1) I Didn’t Outline Enough

That sounds funny coming from someone who a year ago swore against outlines and wanted nothing to do with them. I’ve been funny about them my entire writing career.

Taking a second to go on a rabbit trail, I’ve learned that editors and publishers can be super flexible when it comes to adjustments to your story and outline if it means that the story becomes that much stronger.

When I was first starting on this path, I thought that once you had an outline approved, you could not change it no matter what. Which isn’t true. A lot of editors will accept changes if it makes the story stronger.

As I’ve come to this realization, and honestly it’s been in the last year or so, I’ve started to discover the benefits of outlining. That and some advice we got on The Raconteur Roundtable about how it’s helped David Annandale.

I did that for the second half or so of Jazz Street and I did find it did help. By vaguely knowing where things went and how things progressed, I was able to get more words out of the scenes. By knowing where I was going, I was able to get more out of the story and able to adapt and change it as I saw fit.

And as things changed, and I wrote out pages upon pages of additional outlines. And yes, I said wrote out. What I did for Jazz Street is that I went and grabbed those dry erase walls and outlined day by day what needed to happen. I wrote what day she was on, what day I planned the climax on, and worked out the details in-between.

I then took that vague outline and fleshed it out scene by scene. I took pictures of the walls and then I flushed that outline out scene by scene, event by event. I mentioned what information I wanted in each scene and if there were any major plot points that needed to happen and that I got from point a to point b and had as few holes as possible.

When I approached NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t as good about outlining beforehand as I should have been. I had vague outlines and a vague idea of where I wanted to go, but I should have used the prep time (usually designated in September and October) to do more detailed outlines so that when it came to November, the lack of outline didn’t slow me down.

I’ve come a long way from someone who would wing her way through a story.

2) I became complacent

I let myself off the hook. NaNoWriMo is about instilling the habit of writing every, single day. And I let myself off the hook far too many days. There was the day I travelled, the day I was out and about out of town, the drive home, Thanksgiving, a couple other things where I just made the excuse not to do it….

You get the idea.

It’s so easy to become complacent and to let yourself off the hook.

3) I Set a Goal (that Might Have Been) Too High

Usually when I write, I try to do 1,000 words a day. To complete NaNoWriMo, you have to do 1667 words a day. That’s 67% above my usual average.

That’s why I’ve come to prefer Camp NaNoWriMo to regular NaNoWriMo. With the camp, it’s less formal and you can set your own goals. So I could have said, “I’m going to write 30,000 this month,” and it might have been less overwhelming.

I’m not saying don’t push yourself.

No, sometimes people need that push, they need to stretch for something they otherwise wouldn’t do.

What I’m saying here is that if you’re like me and you have a crazy schedule, you need to set goals that are realistic and attainable. Otherwise, you’re going to give up part of the way through because you’ve fallen behind and know there’s no way you can catch up.

Tying Up

If you won NaNoWriMo this year, congratulations! If you participated, you did a great thing. You now have words on the page that weren’t there a month ago and you should be proud of that!

Maybe you can take some of the things I learned and they might help you should you choose to try next year.