Tales from the Trunk


Shelter in Place 9: Post-NaNoWriMo

December 4, 2020

For this month's bonus episode, I'm talking a bit about NaNoWriMo! The transcript for this episode follows:


Hello, and welcome to Tales from the Trunk: reading the stories that didn’t make it. I’m Hilary B. Bisenieks.

Twenty twenty might have been simultaneously the best and worst year to try to do NaNoWriMo. Best because we didn’t have our usual distractions thanks to the pandemic, so we could spend more time at home working on our writing. Worst because, well, everything. And despite or because of all that, many of us tried to write a novel this November.

As some of you may have seen on my main twitter account, I won NaNo this year. This was my first time winning—by which I mean writing over fifty thousand words during November—though it was my sixth November attempt. I wrote fifty thousand, four hundred and fifty one words of a brand new manuscript in November, which represents what I estimate to be about fifty five percent of the first draft of this book. So yes, I “won” NaNo in that I wrote all those words, but I didn’t finish the book in November.

That’s ok, though. I’m over halfway done with the first draft of a novel. I wrote more in the past month than I did in the previous few years combined. That’s a huge win for me. And like John Wiswell said on our November episode, if you manage to write any words in November, you’re doing better than most writers out there. So however much you wrote in November, good job! And if you didn’t write in November, guess what? You’re still doing great.

So as someone who finally won after five quote-unquote unsuccessful attempts, what did I learn? What were my secrets?

Mostly it came down to having support. Nobody actually writes (or creates any other art, for that matter) in a vacuum. In my case, I couldn’t have written as much as I did without the support of my spouse (who won NaNo on her first try!) or all my friends online, who encouraged me to sit down and write for half an hour with them at whatever time I was at my computer. Elizabeth, Macey, Noah, Caitlin, Rem, Val, Laura, and so many other folks were right there cheering me and everyone else along.

It turns out for me that doing sprints like that is the most-consistent way I can get words out. If I just sit down to write with the goal of just making wordcount for the day, often I’ll just stare at the blinking cursor. If I sit down and put on a timer for fifteen or thirty minutes and announce on twitter or slack or to my spouse that I’m going to write for a set amount of time, that creates enough pressure on me to get words out, and if I can just keep going after that timer goes off? Great! And if not, there will be another run after a short break.

The other thing, which I learned about myself a while ago, but which doing NaNo really reinforced for me, is that I need an outline for longer works, but that I shouldn’t be too precious with it. While for most of the month I had at least two thirds of the book outlined, I only really needed to have the next two chapters firm in my head, because anything beyond that was likely to change in some way or another anyway.

Finally, I learned that I can, in point of fact, win NaNoWriMo. I went in with the goal to write fifty thousand words, an average of sixteen hundred and sixty-seven words a day, and I did that. If I didn’t hit par one day, and I frequently didn’t, that was fine. And if I hadn’t won? That would have been fine, too. Any words I made in November would be a win. Any words you can make any month are a win.

NaNo doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s ok. You know the best way to make words for yourself, and anything anyone else tells you is at best a helpful suggestion.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make some more words. This novel isn’t going to finish itself, however hard I might wish that it would.

Tales from the Trunk is mixed and produced in beautiful Oakland, California.

Our theme music is “Paper Wings,” by Ryan Boyd.

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