Diary of a NaNoWriMo Newbie – Part I

I’d always scoffed at folks who diligently signed up every November to pound out a new novel. I mean, I was a writer. It wasn’t a hard job, not like piloting a plane or finding a cure for cancer. All I had to do was put my butt in the chair, turn on my laptop, and let the words spew out. I could do it any old month I felt like.

Who needed all those writing sprints, those claps on the back, those BADGES?

But when I took a good, long look at myself (and I admit, I was probably channeling James Scott Bell and his “mirror moment” that day), I realized I’d fiddled around for six months and made next to no progress on my second novel. And yes, I told myself there was this little thing called a pandemic raging through the country but was that really my excuse? My husband and I are both self-employed, healthy, and our children are grown. About the only change to my lifestyle had been I no longer ate out, or socialized face-to-face with friends, and we’d had to cancel our trip to New England to watch the leaves turn. Which meant I should actually have more time to write, not less.

I had to face the truth. I was procrastinating. I needed an intervention.

And there was NaNoWriMo with its arms spread wide, welcoming me in. So I signed up, like the good little student I’d been since first grade when I learned if I did my homework and raised my hand in class, Mrs. Ledbetter would smile at me and paste a star on my paper. I immediately began researching how to “win” the competition.


What kind of game is this anyway? And then I got it. I was playing against myself—against my tendency to fritter away hours on Canva and my love of interacting with fellow writers on Facebook. Not to mention my new-found obsession with Twitter, where I had become addicted to tweeting, re-tweeting, and leaving pithy remarks not only about the election, but about my favorite Katharine Hepburn movies, the cobbler I’d baked that day, and how I’m become increasingly bewitched by Steve Kornacki and his pecs, I mean, stats.

Okay, bring it on. Otherwise called The Prep Phase.

First off, I took a class. Jessica Brody offered a course specifically on preparing for NaNo. In it, she outlined the beats of the Save The Cat method, and lo and behold, when I layered them on top of the rough idea I had for my WIP, they fit. Not step by step, but close enough. I also plowed through Jessica’s class on Fast Tracking which provided tons of good material for getting in the right frame of mind to write 50,000 new words on my manuscript in only 30 days.

I organized my writing area. I tossed out odd notes that made no sense, tucked away notepads from craft classes, filed pending query letters. I threw away half-empty water bottles, packages of stale crackers, and a wizened apple that had taken up permanent residence in a corner of my workspace. I adjusted my writing chair to its most comfortable position and bought an external keyboard for my laptop to avoid any pesky carpal tunnel issues.

I selected my rituals. I decided I’d begin each session by lighting a scented candle. Then I’d choose my background sound for the day—Wind Focus for faster-paced scenes or Japanese Garden for more pensive chapters. Finally, I’d pull up the timer app on my phone and work in hour-long sprints, then stretch and take a short break.

I found my community. Turned out, there was no end to the writing buddies available to me through the central NaNo site. I joined a group comprised of local writers in my geographic area as well as one made up of women’s fiction writers from across the country. Since I knew from my mirror moment that socializing could sometimes be my way to avoid the aforementioned “butt in chair”, I limited myself to just these two groups and even then, found myself spending way more time than I’d planned on Zoom sessions, commiserating over missed goals and spouses who didn’t understand.

 I printed out two rules and pasted them to the lid of my computer so I saw them every morning before I began. No revising, only forward movement and Nobody will see this draft but you.

I outlined the first two Acts of my novel and printed the summaries onto note cards.  That way, each day as I started my writing session, I knew exactly what I’d be writing about that day.  Not that I didn’t add details, or switch things around, but remembering my rule of only moving forward, I purposely did not go back and change what occurred before, just plowed on. And before leaving my workspace, I’d review the next day’s card and let that scene percolate in my brain overnight, often coming up with new ideas I hadn’t thought of during my initial outlining.

So far, so good.

As I write this post, I’m twelve days into NaNo and have written 23,000 words, which means I’m slightly ahead of schedule. Next month, I’ll dive into more details about how it all turned out and what I learned from the experience. (which is also helping to keep me accountable, because I do NOT want to report back next month that I didn’t “win”. Yep, I still want that gold star.

Until then, I’ll leave you with Stephen King’s remarks about first drafts: “It’s completely raw, it’s the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts.” Since, like most of us in quarantine, I’m writing in my pajamas, this strikes me as pretty prescient. But then that’s Stephen King for you. That man always seem to know what he’s talking about.

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