NaNoWriMo and the Need for Speed

by Samantha Powers

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month for the first time this year, and I already love knowing I’m one of hundreds of thousands of people who are making writing a priority this month. It’s inspiring to imagine all those keyboards clacking and writers neglecting sleep and housework in favor of their books.

Although I fully intended to begin writing the second book in my Capitol Love Series on November 1, I was busy making edits to the first book, and it took longer than I thought so I didn’t jump into NaNoWriMo until November 6. But it’s working out just fine because the first story and all the characters are fresh in my mind. (That’s one benefit to writing a series!)

And beyond flowing from one story to the next, I realized that I have switched from one level of the writing process to another. There is a different mindset to a first draft, and I’m learning to embrace it. Revising is fun and exciting, too, but it’s all about slowing down, and right now I want speed—or at least a steady, brisk pace.

So I thought I’d share how I am keeping that forward momentum going:

  1. I just write. I’ve set myself a goal of 3,000 words a day, and right now, that’s all I care about. The prose doesn’t sing and it’s definitely not fit for anyone’s eyes except mine, but that’s all right. I’m just trying to get the story down. Which leads me to…
  2. I resist the urge to tinker. It’s so easy to get hung up rewriting an earlier paragraph or scene, but I view that as a form of procrastination. Right now, I need to keep these characters moving and interacting and clashing and keeping secrets and… well, you get the picture.
  3. I don’t sweat the details. I’m leaving myself lots of notes about things to check (streets on Capitol Hill, the way I described a favorite bar in Book 1, where the main character might have lived when she was growing up). I have a general idea about all those things, but I don’t need to resolve them now. As long as I mark where to insert that information later, I can keep going with the story.
  4. I leave my computer on all day. My working file is open during waking hours so that whenever I walk by my desk and have even a couple minutes, I can write a few lines. It’s faster and more efficient than jotting down cryptic notes and then having to make sense of them later. And it’s way less intimidating than sitting down and saying, “OK, now I write for two hours. Don’t screw it up.”
  5. I have an outline. I can hear the groans and protests now, but I learned the hard way that I do my best writing when I have an outline. I had a rough idea of this story a year ago, but last month, I typed it all up, added complications, changed the ending, and messed around with pacing until I had a fairly specific chapter-by-chapter outline. I left some questions unanswered and trusted that ideas would come to me along the way. But I absolutely love having something to refer to when I sit down to write. It has made my time at the computer so much more productive, and I’m hoping it will make the revision process less about structure and more about nuance and flow.

NaNoWriMo has been a great way for me to get—and stay—motivated because on those days when I don’t feel inspired to write, I remind myself that I’m not alone, and before long I’m itching to add the sound of my keyboard to the symphony of fellow writers.

Samantha Powers is a Vermont-based writer who lived and worked in the Washington, D.C., area for many years. The first book of her Capitol Love series—The Plan—will be released in December by Possibilities Publishing Company; the second book will be published next year. Follow her on Twitter: @CapitolLover.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Let us know how it’s going by writing a note in the comments field below.

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