NaNoWriMo Goal: writing 50,000 words in 30 days with over 300,000 writers
Fact: Only 14% complete the challenge
Author: Patrise Henkel and NaNoWriMo Winner
CH: I am so happy to present to you today, our Guest Author, Patrise Henkel. She is a local Maryland author and a writer friend, who has participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge five years in a row. Today, we will discuss How to Succeed at the NaNoWriMo challenge.
CH: Patrise, thank you for joining us and welcome. Let’s get started. What is the best way to prepare your mind and body for the challenge?
PH: Ha! NaNoWriMo is quite a challenge! I like to say that I may not be able to run a marathon, but I sure can write one! So, yes, it does take good preparation and pacing. And stubbornness. And coffee.
CH: How can a writer identify ideas, storyline, characters, plot, setting, narrative voice and story tense?
PH: Great question, but you really don’t need to worry about all that in order to participate. NaNo has a tradition of including anyone who wants to write, including very young writers. The founder, Chris Baty, even wrote a book, No Plot? No Problem!, to encourage people to jump in and write, and just see where it takes them. This process is called ‘pantsing,’ writing by the seat of your pants.
CH: Should a writer prepare an outline for the novel before starting to write?
PH: ‘Pantsers’ will find a great deal of support and encouragement for this approach, and there is definitely something to be said for showing up at the page and seeing what happens. My first few years, I had an IDEA, but not much of a plan. And there were surprises.
This year, however, I have devoted much more time to planning and will have an outline to work from. I even know the ending! So, planners are welcome. You have lots of company. The boards have been busy with writers working on character profiles and research, getting ready for that November 1st green light.
CH: Should a writer make chapter sketches beforehand?
PH: More than chapters, character sketches are the essential ingredient. This week, I attended an amazing NaNo prep workshop with the writing coach Mia Zachary. She really pushed us to define our characters, in terms of background, temperament, capabilities, even their Myers-Briggs profile!
CH: Is this going to be a “first draft”?
PH: Yes, very much so. There is no time to stop and edit. All the clean-up happens after November. If you look at yesterday’s work and feel like you’ve gone off course, just jump back in, and write yourself back to where you need to go. There is no re-write in NaNo, and don’t delete anything!! Every word counts!
In Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott, she says your first goal is to write a really shitty first draft. That’s because you want that excellent raw material for the work of editing, after November. They should call it ‘National First Draft Month,’ but that doesn’t sound as sexy! First drafts don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be written.
CH: What about catch-up days? What about writer’s block? What about brainstorming?
PH: Everybody’s schedule is different, although writing every day is certainly recommended. Moms with full time jobs manage to do this challenge, so it is possible. It just requires that you make it your top priority.
Some folks work all week and write like the devil on weekends. Some get up early and write in the pre-dawn hours, some write 2 hours a night and take weekends off. You will find your own rhythm.
Attending NaNo write-ins are great for beating writers block! Get out of your physical rut, go meet some other writers and do it together. I am hosting local Write Ins on Wednesdays in November at the Accokeek Library (Maryland) from 7-9pm.
At write-ins, you hunker down together and have the peer reinforcement of writing together. We write for a while, then take breaks and share the frustrations and relief of making headway. Also, ‘Word Wars’ are a fun, competitive way to get your fingers flying. Set a timer and write until it dings; see who has the highest word count!
CH: Should a writer use the NaNoWriMo website and forums?
PH: Absolutely! First of all, in order to officially ‘win’ you will want to verify your word count at NaNoWriMo before midnight on November 30. For that, all you need to do is register with a username and password, and paste your draft into the Verifier.
Beyond that, the resources on the forums and regional threads are amazing! While forum chat can be a way to procrastinate, it’s also a great place to make new friends, share your struggles and victories with others, and ask for help.
You know how some things come easy, but other little things can be a challenge? For instance, naming characters is something that I find really challenging. There is a whole forum called Appellation Station dedicated to naming of all kinds, and I’ve been helped out by some amazing people who love to name characters, suggest book titles, place names, etc. That’s just one example of the kind of help available on the forums.
CH: What software should a writer use (word or special writing software)?
PH: I’ve used Word, and Google Docs; and now I use Scrivener, which is pretty cool, but takes a while to get used to. Everything has different advantages.
Google Docs is brilliant because it’s always there in your account no matter what device you log in on.
Word—for many of us this will be the most familiar and the most comfortable tool. But be sure to back up your files!
Scrivener is a NaNo sponsor, and will provide you a free trial edition to use during NaNo, a NaNo-specific template, and a 50% discount to use for purchase for NaNo Winners. It’s a pretty cool program, since you have all the pieces and parts of your novel contained in one universe. Scrivener calls it the Binder. You can organize your research items, character profiles, outlines, and more all in one file. It also has great formatting tools for self-publishing. I look forward to needing those very soon!
CH: Is it better to use a pc, laptop, notebook, or tablet?
PH: Whatever you are comfortable with is best. There are plenty of people who write longhand, too. Although, they have the added challenge of transcribing in order to verify their word count.
CH: What about handling other things, such as emails, calls, visitors and meals?
PH: Ha, the interruptions of life! One gets accustomed to repeating the phrase, “Not now, I’m writing!”
And that is good practice for every day. The most valuable thing about this project is how you choose to put your creative work at top priority, and get used to how that feels. I believe this is a radical act for women writers in particular.
CH: Should files be backed up daily?
PH: Absolutely. You need a backup plan. When I wrote in Word, each day I emailed the draft to myself, so it was always archived in email. Using Google Docs, I wrote each chapter as a separate document, downloaded them as Word and pasted it together to track total word count. Just make sure you are not left without a backup in case of the worst. Hard drives fail at the most inopportune times!
CH: Do writers need a writing buddy or support group? How do you find these?
PH: The forums are there to encourage you to connect with local writers, as well as make online friends. Each region has its Municipal Liaisons, or ‘MLs’, who are in charge of the local meetings. They will usually arrange a kickoff meeting or two, and encourage local writers to host meet-ups throughout the month.
Register with your region and you will see the regional calendar on the forum, complete with events highlighted for the next few days. That’s how I discovered the character development workshop I attended this week.
Locally, the Accokeek Womens’ Writing Group meets the 2nd Monday of each month from 1-3pm at the Accokeek Branch Library. I will host Write-Ins there on Wednesday nights. I know there will also be some Write-Ins at Panera (restaurant) in Waldorf, MD.
CH: Should I tell family and friends that I am doing this challenge?
PH: Absolutely! Shout it from the rooftops! Get yourself some stickers for your laptop, a NaNo mug and T-Shirt! I’m wearing mine from last year. It declares “I’m a Winner!” Actually, it’s good to buy it now; it’s one more thing that helps you keep your commitment to yourself.
CH: Any closing remarks?
PH: Yes. Write down that dream, persevere FOR YOUR CREATIVE SELF, and the rewards are immeasurable and priceless. There are new people in my life, I have paid writing work that would have never come if I had not followed my Muse and made my creative work a priority. So if you want to write, this is a great time to do it—NaNoWriMo! On the Nano forums I am Patrise and you can check me out here http://nanowrimo.org/participants/patrise/novels.
Bio: Patrise Henkel is an artist and writer born in Detroit and living in Southern Maryland. A self-described eccentric, Patrise is in love with color, never tires of geography, wants to read everything and takes her dog everywhere.
For gainful employment Patrise operates Clearwell Co., a marketing communications consulting and coaching firm that helps clients promote their small business or great cause with online marketing. She also ghost-writes for the Commercial Real Estate and Public Health and Safety Marketing niche/genres. Co-founder of the Accokeek Women’s Writing Group (AWWG), Patrise functions as Blogmeister for the Women’s Pages, AWWG’s official blog.
CH: Patrise, thank you for sharing your NaNoWriMo experience with my readers.
Note: Photos are compliments of Patrise Henkel and the Internet.
CH: Share it, if you like it. I’m counting on you!
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