By Kate Shaw
The first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month, I’d already written several books. I didn’t need NaNo to get my butt in chair and typing until “The End,” but all my friends were excited about it and I wanted to have fun with them.
I decided to try a new approach. Up until then I was a pantser: I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in my book, but I let events unfold as I wrote. Sometimes I was delighted with the results; sometimes I had to do extra revisions to make the plot work. For NaNo that year I prepared with a full outline.
I never dreamed I’d enjoy writing from an outline, but I did. I charged across the 50,000-word finish line a few days early and finished the rest of the draft within a few weeks. I don’t claim it was a great book—heck, that was more than ten years ago—but I learned a lot about my writing process.
The following year I signed up again, and again I wanted to try a new approach. At the time I had a long commute to work so I bought a cheap voice recorder. Starting on November 1, I spent at least part of my drive to and from work dictating my novel. When I got home, I’d transcribe my dictation. I even “wrote” out loud on a nine-hour drive to visit family over Thanksgiving and arrived hoarse from talking to myself.
I crossed the finish line again, but had to throw out almost half of what I’d written. It turns out I’m a lot wordier and less focused when I dictate instead of type. I didn’t mind, though. Again I learned a lot.
Every writer’s journey from “Chapter One” to “The End” is unique. Some writers figure out early on what works best for them, while some struggle to nail down an effective process. Sometimes what worked great for the previous book doesn’t work at all for the next one.
NaNo is a fantastic chance to try new things. If you’re ordinarily a slow, methodical writer, you might enjoy the abandon of slopping words down as fast as you can—or you might hate it, but you’ll learn something about yourself. If you prefer to work at home, spend November writing in cafés. If you usually type directly into your document, try writing at least part of your book longhand.
My best NaNoWriMo experiences have come from treating the event as a fun exercise. I’ve restarted halfway through with a new project when the old one wasn’t working, I’ve written linked short stories instead of a “real” novel. And once—when I was stressed and not enjoying it at all—I gave myself permission to stop writing and not cross the finish line.
Give it a try! What you learn in a month of silliness might improve your writing process in ways you never imagined.
KATE SHAW is a test proctor at a large community college, where she daily observes the drama and agony of students taking exams. When she’s not making students miserable, she’s probably reading or writing YA fantasy, attending a convention with her fellow nerds, or playing drums badly in her terrible band, Rocket Pony. She lives in East Tennessee with her cat, Jekyll. She also lives on Twitter [@kc_shaw].