Reflections on NaNoWriMo

It was not my intention to dive into the sea of National Novel Writing Month. I watched swarms of writers on social media, flexing and stretching along the dock, waiting for November 1st, the starting pistol shot that would send them all plunging downward in a desperate race against themselves for 50,000 words and a brand new novel manuscript.


I wasn’t wholly against the idea, but not wholly for it either. I have a rhythm to my writing. I put in about four hours of work every day on my manuscripts. Sometimes those hours are so beautiful and perfect that I write past my allotted time, in a fever of words and inspiration. Sometimes those hours are spent angrily poking the keyboard, writing anything, even if I know it sucks, just to stretch my brain. Other times it’s all spent in research or editing or outlining. I divide the rest of the day between query letters, reading books and articles, or performing necessary household duties.

I like my schedule. It suits me. I added more structure to it in September, when I started setting myself monthly goals. My goals for November were to finish the first drafts of two of my half-finished novels and keep working on querying agents.

Then my writing buddy Chandler, emailed me and asked me if I wanted to buddy up on NaNoWriMo’s website so we could encourage each other towards the goal. I thought about it for a few days. It isn’t like I was devoid of new ideas. I have notebooks full of stuff for new projects, but I also have 7 other novels at varying stages of development, that’s not including the 2 completed ones that need more love and proofreading, in preparation for (crosses fingers) a possible manuscript request.

But on a whim, I decided to slip into my bathing suit, and on November 1st, about 6 hours after everyone else was in the water, I held my nose with one hand and cannonballed in after them.

I started a middle grade fantasy novel called, “The Land of the Golden Raindrops.”

Here’s some of my thoughts and reflections, on what the whole NaNoWriMo process taught me:

1. Setting Goals for Your Writing is Key to Progress

I was beginning to figure this out on my own, but NaNoWriMo reenforced the lesson. I knew part way in that it was unlikely I would have an organized and readable first draft ere time had stolen sweet November from my grasp, but I was determined to get those 50,000 words. It gave me something to shoot for and I loved watching that graph tick slowly upward as my word count approached its goal.


2. Plug in and Build a writing community

Usually if I need history help, I shoot a text to my history teacher friend, Steve. So when my Google searches brought up useless information on the burial customs of the poor in 19th century London, I sent Steve a text but also posted in the forum. In less than an hour, a fellow writer had posted links to 4 great articles for me to peruse.

It wasn’t just about how fast the response came, it was that another writer, a stranger under the same deadline as me, took the time to copy and paste those links into the forum for me.

We know how to commiserate and encourage each other in a way that a non-writers can’t. We know how it feels when your brain is constipated and you can see your thoughts leaking from your ears in tendrils of wispy pale steam like a fresh cup of tea. We know how confusing it is to wander the internet, in search of fact, to find nothing but opinion. It was nice to know that if I ever got discouraged, I could email one of my three NaNoWriMo buddies or tweet out my progress, and immediately get love in the form of a thumbs up emoji. Sometimes that’s all you need. It’s something I hope to retain now that this is all over.

3. Do What’s Best for Your Progress

I got a lot of good out of this, so I’m glad I did it. However, if next year rolls around and I have to choose between my personal goals and starting a brand new project, I will probably watch the swimmers from a safe seat on the dock.

Life ate up a lot of my spare writing time this month making NaNoWriMo the only thing I accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, I love the result. I love my new characters, Lilly and Rascal, and had a blast making new worlds for them to play in, but they would still have come in time. Then it wouldn’t have cost me a whole month of spending time with Rory, Graham, Renaud, and Kaeli. It wouldn’t have set back my query letters and copy editing of “Us”, things that I consider more important.

You have to do what’s best for your art. If that means that you have your own personal NaNoWriMo in December, then you do so with a nod and smile. Or, perhaps…

4. Sometimes It’s Okay to Miss the Mark

If I had been a little smarter, I might have just shrugged and said, “Well today I’m not going to increase my word count on NaNoWriMo. Today I am going to work on the first draft of ‘The Channeller.'” But there were those badges that you could earn if you updated your word count every day, and that cool graph that told you how many words you added, and, basically, I got a little carried away with the fever of the thing.

I did it. I finished. On November 25th, I verified my 50,078 words and immediately dropped the project. My first draft is a chronologically disorganized mess, with bits and pieces from every end and corner of the story all mashed together. This is usually how my first drafts end up. I could have spent the next 5 days in November putting it in order, knowing full well that this draft would be thrown to the back of the queue for the next project I attack. It’s there. It’s a first draft. That’s it. I immediately printed out a new copy of “Us” and spent the rest of the day editing.

But what if I hadn’t finished? What if I had decided to drop the project entirely in favor of my previous list of goals for November? There is no shame in that. There is never any shame in setting a high goal for yourself and missing the mark. Do the work and do it with all you have. If you get to the end of the month and your word count isn’t 50,000 or you haven’t sent out those 10 query letters, it’s okay. Don’t batter yourself bloody. Just try again tomorrow. It’s about the journey. It’s about the climb. It’s about the effort. If you keep trying every day, eventually you’ll get there.


© Rachel Svendsen 2015



For Love or Money

I read my first Dickens novel in third grade. After that I devoured Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Agatha Christie, and so began my love affair with British literature, which continues to the present day. A reoccurring theme of many an old-timey British novel is ye old Rich guy falls in love with ye old poor girl. The rest of the story is composed of varied obstacles and circumstances that prevent them from being together. It ends with them either thumbing their noses at society and affluence to live in each others embrace, or a tear jerking return to money or position which leaves them forever regretting each other. I used to think that this was not an issue with our culture today. Apparently I was living in a daydream.

The other night I was watching “Shark Tank” with my hubby. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a reality show where up and coming entrepreneurs stand before a bunch of multimillion dollar business owners (called “Sharks”) and pitch their idea to them, in hopes that one of the “Sharks” will invest in their business. This episode showed a young man pitching his specially made golf clubs. Apparently they’re selling well in Japan but he can’t seem to market them to peeps in the US. I guess golf junkies in the States won’t use a golf club which isn’t endorsed by some big shot in the big leagues. Since the clubs are so precisely made, they cannot afford/don’t have the connections to get them out to the biggies in US golf.

The Sharks backed out one by one. The deal was too risky. When only one or two Sharks remained, the club maker burst into tears.

“I’m engaged to an amazing woman,” he said. “Or I was. Her parents called off our engagement when I left my well paying job to pursue my dream of running this company. I thought for certain, if I could make a deal here in the US, that they would realize I’m not crazy and still let me marry their daughter.” He touched his fist to his mouth, looked off to the side, blinked rapidly, and choked, “I just can’t believe I will have to choose between the woman I love and pursuing my dream.”

Let me tell you there was barely a dry eye among the Sharks. (Except the token cranky guy on every show. You know the one. He insults people just because it gains more viewership and his quips look great on tee shirts.) The remaining Shark invested, and the guy left with a whistle on his lips and a skip in his step.

I’m happy for him. I really am. I am all for making your dreams reality. I am super thankful my husband loves his job. I spent years working jobs that I hated just because they paid the bills. I know how gut wrenchingly dull it is to sit at a desk, poking a keyboard with one listless finger, knowing you’re not making a difference in the world, and tomorrow you’ll have to drag yourself out of bed to do it again. But… (the ever almighty “BUT”)

But I would spend the rest of my life digging ditches, answering phones, going door to door selling vacuums, waiting tables, scrimping, saving, living hand to mouth, or anything else, if it was the only way I could be with my Timothy.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “How could anybody pick anything over their ‘true love’. I mean, am I crazy?”

My husband smiled at me. “No, of course not,” he said. (You could argue that if he had said anything else it would have destroyed peace and harmony in the home, but my husband is a horrific liar. I saw him in a play in college. Oh my heck was he awful! He was like a spectator on stage who got to play dress up with the actors. He even laughed at their jokes. It was precious. He won my heart all over again that night and was generously rewarded with a big kiss.)

I don’t want to be unfair. Perhaps I’m just different from other people. Maybe all it comes down to my real dream being a hand to hold when I’m ninety. I just can’t fathom choosing any job, position, house, car, or inanimate thing over a soul to love.