NaNoWriMo: 6 Things I Learned from National Novel Writing Month

Nov. 6th 2014

Shout out to all the folks participating in National Novel Writing Month this month, more affectionately known as NaNoWriMo‬.

The goal? Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I did NaNo back in 2004. Got the T-shirt to prove it, which I still wear proudly (it always garners many curious stares at the local Stop ‘n Shop).

I consider NaNo a major turning point in my life as a writer. When I did it, I finally gave myself permission to…

  1. Write forward. Up until that point, I was spending WAY too much time trying to perfect the first 10-20 pages instead of just getting the darn thing drafted.
  2. Write crap. A lot of crap. Knowing I could go back and fix it.
  3. Put my writing first. If you want to write 50,000 words in a month, then you need to say no to many things, like TV, navel-gazing, and generalized procrastination, all of which I excel at.
  4. Be gentle if I didn’t quite make my word count one day.
  5. Be happy when I did.
  6. Keep going, no matter what.

For all you writers out there, go get ’em. And for those living with someone doing NaNo, be supportive by offering lots of chocolate and coffee. And plenty of praise and wine on 12/1.

Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, Good causes, Writing, Writing exercises | Comments Off on NaNoWriMo: 6 Things I Learned from National Novel Writing Month

Taking the Leap: On Writing Full Time

Feb. 4th 2011

I have a good friend who is struggling in her job. She wants to leave it — she really does — and she would like to write full time (freelance and creative stuff; she’s a novelist). But she’s scared. Scared of the unknown. Scared of being poor in a tough economic climate. Scared she won’t make it. Scared she’ll become depressed. Scared about feeling scared.

I get that. Back in early 2001, I came to a crossroads in my radio “career,” where I’d been since the tender age of 21. I had always planned on it being a short-term gig and that I’d leave to go write the Great American Novel, but the one-year plan turned quickly into three, then five, then close to seven. I used the excuse of money (and without getting into it, I’ll say it was a legit excuse) for my reason to bail (morning show producers get paid squat and I wanted a raise that would put me in line with one of my male colleagues, but it wasn’t going to happen). I really wanted to leave and write, but how could I? I was almost 28 — a grown up — and past the age of ditching it all to follow an elusive dream. I had rent to pay, a cat to feed, and well, I mentioned the grown-up part, right? So I found another job: teaching reading to children. I convinced myself that this was related enough to writing and that it would give me time to write and it did pay more money and I had to do it. Even when I accepted the job and gave my notice at the station, I think I knew I’d never work one day at the other gig. I needed to write. I needed to figure out a way to make that happen. (I imagine many of you are thinking this: why couldn’t I write while I was in radio? Very good question, and trust me, I kick myself now for all the time I wasted in my 20s. My only excuse is lack of sleep — my days started at three in the morning and by the time afternoon hit, my brain was fried. I know, I know. I should have pushed through it, but alas.)

Back to the story. My last day in Radio Land was on a dreary, wet Friday in February. I was supposed to start the new teaching gig on Monday. But my mind was racing. I was a mess. And so I did what I often do when I need to think: I drove. I drove all the way to Nauset Beach on the Cape, one of my favorite places in the world (a good 2.5 hours away) and communed with the ocean (I’m a Pisces baby). And that’s when I decided I was going to give it a go: I was going to write full time.

Oh, gawd, even writing that makes me queasy. Man was I green. Clueless. I was smart to go for it, but just about every other decision I made for the next two years after that was pure idiocy. But I suppose I had to go through that to get to this point.

The short of it: I backed out of the new job (and was told in no uncertain terms that I was “unprofessional” — the only time in my entire life that I’ve ever been called that, at least to my face [or via phone]). I moved back home (yes, at 28, when all my friends were getting married, buying houses, and having babies). I rented a room on the cheap from my brother’s computer company and called it my writing studio. I was pretty green when it came to the Internet (this was before Twitter, Facebook, and Google was in its infancy). I lit candles and played jazz and pretended to be an artiste. And then I ran out of money. My parents didn’t charge me rent, but I’m a proud girl and I had bills to pay and I hated living at home (due to my pride) and then 9/11 happened and then I went back to radio full time for about nine months as the station’s promotions director, a gig that was almost the death of me, but I learned a lot. Then I left radio (again), got serious about my copywriting business, started teaching writing at the grad school level (that’s another story), got serious about my creative writing, did NaNoWriMo, started a writers group, wrote about six top to bottom rewrites of novel #1 over nine years, earned my MFA in creative writing, moved out of the house, wrote a second novel, invented cool programs for my business like The Copy Bitch and Rent My Noggin, and embraced the indie writer revolution. (Aren’t you glad I didn’t give the long version?)

And you know what? I’m not going to say I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a lot I’d like to change. I wish I had gotten serious with my writing in my 20s. I wish I hadn’t spent close to seven years living back home. I wish, I wish, I wish. But it’s done. It’s over. And all of it has informed the writer I am today, and that I wouldn’t change.

So back to my friend. I can sympathize with her fear. I think I’ve spent the last decade more scared than not. But I’ve also never been freer in thought, in the possibilities, and in the control I have over my own life. Sometimes fear is the biggest motivator out there.

What motivates you as a writer?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 6 Comments »

And You Thought NaNoWriMo Was Hard

Jan. 28th 2011

Just discovered this dude who is trying to write one novel per month for 12 months. He just finished January. You can follow his progress here.

Here’s his reasoning, and I quote:

“Great authors such as Stephen King have assured the world that we all need to write 1,000,000 words of drivel before we can actually begin writing things of note, and thus I have set about in a slightly ludicrous fashion to do just that. At 2,740 words per day, I should hit my first million word mark come December 31st.”

King talks about this in his writing memoir, On Writing (highly recommend). And I think I agree that one million words is probably about right. But to get them out all at once? That’s a lot of writing diarrhea. We’ll see how he does, though. Let’s check in on him in June and see where he’s at…and how sane he is. I give him a lot of credit.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 8 Comments »