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NaNoWriMo 2023 Recap


National Novel Writing Month has come to an end.


And I survived (just barely, it seems!).


2023 marked my first true NaNoWriMo experience. I did a NaNo-adjacent project about ten years ago that was essentially the by-then-discontinued Screnzy during November instead of its regular April but I've never participated in any official capacity.


I held off on writing this recap for a smidge because I wanted to give myself a chance to recover from the hecticness of NaNoWriMo and attempting to write every day during it. These couple days of downtime have been more needed than I expected!


 

Before I get too far into this recap, I want to take a moment to talk about the controversy that came to light about NaNoWriMo in early November. There were concerns raised about the website's forums, especially in the way they were handled by the organization. Because of this, many users decided to forgo the challenge and/or delete their accounts on the website.


I didn't learn about this until much later on, as I was semi-MIA on social media while trying to catch back up to my word count goals.


I made the personal decision to continue working on the WIP I started for NaNo with the 50,000-word goal in mind, but started calling it the "50K In 30 Days" challenge or my November writing goal for the most part. You may see me wearing my 2023 Winner shirt, which I purchased prior to the news of the situation in question, and I'm choosing to do so not necessarily in support of the organization but in celebration of my accomplishments.


Because, for me, winning wasn't solely a matter of word counts.


 

I didn't plan on taking part in this year's challenge until I was struck by the initial concept for A Tided Love in the early spring. At that point, I didn't think I would be ready to join Camp NaNoWriMo in April or July but hoped I would be up for November's big event.


Suffice it to say, NaNoWriMo was a lot, but it was especially a learning experience. It made me try out new methods of plotting a novel and helped me begin to reinstate my writing routine that went awry when I fell ill around this time last year. But it was far from sunshine and rainbows and matte blue Scooby-Doo fruit snacks.


On that note, here is my wrap-up for NaNoWriMo 2023.


Pre-Preptober

Many NaNoWriMo participants refer to the month of October as Preptober, a time for outlining or research or anything else that can help prepare for NaNoWriMo.


Knowing how chaotic my life was at the time, I actually started my NaNoWriMo experience with a Pre-Preptober period spanning from mid-August through September.


Pre-Preptober was predominantly a time for me to get ahead on stuff for the blog. I typically write my posts a few weeks in advance in case something happens, but knowing I would be entirely focused on a new fiction project for at least two months straight pretty much guaranteed that blog posts would not get written in that time. There were some year-end things I couldn't write so early (because you can't exactly write an end-of-year wrap-up when there are five months left), but the majority of my fourth-quarter content was finalized in early September.


I was also getting my footing on Instagram and Threads at this time and preparing content for the former, which included some fun posts about A Tided Love and periodic check-ins.


Pre-Preptober was a chance to refresh my understanding of plotting methods. Outlining is so often advised ahead of NaNoWriMo, so this habitual Plantser decided to give it a try.

via Amazon

Part of Pre-Preptober was spent reading through Jessica Brody's Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, a guide that's popular within the Writing Community for a good reason.


I won't go into a lengthy review here, but know that Save the Cat! Writes a Novel was but it's definitely worth checking out if you're able--even if you're like me and don't feel like everything covered works for you.


Pre-Preptober was also when I started curating the playlist for A Tided Love, got my writing spaces in order, and tested out different writing sprint methods to get a feel for things.


Preptober

A Tided Love is by far the most plotted thing I've ever written.


As a Plantser, I tend to go into a new WIP with an outline that covers the basics with plenty of room to veer from the plan and discover the story as I go. For NaNoWriMo, however, I thought a more solidified outline would help keep me on track because the challenge's rigorous time limit doesn't allow much time for wandering.


I had been keeping sporadic notes when things came to mind leading up to October, and then wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline that was more in-depth than I usually go.


Preptober was also the time I started to put my introverted self out there more and connect with other writers who were participating in the challenge. Writing is such a solitary, isolating thing sometimes, so finding that small community was great!


Writing A Tided Love

My project for NaNoWriMo was A Tided Love, a second-chance romance set in a Regency Era resort town (for more details, check out my introductory post here).

There is a lot I'm thankful for when it comes to this WIP.


A Tided Love is the first new piece of fiction I've worked on in about two years. Prior to taking on NaNo, I'd been editing in circles, trying to whip Bound to the Heart into shape. Each draft became harder, mostly because I wasn't giving myself that chance to refresh and step back.


Starting something brand-new has helped rekindle my love for storytelling and just exploring, which is great, but it was not without some unexpected challenges.


I made it maybe three days before my strictly regimented outline became obsolete, and that's honestly okay. I'm a Plantser, and trying to force myself into Planner-hood was just making the whole thing harder and less fun.


Had I kept to the plan, Thomas wouldn't have his pet pug!


A Tided Love also asks for a different level of vulnerability from me as a writer. I'm exploring some difficult subjects through Caroline and Thomas, and that's been pushing me out of my comfort zone. It's about balancing the hard stuff with the spots of light and joy—as is the case with life itself, I suppose.


I feel like I've grown quite a bit as a writer in these past few weeks and cannot wait to see how that influences my writing in the future.


Ups, Downs, And Everything In Between

NaNoWriMo was a season of change for my writing routine.


For one thing, I've always preferred writing first drafts by hand. However, it's not the speediest approach—which isn't helpful when you're working with an unrelenting time limit! It's also harder to track your word count.


If you've been following the blog or my social media profiles, chances are you've already met Mavis, my Alphasmart Neo2 (if not, you can read more about her here). I'd been using this gadget for a bit beforehand, but NaNoWriMo really put it—and my patience—to the test.


On Day 7, I went to a write-in at a local-ish library (about forty-five minutes away from my house), and it had been my most productive writing session so far. I had hit my word count for the day and managed to get a little ahead, maintaining my streak.


And that's where it all started to go downhill.


I went to transfer my writing from Mavis to my laptop when I got home from the write-in. When I turned Mavis on, I was met with an error message: An unexpected data change occurred. Did you recently remove or replace the AlphaSmarts lithium backup battery? (Y for yes, N for no).


EVERYTHING I had written during the two-hour write-in was GONE. I was set back about 2,000 words, which I stayed up until 4 AM to frantically retype on my laptop, and was understandably devastated and not in the mood to deal with it. Because it almost seemed natural that something would go wrong during NaNoWriMo. Murphy's Law and all that jazz. Really, I was just glad it happened in the first week.


So what the hell happened?


After doing some research (and panicking), I found that Mavis's RAM is powered by a CR2032 battery separate from the AAs that power her.

The Guts of my NEO2

Basically, Mavis was braindead.


She wasn't saving my work because her memory wasn't being powered.


Once I realized what was happening, I breathed a sigh of relief and ran out to pick up a pack of CR2032 batteries and T6 and T10 screwdrivers.


I had to perform a little surgery to change the battery, which involved pulling out the motherboard.


Believe me when I tell you I was deathly afraid of breaking it!


The good news is Mavis was back up and running after that. The bad news was that I was about 4,000 words behind my goal by the time it was all said and done and I really struggled to catch up after that technical hiccup.


There were also a couple of days I fell below goal because of new meds impacting my sleep and ability to concentrate.


Around Day 20, I made the decision to drop my overall goal from 50,000 words to the 30K-40K range. I admittedly felt a little defeated but giving myself that grace was important (especially because Thanksgiving is the beginning of a difficult time of year for me).


Speaking of word counts, that's actually not something I worry too much about as I'm drafting, so NaNoWriMo being based around tracking how many words you've written in a day required some form of tracking and goal-setting.


I tend to be a visual person, so I went ahead and made a little daily tracker for myself. Every day I reached my goal, I added a little star sticker as a tiny treat.

This did help keep me on track until the hiccup with Mavis's RAM. At that point, I got inconsistent with updating the chart.


The numbers were also off once I shifted my personal goals. If I felt like I had more time, I probably would have made a new chart to reflect my modified goals.


Did I Win?

That depends on the metric.


As far as the official NaNoWriMo word count goes, I failed miserably, coming in with a final total of XYZ out of 50,000.


But NaNoWriMo isn't only about the word count.


For a lot of writers, their goal is to get back into a steady writing habit or explore a new idea, and I certainly did that with A Tided Love.


And for me, I went into NaNo with the hope of rekindling my love for writing. I needed to learn to embrace the natural imperfections of a first draft and not get so wrapped up in getting everything "right" the first time.


I also learned a lot about myself and myself as a writer this month, and am walking away with newfound confidence in my ideas while also giving myself permission to explore and try new things.


So, in my own way, I did win.


What's Next?

In the wake of any accomplishment, it's natural to ask what lies ahead. What's next?


For me, my main objective on the fiction side of things is going to be finishing the first draft of A Tided Love. {While I did manage to write 50,000 words of it, I'd estimate that I am maybe about 60% through the story.} I'll also be working at a much slower pace, with more room for self-care going forwards!


Once I've done that, I plan to let the story rest for a while. I'm hoping to get back to editing Bound to the Heart and get it ready for a new round of beta reader feedback by winter 2024. That sounds like a long ways off from now, and it is, but knowing the shape I left Bound to the Heart in, it will take some time to get it ready.


I'll also be finishing up some end-of-year content for the blog and laying the groundwork for an exciting new venture to come in Spring 2024.


The Takeaways And Final Thoughts

NaNoWriMo was a chance to try out new methods and push myself as a writer.


Some worked really well for me, like using stickers as a visual tracker for my word count (until I stopped updating it consistently).


But there were other things that, in hindsight, I would have done better to skip.


As you might have figured out already, this includes the outlining process.


I stressed myself out trying to nail down every detail of A Tided Love's plot going into the challenge. I was working on it until the last minute. And looking back, I think that contributed to the burnout I was feeling early on. I didn't enjoy the outlining process, and while it did help prevent writer's block while I was working on my WIP, it wasn't long until I started veering off it.


And in all honesty, I was having more fun working on my WIP when I wasn't following the outline!


If I were to do NaNo or a similar writing challenge again, I think I will stick to the plotting method that works best for me: a bare-bones outline that has the big stuff set with plenty of room to explore.


On the positive side, I'm glad I've started to put myself out there more, even if it's only gradually, and I'll be continuing to do so in the coming year.


I went to a handful of write-ins that were the most productive writing sessions I've had in a long while and made some internet friends I hope to keep in touch with even though NaNo is over.


For the most part, Mavis proved to be a great device for NaNo—outside of the RAM issues that caused all hell to break loose; from what I've read, CR2032 batteries last about 7-10 years so I theoretically won't have any issues with saving my work until 2030 at the earliest.


But when she was functioning properly, Mavis served me well. I've always said one of the biggest draws for me is her "acoustic" nature that limits distractions. Plus having only four lines of text to look at is far less imposing than an entire page.


I'm also hoping I can carry that "embrace imperfection" mentality from here on out and grant myself that all-important permission to explore my first drafts freely. Because it can all be fixed in editing.


This all begs the question: would I do NaNoWriMo again?


Potentially. I don't want to rule it out entirely, but I didn't have the best time participating.


While I enjoyed working on A Tided Love, I was under a lot of pressure that was more of a hindrance than a help. There was also a lot of guilt and disappointment in myself on the days I didn't hit the goal.


If I do take on the challenge again, chances are I would modify it.


There's also the matter of life itself to be considered. In my current situation, I was mostly able to write a little every day, but next year? Who's to say what things will look like?


It'll also depend on where I'm at in my writing journey. I could see myself attempting an editing-centric challenge if that needs to be my focus at the time.


It's not a "never again" for me. It's simply a matter of where I'll be next November.



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