Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tales From Five NaNoWriMos (Sydney Salter)

NaNoWriMo 2005
I needed something to keep me trudging through the molasses of my publishing journey. I'd written three manuscripts each of which had won local writing contests, but I couldn't break into publication. And I was discouraged.

But I couldn't doubt myself or my story as I worked to meet my daily deadlines, and that gave me so much freedom to write honestly and courageously. I also learned that writing rituals are crap. On November 17th my computer crashed, and had to be repaired, overnight (!) so I wrote 1,660 words--by hand! Adios excuses.

Two years and some revision later my first NaNo novel became my first published novel: My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.

NaNoWriMo 2006
I loved my first NaNo so much that I couldn't wait to dive in again. Even though I had plans to visit out-of-state family for the week of Thanksgiving. I wrote on the plane. I wrote in a crowded Starbucks on Thanksgiving morning. I wrote on a tilting ferry boat in stormy weather. By November 26th, I'd written 56,407 words.

That manuscript isn't published, but it's taught me so much about revision. After a critique at the SCBWI LA conference I changed my POV from 3rd to 1st. Writing more distantly allowed me to explore a difficult topic, but the story grew powerful in first person. I'm grateful to have learned that lesson: I can revise anything!

NaNoWriMo 2008
On Halloween my editor approved my outline for a contracted book #2. The next day I dove into Swoon At Your Own Risk. I also had to finish revisions on Jungle Crossing (my first manuscript, written slowly with too many writing rituals and procrastinating revisions along the way). I "won" on November 27th, but I had to push through to December 5th. The key: chocolate rewards.

I felt like such a pro!

NaNoWriMo 2011
The first line of my November writing calendar says, "NaNoWriMo!!! Get your mojo back." Could fast-drafting save me from a writing slump? Could I really write something SO completely different? I'd spent weeks researching my new idea--a story so far out of my comfort zone, so different from all the others. On the first day I crawled through a painful 552 words. But I finished at 50,509 words on November 30th. The official counter--I always want that official winners certificate--shorted me, so I had to go back and pull out a few hundred more words.

Here's what I scribbled in my calendar at the end of the month: "I feel like I proved a lot to myself this month, even though I didn't write a clean ready-to-submit mss. I showed myself once again that sheer willpower means something."

I'm working on my final revision for this mss this November. Writing this one has been tough, but I'm starting to really love this story now.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2012
Oh, my kids are home from school, so… blah, blah. blah. Excuses. My kids are teenagers and I practically have to beg them to pay attention to me. If they're even home. And not sleeping. I wanted to try something really different--a novel for people my own age. Writing during the summer is still tricky, and I recorded zero words for two days, but I finished at 50,404 words on August 30th. I'm pretty sure the thing is a big mess, but I wouldn't know because I haven't read it. I did take the first ten pages to a fiction workshop and people loved the voice, so maybe it has potential… I'll get back to it. Revision ideas are swirling in my mind. And it's always easier to fix already-written words than fill a blank page.

Fast-drafting NaNoWriMo novels has given me the courage to be my authentic self, to try risky new ideas, to drag myself out of doubt--I'm so grateful for the folks at Office of Letters and Light. If you're doing NaNoWriMo this month, STOP PROCRASTINATING, and get back to work! You can do it!!!


  1. This is a terrific post! I can relate to the excuses, but I, too, am realizing that time MUST be made for writing. Your track record of making the time to write is so impressive!

  2. Congratulations for doing so much with your writing! You're right that it's important to stop procrastinating; procrastinating is one of my biggest weaknesses. It's too bad I don't have a typewriter instead of a laptop, because then I wouldn't have the Internet to distract me. I don't think my neighbors would like the typewriter though (which would just be ANOTHER bonus!).

  3. I love seeing the progression and growth through each year. This is my second year and I wasn't even close to finishing last year so I'm really excited to hit my goal this time and to start seeing how NaNo plays out over the year! Keep writing!!!

  4. Thank you for sharing all of your NaNo experiences! I've never done it before (not officially at least and I always failed like a week in doing it unofficially), but this is making me want to try for sure next year!

  5. I can't believe you wrote "S" during Nano. I might have to rethink my anti-nano stance!!!