Well, I did not make my goal. As you can see from my previous blog, I decided to make my own version of NaNoWriMo, and my goal was to finish my “short” story project. Here is what I realized in the course of this month:
If your outline is over 10,000 words, you are no longer working on a short story.
So, obviously, I was in major denial. The initial concept for the story was a basic adventure tale, which I thought could be completed within the length of a short story or novella. I told myself some pretty convincing lies to make myself believe that this wasn’t going to be a big project. Here are a few of my favorite fibs:
- Sure – the outline is long, (nearly 15,000 words), but I included a lot of the details and dialogue for each scene. I’ll just transpose that information. It’ll still be a semi-short story.
- I’m establishing some major mythos of my fictional universe. I have to make sure it all works, so writing three additional short background stories totally makes sense!
- It’s only taking me longer to write out the first part of the outlined story because I was being so brief early on in my original outline. As soon as I get to a certain point, things will move more quickly.
While NaNoWriMo is certainly a motivational tool, it is also a learning experience. Thinking back on the month, I realized that there were several obstacles that hindered me from reaching my goal. In examining those obstacles, I think I will be able to find solutions for making me a stronger writer.
The first obstacle I faced was not meeting my original deadline for finishing my outline. In my earlier blog, I explained that I planned to finish my outline before November 1. In reality, I did not finish my outline until close to November 10. In other words, out of 30 days in November, I lost 10 of those days to outlining. Granted, I feel I have a rock-solid outline – it is certainly well detailed – and I know that, as I continue to write the story, my outline will keep me focused and help maintain continuity. Nevertheless, I set myself back.
My second obstacle was something I’m sure that many of you fellow NaNoWriMo writers can relate to, which is misjudging my availability throughout the month. Currently, I’m doing some freelance work, but I’m also job-hunting for something more permanent. Doing both of these duties takes up a lot of my time during the week. I also have other social and personal obligations. I thought that setting a goal of 1,000 words a day seemed reasonable. Unfortunately, I didn’t always have enough time to write that many words. Some days I exceeded my daily goals, but even those good days could not make up for the bad or missing days. In fact, if you were to average out my total word count for the month over the 20 days I actually worked on the script, it equals about an average of 688 words per day.
Closely related to my second obstacle, my third obstacle included not taking into account my emotional state. As I said above, I’ve been job-hunting for more freelance work as well as permanent positions, and, as many of you know, trying to find work can be physically and emotionally draining. Add to that stress the disappointment of not meeting my daily word count goals, and you can imagine the type of frustration I experienced. There were days when I could write through the depression and the anger, but those emotions generally do not improve the writing process.
My last obstacle was probably fairly unique to my project, but it’s an issue that affects anyone who’s conducting significant research for their story – I.E., getting OBSESSIVELY sidetracked. Because I’m writing a piece of fiction that takes place 150 years ago, I kept obsessing over avoiding anachronisms and including period-specific phrasing. I also kept checking on historical facts and dates that, while interesting, probably didn’t have a lot to do with my story. Regardless, I felt compelled to know this information to be a better storyteller.
When I decided in October to participate in my own version of NaNoWriMo, I promised myself that I would only do so if I evaluated my progress. Therefore, I decided to write this follow-up blog to analyze the issues I had during the month and determine the best way to stop the above obstacles from hindering me further as a writer.
To address the first two obstacles, which are essentially time management issues, I think I will need to first recognize the true length of my project. Yes – many ideas may start out as short story ideas, but as ideas grow, so too must the length of each project. Furthermore, I may want a story to stay short, but the story may not always feel the same way, and I just have to accept that as fact. Therefore, if the story is going to be longer, I have to be patient with myself and give myself more time for the outline.
Just as I have to be patient with myself and how my ideas morph during the planning stages, I also have to be reasonable and recognize the amount of time I actually have to write creatively. Since I’m working as a freelancer who is also job-hunting, I have a flexible schedule, but not necessarily more available free time. So, I have to start out with reasonable goals, and, as I repeatedly meet those goals, that’s the time when I MUST challenge myself by creating new goals.
For example: Let’s say for the next month I gave myself a goal of writing 500 words a day Monday through Friday. If I can consistently meet this goal for at least 4-5 consecutive weeks, (minus holidays), at that point I should reassess my availability and increase my word count goal to the next reasonable benchmark.
Dealing with the ups and downs of my emotions, especially with my current projects and job-hunting stress, will prove the most difficult obstacle to solve. There are certain techniques I think every person has to consider to deal with his or her own stress.
For myself, making daily to-do lists, checking-off completed items, and recording my daily activities can help me feel productive. Getting regular exercise also helps me minimize my stress, as does making time to do other joyful activities, such as reading, playing music, drawing, working on crafts, and hanging out with friends.
When my stress levels are high, however, I’m more inclined to let my workaholic-self takeover. I might get some projects done by being a workaholic, but it doesn’t help lower my stress, necessarily. I have to be hyperaware of what I’m doing and realize that I produce better content and more interesting fiction when I control my stress, which means taking care of myself, getting enough sleep, and having fun on occasion.
I realized the solution for my final obstacle while I was writing during this past month. At first I let myself get totally sidetracked or obsessive about the research information. It wasn’t long before I realized that all that research time was stopping me from reaching my daily word count goals. At that point, I had to tell myself the following phrase:
“It’s your first draft. Stop obsessing!”
I found myself repeating this phrase like a mantra. I also decided that whenever I came to a word or section that needed some historical research, I would write (type) the modern equivalent down, or at least write down what point I was trying to convey, and then highlight that section in a specific color on my word processing program. That way I wouldn’t lose track of what I was trying to say, since I knew I would come back to fix the problem during the editing process. In addition, I found this technique helped me to avoid writer’s block; whenever I got stuck, I could just write down my thoughts on what I wanted to include, and then I could move on with the rest of the story.
So how about you? If you participated in NaNoWriMo, did you make it through the month? Did you reach your goals? If so, write a comment below and tell us how you got through it. If you’re like me and you didn’t quite make it, write a comment below about what obstacles you faced and what you learned from those obstacles.