How I won NaNoWriMo 2019

NaNoWriMo 2019 Winner Badge
Things I did not know about myself before I started: apparently, I am motivated by badges.

A month ago, I embarked on a quest with hundreds of thousands (287,327 in 2018, for instance) of other writers around the world: to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Or, in my case, a memoir of sorts.

My original goals for NaNoWriMo were somewhat modest: to write, every day, on one of the stories in the list of stories I drafted at the end of October. A list that ended up growing and shifting over the course of the month, as I combined shorter vignettes into longer “stories” and added stories that came to mind as I wrote. I committed to minimal, if any, editing, so that I could just get the words out and onto the page, without judgment. I thought that 50,000 words would be nice, but not necessary.

And, to make the time for this endeavor, I decided that writing this draft would “count” as my scholarship for the month.

My NaNoWriMo word count, plotted as a line graph. Source: nanowrimo.org
That upward trend line is addicting to me, as it turns out. The top, darker line is my cumulative progress over the month, while the bottom line is the target line to get you to 50,000 words in 30 days.

For accountability, I committed to logging my progress daily on the NaNoWriMo site (which generates pretty graphs and infographics for you as you progress). I also figured, since I’ve found forums like those at NCFDD (Carleton is an institutional member) useful, that I’d use the various NaNoWriMo forums to both keep myself on track and to encourage others.

By the end of the month, I’d drafted 14 complete or mostly complete chapter/stories and wrote 52,158 words.

I’d “won” NaNoWriMo!

So, how did I do it?

A bar graph of my word count by day. Source: nanowrimo.org
My daily progress. You can see the pain points towards the end of the term, and my day off on Thanksgiving. And the spikes at the end when I became motivated to finish early — which I did, on November 29.

I found the stats and daily progress charts addicting. Seeing the upward trend of the cumulative graph, and the bars on the daily graph, provided much-needed motivation, much like Jerry Seinfeld’s chain. I’d calculated I needed just under 1700 words a day to stay on pace to hit 50,000, so I rounded that up to 1700 and tried to hit that. I ended up hovering around 1800 per day. This gradually built up a cushion of sorts, so that when the end of the term got messy and busy, as it always does, I could do a lighter writing day without falling behind the pace.

Posting my progress on Twitter and Instagram helped motivate me to keep writing, particularly when I hit the Week 2 Slump that veteran WriMos warn about, when you hate everything about your writing and question your sanity for embarking on such a foolish quest.

Having that story list was key when I did hit the inevitable slumps, as was my commitment to minimal editing. The story list also helped me find holes, or time periods with fewer stories than others, and privilege drafting one story over another on a day when I couldn’t decide where to start.

Surprisingly, I found the community aspect the least helpful, mainly because I didn’t really have time to engage as I would have liked. (See: end of Fall Term.) I didn’t utilize the buddy system, and I only spent a little bit of time on the local forums, and a bit more time than that following hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

The thing that surprised me the most was just how fickle my memory is about certain details. I’ve carried many of these stories around in my head for years, with some pretty vivid details. But the supporting details, I found, were hardest to recall. Who was in that feminist junior faculty book group, and what year did we meet? Did I encounter Foot Fetish Man in just that one class before the hallway confrontation, or was there a longer history? I tried my best to not let these lapses in memory derail me, writing around them and keeping a list of details to research later.

The thing that helped me the most was my daily research habit. I’m already in the habit of working on my research for at least 30 minutes a day, so it was straightforward to swap in “writing a memoir” for “drafting a conference paper”, which is what I would have been doing last month. I ended up writing for about an hour a day most days, but honestly, I was working on research for about an hour a day most days throughout Fall Term, so again, the transition felt natural.

So, what’s next?

The draft is still not complete. I haven’t started a few key stories, and a few others are not quite finished. There are holes, particularly in my post-doc and post-tenure years. I could probably spend an entire NaNoWriMo just finishing the draft and get another 50,000 words, although I don’t know if I want to wait until next November to do so.

There are all those missing details I mentioned above, so I’d like to do some research — interviewing people, perhaps, or figuring out if I can dig up old and now defunct blogs from my past, or find old emails. (This is where my habit of getting rid of things on a regular basis proves detrimental!)

I’d also like to publish this, eventually, somehow. But the structure is still in flux. Should this be a proper memoir, meaning I’ll definitely have to fill in more of the time periods for consistency’s sake? Or would this work better as a series of connected essays around some central themes, like belonging and boundaries? And if I go the essay route, which seems better suited to the structure at this point, do I try to publish a few as standalone essays first? Questions, questions!

What’s definitely next: continuing to write on a more consistent basis. I really enjoyed the process of writing every day — the discipline, the creativity, the sense of purpose I felt. I’ve continued to blog for as long as I have because I enjoy telling stories. This project was storytelling on a larger scale. Ideally, I’d find time everyday to continue this project, maybe coming up with a monthly word target (10,000?) until I finish whatever I count as my “first draft”. Realistically, that’s not in the cards — December belongs to other projects, and Winter Term will be especially busy with other priorities. But I can certainly find some time each week, and that’s certainly better than nothing, particularly if it’s something that’s rejuvenating me.

So, NaNoWriMo is over, but for me, NaNo continues. I’m excited to see where this all ends up.

All in for …. NaNoWriMo?

November is fast approaching, and around these parts November’s usually meant the start of AcWriMo. What is AcWriMo? Basically, it’s like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but for academic writing and without the 50,000 word goal.

I’ve participated almost every year since 2012.* (I can’t find any record of whether I participated in 2018, but that’s also the year I was rehabbing a broken elbow, so I suspect if I was participating, it was on a very limited basis.) I’ve always found it very useful. November is a VERY busy time, busier still since it’s the end of Fall Term. AcWriMo gives me incentive to continue plugging away at my research even (especially!) when there are 10,000 other things demanding my attention and energy. I also enjoy the community, although in recent years the community aspect is very much reduced.

But NaNoWriMo’s always intrigued me. 50,000 written words in a month? Towards a BOOK? Could I do that, someday? Are there stories inside me, lying dormant, waiting for the right time? Do I have a compelling story to tell?

At the end of last year, making my #19for2019 list (19 goals for 2019), I decided, why not? (see number 15)

When something weird, or unsavory, or infuriating, or just plain annoying happens at work, I’m fond of saying “someday I should write a book about all of this wackiness”. Because let’s face it: a lifetime of working in male-dominated fields, of being the token and the first to break the gender barriers in various venues, and I have a LOT of stories. A LOT.

So, I’ve decided that NaNoWriMo 2019 is “someday”. I am going to attempt to draft a book. A freakin’ book. Probably a memoir? Maybe a bunch of connected short stories? I’m not 100% sure at this point. I’m just going to start writing and see what happens.

Well, ok, something as big of an undertaking as a BOOK is not something that you can “just start writing”. So, there’s been a bit of planning. Since I officially committed (i.e. signed up on nanowrimo.org), I’ve done a bit of outlining and sketching out ideas, just so I’m not staring down a completely blank page on November 1. I’ve also taken a good hard look at my calendar, and decided that this project is going to be my academic writing for the month of November (and the last week of October), in order to make the math work out. I guess this is kind of academic writing, since it’s academic story writing. At least that’s the story I’m telling myself.

I doubt that I will hit 50,000 words by November 30. I doubt that I will actually finish an entire draft by November 30. But it’s sure worth trying! And at the end of the month, my word count and page count will both be non-zero….and that’s a start. A pretty darn good start.

I’m excited to see where this adventure takes me. If you’re also participating, you can follow my shenanigans on the NaNoWriMo website (I’m drcsiz), or follow along on Twitter. And whatever writing you happen to be contemplating in November, happy writing!


*interested in a recap? Here are links to all my past AcWriMo posts: