How I Cheated at NaNoWriMo and Won

how-i-cheated-at-nanowrimoA couple years ago, my friend and fellow writer, S of JSMawdsley, talked me into trying NaNoWriMo. She mentioned it at the writer’s group she facilitates at the library where we worked. At the time, I was mainly a short story writer and dabbled in the occasional picture book. As luck would have it, I had an idea for a novel in mind, and NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect way to get it out of my head and on my laptop.

Being new to the world of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t prepare at all. I just started writing on November first and quit on November thirtieth. I had 50,000 words, which satisfied the requirements of NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t have a complete novel. What I did have was a lot of work ahead of me and the conviction that maybe I really hadn’t won.

At this point, S would probably have told me I needed to outline my novel, but the first thing I discovered from writing such a lengthy piece is that I’m a pantser. I plot a little when approaching my writing, but I love to explore the rabbit trails because that is where I discover my best writing. My opinion on pantsing can be read here: Are You A Pantser?

So, did I win NaNoWriMo or did I cheat? I started at about the last one-third of the novel because I had the most information for writing that portion. In short, I learned the valuable lesson of researching before you write especially if it’s for a contest such as NaNoWriMo. You don’t want the added stress of trying to conduct research while keeping up a word goal.

I pressed on throughout the year editing what I had written and creating the rest of the novel as I wanted it to be. I researched more thoroughly and ended up chucking quite a bit of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. Again, part of that was my fault, but I also wondered if one 50,000-word novel every year is what I wanted. Is that what the creators of NaNoWriMo want?

I suspect and sincerely hope the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to keep people writing because that’s what I did. Before I knew it, November had rolled around again, and with it NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t finished with my first novel, so why on earth would I abandon it for the added pressure of creating a new novel. Admittedly, I had no new ideas at the time, and I didn’t want the burden of coming up with one. Also, there was no time to research even the slim ideas that passed through my head.

Instead, I cheated, and I cheated grandly! I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and without a single ounce of shame, I re-entered my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Dr. Welles’s story was almost complete, but I needed a little motivation to finish the missing chapters and tie it all together. NaNoWriMo provided this inspiration by keeping me on track with a daily word goal, but it also became a beneficial editing tool. If I edited my daily word goal, I counted it along with any new writing.

What I achieved wasn’t another half-baked novel, but rather a well-written, well-edited novel with which I was extremely pleased. A titch more editing after the fact, and Dr. Welles was ready for the hands of beta readers.

I took a couple years off from NaNoWriMo, but the point of the contest was always close to my heart. I knew I couldn’t devote time to a new novel and make The Secrets of Dr. John Welles all I wanted it to be.   Then there is the fact that when story inspiration comes to me, I have to begin which sometimes means starting before NaNoWriMo starts. Yes, there is Camp NaNo, but my heart belongs to the original taking place in November.

When NaNoWriMo rolled around this year, I was already a little over halfway through my current novel. During the month of October, I had to set my writing aside to prepare for my son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. When I was ready to restart, good ole NaNoWriMo once again came to the rescue as a means up jumpstarting my writing. Although I didn’t sign up with the official website, I created a spreadsheet to track and tally my daily writing goal. I’m using it to finish the current novel, for which I am prepared research wise, as well as for any writing I do that can be published including my blog posts.

Yes, that’s cheating because it’s not a single new novel of at least 50,000 words. But again, I have to believe the heart and soul purpose of NaNoWriMo is to keep writers writing. That is what I am doing.

The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

People who know me are aware of my love of books but may not know that I enjoy picture books every bit as much as novels and works of non-fiction. For those who don’t know me, start here (My Love Affair With Books).

The Rules of SummerA couple of weeks ago, as I shelved picture books in the children’s department of the library where I used to work, I discovered Shaun Tan’s book, The Rules of Summer. The unusual artwork on the cover immediately caught my eye, and I indulged in a few stolen moments to read the book. What a treasure.

The lean text tells the story of two brothers and the unique and arbitrary rules that govern their summer. The pictures, semi-abstract creations in oil and acrylic, relay a deeper story about the nature of the boys’ relationship.

I believe the story speaks volumes about how people treat each other whether they’re children or adults, friends or family. It’s testimony to how far we will go in our relationships and exactly what we’ll tolerate and for how long. This may sound heavy for a picture book, but the beauty of the subtle message is that there is hope even when human nature ensures that this process repeats itself. When it does, we learn and grow, love and forgive.

I’ve already enjoyed reading The Rules of Summer five times and have decided that I must own a copy for my private library. The book as a whole is an incredible work of art, and I’ll never tire of sifting through the many layers of the story, both words and pictures.

My Love Affair With Books

Bookcase of books I've already read.

Bookcase of books I’ve already read.

Long before I became a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I remember the exact moment my love affair with books began. My mother set the stage by taking me and my brother to the library and checking out the very best picture books. She always managed to find interesting stories combined with fabulous artwork. She read to us in a soft yet commanding voice, often in character, and her tone never condescended no matter how simple the story.

Mom further instilled my love of books when she started my own little library purchased from various book clubs listed in the back of children’s magazines. I still have my entire collection, and when I married, I inherited all of my husband’s childhood books. Score!

Newly acquired shelves to hold my growing collection.

Newly acquired shelves to hold my growing collection.

Still, it wasn’t until the third grade that I discovered for myself what a treasure a book truly is. My best friend at the time proposed a contest in which we would check out the same book during library time at school. Then we would race to see who could finish the book first. Our selection was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I trusted I would enjoy the book, but admittedly, my competitive side prompted me to read and win.

Determination to finish first meant that the book went with me to a sleepover at my cousins’ house. While all the other kids played football in the street, I stayed inside and read. In my defense, I wasn’t missing much; it was only football.

So many books, so little time.

So many books, so little time.

Something happened as I sat curled up on my aunt’s couch. The story opened up for me in a way that previous books never had. It’s not that I hadn’t read on my own prior to this or that other books weren’t as good. I remember the wonderful feeling I experienced when my imagination blended with visualizing the story in my head as I read the words on the page. Excitement almost distracted me when I realized how much I loved reading.

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