Last weekend, I was sitting on an unmade bed in a hotel room and scrolling down my 165 pages novel draft. In our English class, all honors students are required to do an Independent Writing Project. While it might be a pain in the ass for others to write two hours per week after school, it has never inconvenienced me. I write for two hours every day if time allows.

My IWP project was the YA novel I finished during NaNoWriMo and rewrote without a revision outline. I typed the last word with a smile on my face and a feeling that I won’t come back.

When I go to college, I probably won’t read YA novels as much. Not because my taste becomes more “advanced”. My to-read list is just too long (it has 56 books already!) and there are so much in the world that I want to explore. I want to live the life of people who are so different from me that I shout with delight, “I didn’t know a person could think like that!” They might be at a drastically different age, live on the other side of the world (or a different world!), and/or come from a different culture. And I want to read more literary books and non-fiction. 

That’s how I feel about my novel. During the teenage years, a writer grows immensely, and the improvement is even more tangible for a non-native speaker. I am amazed at how much I’ve grown every time I read something that I wrote two months ago. 

Counting Clouds was a fantastic project—it was right what I needed. I started writing it when I fully accept my sexuality, when I question about religion and love, when I finally let go of the feeling of abandonment. And when I miss the elephant (whom I still couldn’t bring myself to call a stuffed animal) I lost years ago but still couldn’t get over, because the countless days and nights when my parents are “too busy”, she stayed by my side and listened and comforted me. 

Carmen Kessler was so different from me, yet we experienced growing pains and confusions together. We bonded over of our passion for writing and chatted from the warm summer liveliness to the chilly fall tranquility. I have amazing friends now and no longer seek companion from fictional characters, but Carmen and I shared a special relationship that I always hold dear to my heart. 

But now, it’s time to say goodbye.

Farewell, Carmen Kessler. May your future be clear and bright. May you get into your dream college. May your young love with Leela lasts forever. May you stay lifelong friends with Joanne and Dylan.

So, Dr. H, is it too late to change my IWP project?

9 Lessons I learned from NaNoWriMo 2018

Guess what: I won NaNoWriMo this year!

At the end of October, I did some research on the techniques other people use to survive Nano, so I thought I would also share some hard-learned lessons, although I’m by no means an expert. Everyone’s writing process is different; what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for you.

1. Start fresh (unless you have more than one project planned out)

When November began, I was already in the middle of my novel. Big mistake. Past experiences proved me that if I put a project down and work on another, I’ll never go back to it again. So I kept writing and finished my very rough draft (about forty thousand words—I am an extreme underwriter) around November 14th. After attempting to write a Middle Age novel about genocide (which was wayyyyyy too depressing), I decided to rewrite the first draft of my YA novel. Without a revision outline or even notes, I barely made any progress and was consistently reminded of how bad my writing was. The first draft is always crappy, but I could make so much more improvement if I let it sit for a month, take notes on the plot holes and character developmental problems, and fix them one by one.

2. Use a calendar 

My life got exponentially better after I started planning. Most of us don’t know our schedule ahead of time, but at the beginning of each week, we can approximate which days will be busier than the others and adjust our daily writing goals accordingly. Of course, unexpected incidents happened (and often at the least convenient times), but if you’re like me, simply knowing how much you are going to write each day eliminates the uncertain feeling.

3. If you’re a plotter/planner, make an outline.

A large part about Nano is self-discovery. Some people identify as pantsers for years, only to find out the number of writers’ blocks they have without an outline. So, do whatever you need to prepare for your novel (or whatever you write, go Nano rebels!). I’m a character-driven writer and I’ve always known everything about my characters: their flaws (problems), their wants, their needs……But this is the first year which I plotted out the whole book and I found myself much more motivated because when I sit down, I actually know what happens next. My definition of an outline is simply as a list of scenes, so I have lots of freedom to move around. But again, everyone’s has different processes, and do what’s right for you! There is no one way that is better than another. If you’re a pantser, don’t feel pressure to plan!

4. Get ahead 

Because of a school trip, I didn’t start writing until November 3rd, right after taking the SAT (I know, bad decision). My friends joked about how I wrote on my phone during the barn party while everyone else was dancing and socializing. Even so, with school and social activities, I stayed behind until Day 27. When my word count raised above the line where I should be if I want to reach 50k, the heavy rock on my chest is suddenly……gone. There are days when I have so much to do, get overwhelmed, and end up do nothing. Staying ahead prevents these days and largely reduced my stress and anxiety.

5. Make writing a routine 

As M.R. Graham said in one of the Nano prep talks, life can’t get in the way of writing if you make writing part of your life. If you don’t write professionally, it’s so easy to get caught up with other responsibilities in life and prioritize them above writing. Although I call myself a writer, I struggle to find the motivation to write after a long school day (and homework!), especially when my mental health isn’t that great either. My advice is to set aside a certain time or even place every day, so your brain will associate with the familiar feeling and it will take lesser time to get into the writing “mood”. After you do it once, it gets easier each time. Writing 1,667 words every day could be done when you make it a routine.

6. Try not to cut people off

During November, it might be tempting to tell your friends and family how important NaNoWriMo is for you so they won’t expect you to hang around. While I spent considerably less time in social situations, not talking to a single human being might not be a good idea. Sometimes chatting with friends can be stress-reliving. Also, completely cutting people off might leave you feeling guilty. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about putting others before yourself. If you plan to write on Saturday, politely letting down your friend’s invitation to the mall is totally valid. But isolation can be unhealthy and not necessarily beneficial to your overall productivity. Throughout the month my close friends greet me with “how’s Nano going?” instead of “what’s up”, and personally I find it hilarious and very encouraging.

7. Get involved in Nano Forums

Sure, writing is a solitary journey. Sometimes you feel lonely. But November is the time to change that! You can meet thousands of other like-minded writers who are just as crazy as you are to commit to writing a whole novel in a month. Befriend with fellow Wrimos, discuss writing technique (or just random stuff like what did you eat for breakfast), and share your experience! In the meanwhile, scrolling down the forums can be an excuse for procrastination, I’ll leave the judgment to individual Wrimo.

8. Attend local write-ins 

I know, real-world connections, unbelievable! Living in a small town, I sometimes feel like the only (teen) writer out here, but it’s time to refute that statement! I only attended two write-ins at the local library, but the sense of support and security I got from other writers in the group is unmeasurable. And I actually talked to people (maybe even made friends), which was a huge accomplishment for someone who is shy and anxious like me! The word spirits and fun games are just the cherries on the cake at this point.

9. Don’t forget how awesome you are!

When you’re swimming in your word count, it’s easy to dismiss how significantis what you are doing. Come on, you are writing a novel! You’re creating characters, telling stories, and building worlds! It’s awesome!

  For everyone who won Nano, CONGRATS! For those who didn’t finish, CONGRATS too! You now have something more than a blank page. Remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is your story. 

Happy writing!