NaNoWriMo Interview: Carolyn Dekat
Carolyn Dekat is a four-time NaNoWriMo winner who has published numerous articles both online and off. She is an active member of the Skateboard online writer’s group, where she works with her online friends and fellow writers to collectively improve their writing, which has helped her win several local writing contests. Now, she says, she’s ready for the next stage: getting her NaNoWriMo manuscripts off to publishers. You can fin her on the NaNoWriMo site using the handle “Word_Countess” (which has more to do with her writer’s preoccupation with word counts than with any noble heritage) or read her blog Today’s Words.
Why do you do NaNoWriMo?
I’m addicted now. I don’t write as much as I’d like to during the rest of the year because I do have other important obligations. This is the highlight of the year for the writer in me, the month when storytelling gets first priority. I do it strictly for fun and for me and it fills the well that lets me balance everything for the rest of the year. Or at least till the next writer’s conference.
What benefits have you gotten from your participation?
I finally understand why it’s so important to have a complete draft before getting to the revision and editing. I have also learned flexibility: the process that worked so brilliantly the first year has never worked as well again. Each story has it’s own rhythm and its own needs.
One year I outlined about six major scenes ahead of time and then used the month to link them together. The following year I worked from portrait pictures I found online, in-depth character sketches and used current events news coverage to keep me going. Last year I had a hard time coming up with a good story line at all – I only had the picture of my main character in my head. I forced myself to start anyway and let all the discovery happen as I wrote. For a control freak like me, that was more gut wrenching than jumping out of a plane. I think. It worked far better than I thought possible. I find it much easier now to relax and go with the flow.
How did you keep yourself inspired and motivated during NaNoWriMo?
Quotes, music, walks, candles, coffee, naps and, most important, online writing buddies. I also love leaving off in the middle of something so I’m primed to start back up at the earliest possible opportunity.
What sort of planning, if any, are you doing this year before you start writing?
Just yesterday I decided that this year I would expand a short story that has potential to be something bigger. I’ll do more in-depth character sketches and probably some brief storyboards for an opening scene, perhaps a closing scene, and about three major turning points–a technique loosely based on The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray (the old edition; I haven’t read the recently released updated version).
What are some of the tools you use to keep yourself organized and on-track during NaNoWriMo? How do you use them?
I like the NaNo report card and calendars that are downloadable from forum links on the site. The report card gives me a visual: I like seeing progress. But it can get discouraging when there isn’t any, so I’m not always good at keeping them updated daily.
Last year I numbered every scene I wrote and then did a scene-by-scene track on an Excel spreadsheet: who, where, when, what happened, and "remember this" as column headers, then numbered a row for each scene. Part way through I added a "check or change" column to jot notes where I thought there might be problems so I wouldn’t feel tempted to go back and do any editing right then.
The spreadsheet helped tremendously because I didn’t write in order. I wrote scenes that grabbed me when they grabbed me, whether the story was ready for them at that point or not. Then when I got stuck, I’d figure out where I needed to add transitional material and could generally get myself going again by brainstorming myself or with my writing buddies. Also a glance at the spread sheet at the end of a writing session let me subconsciously work out what might be needed to bridge gaps as I went about whatever else I had to do.
How do you manage your time during NaNoWriMo to make time for writing?
My motto: Early in the day, early in the week, early in the month. I do my best not to procrastinate, because I never know what will pop up. When I have time I use it. I am a homeschooling mom, but now my last student is on auto-pilot as far as school goes and requires very little of my time, so my days are more flexible than most.
Planning ahead in September and October helps a bunch too. We run a small property-management business from home, so I get filing, bookkeeping, etc. up to date by Oct 31st, schedule bill payments online for November, and clear out as much of my other obligations as possible. My family seems to stay happy if they’re fed. So I plan plenty of quick, easy, crock-pot and/or freezer meals. My son is a good cook, and he’ll pitch in to help me when I need it. And I write like crazy during football games or whenever the house is empty. On days when the interruptions get to be too much (usually phone calls) I escape to the library for a while; that’s always cheaper than escaping to Starbucks or Panera Bread.
What advice do you have for other writers doing NaNoWriMo for the first time?
Just write. Don’t edit. At first I had to really work at this, because my internal editor didn’t like being ignored. But it got easier, and most importantly, it became fun. The freedom allowed me to experiment and discover like I’d never done before. That’s what got me hooked.
I start every year telling myself it doesn’t matter if the writing makes sense. It doesn’t matter if there are gaps. If I hit a wall and don’t know what comes next, who cares. Write the end. Or write the next scene I want to write. There are no rules at this stage of the game.
An extra bonus that comes in the months following, I come to love my internal editor. We have fun tweaking and making the story stronger. When you have an entire manuscript to work with, rewriting and reworking the story is so much easier. No matter how bad you think your manuscript is at the end of November, you’ll know more about writing then than you did when you went in. It is so true that with writing, the learning is in the doing.