NaNoWriMo, the Pen Addict Way

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(Sarah Read is an author, editor, yarn artist, and pen/paper/ink addict. You can find more about her at her website and on Twitter.)

If you noticed, during the month of November, your writer friends looking a little wild-eyed or sleep deprived, or perhaps couldn't find them at all, they may have been participating in NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month.

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For NaNoWriMo, writers commit to producing 50,000 words in 30 days, usually on a novel manuscript. The goal is to shut off the inner editor voice that tells us that what we are writing is terrible. Because of course it is terrible--all first drafts are. But you can't edit thin air, so get the draft down and fix it later. Plus, it's a fun way to connect with writer friends and band together in what can be a grueling sort of writerly boot camp.

It's not necessarily the pace of NaNoWriMo that's difficult. Writing 1600 to 2000 words a day only takes a few hours. It's sustaining that pace that gets to you--because you have to give up the things you'd normally do in those few hours, like visit with friends, watch your favorite movies, sleep.

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This is where pen addicts have a huge advantage. HUGE.

How would you like to play with your pens and ink for two hours every day for a month? Best month ever--right? Yer darn right, it is.

I've participated in NaNoWriMo a few times, and always using analog tools. At the write-ins I've attended, most people pop open laptops. Precious writing time is devoted to fighting over outlets and backing up hard drives. It really doesn't matter what you use, as long as you're writing, but using a nice pen, fun ink, and good paper just makes everything easier.

This year, my setup was focused on portability and durability. I have a day job and two young kids, so my "few hours a day" is taken in increments of five minutes whenever I can get them.

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For my planning and outlining, I used a Graphilo grid notebook. It's been perfect and wonderful. I wish I had indexed it from the beginning, because it got a little disorganized in the fray, but the small-scale grid and excellent paper facilitated outlining and making very tiny notes in margins. All of my historical research, character profiles, and plot ideas are stowed happily within. I guard it well.

For my main notebook, I used one of the Barnes & Noble brand Italian leather notebooks. I don't see these notebooks raved about much in the stationery community--perhaps because they can only be purchased at Barnes & Noble, which makes them inaccessible for many. If you have access to one of their stores, these notebooks are worth checking out. The leather covers are beautiful, the paper is great, and they have enough pages to hold a hastily-written first draft. I strapped a Quiver pen holder on mine. It did warp the leather cover a little (the leather is soft and only reinforced with thin cardstock), but it wasn't too excessive and I needed to be able to grab my tools in one unit. I always kept two pens in the Quiver, just in case.

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For pens and ink, I used...a lot. I started with a Conklin Word Gauge, because I've always wanted to know how many words I could really write with it. It boasts that you can write 5k words on one fill, and the ink window has the level measured in thousand-word increments. Well, my wet medium nib gave me about 12.5k words on one fill. It lasted so long, I was getting anxious to use something new. When it finally ran dry, I decided to work though my case of inked pens and empty and clean as many of them as possible. I wanted to see if I could empty every pen I had inked. Turns out I couldn't. That's how you know you have too many pens inked--write a whole book and still not run out. But I enjoyed the rotation immensely, and got to use some of my favorite pens in the process. I cleaned out the empties every weekend--sometimes as many as six at a time. Not all were full to begin with, so it's difficult to estimate how much ink I actually used, but I'd guess close to 20ml. Which gives me hope that I might actually, someday, use most of the ink I already own, as long as I stop buying new ink and write a novel every month for the rest of my days.

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The most common question I get when doing analog NaNoWriMo is how I know I've written 50k words. There's certainly no time to count them out every day, and my notebooks don't have an auto word counter (though I bet that's a thing, somewhere). I estimate--I count my words for the first few days, and calculate an average word count per page, then mark my page numbers with important milestones. I needed to write about 300 pages to reach 50k this year. I wrote to 313 to be safe. There are plenty of word-generating tools on the internet to create a document you can use to verify your word count in the NaNoWriMo website--I use a Lorem Ipsum creator.

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While I did hit the 50k mark this year, my book still isn't done. So I'm still going! I'm doing NaNoWriEternity. When I'm finally done with the draft, the real work will start--editing. Because first drafts are terrible.

(Watch Sarah flip through her entire notebook on Instagram.)

One of the best things about NaNoWriMo is that there's no way to lose. Even if you only go for one day, that's a few thousand words you didn't have before--winner! And if you're a pen addict, with your favorite pen and a fresh notebook and a lovely ink at hand, you win double. Because no one enjoys writing, as an act in and of itself, as much as we do.


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Posted on December 7, 2017 and filed under NaNoWriMo.