An Interview with the NaNo Challenge Winners

I’m pleased to welcome three special guests today—the top three word-count writers from the Write Like Crazy NaNoWriMo Challenge! Each of these ladies wrote over HALF A MILLION WORDS, which is beyond amazing, and they were all kind enough to write a few hundred more to answer some of my questions.


I am super inspired by their dedication, and I hope you will be as well!


Please welcome Sam (561,921 words), Taryn (555,000 words) and Katie (500,005 words) to the blog!




Marissa: Do you want to tell us a little bit about the projects you were working on during November? I know some of you wrote multiple novels last month—which makes sense!


Sam: My novels were about a government training/ recruitment program for teens that wouldn’t be missed in the world. The government could train these teen soldiers to kill and go into war, and not have to answer to any surviving family members about the teen’s whereabouts or untimely deaths.



MG fantasy about two kids who uncover a monster smuggling ring

NA contemp about two girls who learn they’re dating the same guy

YA fantasy crossing Rumspringa with a Native American vision quest

Space opera retelling of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

NA romance retelling My Fair Lady


Katie: I wrote four novels last month. The first was about a high school senior who’s trying to figure out where to go to college while dealing with her dysfunctional extended family. The second was a college romance about a young woman trying to reconcile her desires with her feminist beliefs. The third was about a high school football player wrongly accused of murder. The fourth was about a high school dropout who tries to get over the death of her twin sister by hiking the 2,000+ mile-long Appalachian Trail. I also wrote several short stories and sort of “deleted scenes” featuring characters from different novels.



Marissa: What’s next for you and your writing? Do you plan to revise these projects? Any hopes for future publication?


Sam: I definitely plan to revise my first novel, Experiment Area 96, because I really am proud of how that one planned out. The two sequels are kind of  iffy for me. I don’t think I like how my plot went and I may end up just rewriting both. I’m sure deep down inside I want my book published, but I have that little self-conscious voice in my head that’s spewing what ifs. What if they all reject it? What if they publish it and all the readers hate it? So. Maybe when I get this voice tied up, gagged in a closet somewhere, I’ll want my book published.


Taryn: I have an agent, and we’re subbing a project from earlier this year. A couple of these will be revised while that one’s out, so we’ll see!


Katie:  I have two novels that I promised myself I would rewrite once NaNo was over. Once I’ve edited those, I will go back and edit the projects I wrote last month. I really want to be published, and I currently have ten completed drafts that I need to work on. My plan is to make 2014 the year that I focus more on editing the novels I’ve already written and less on writing new novels. (Of course, I also said that last year!)



Marissa: How many times had you competed in NaNoWriMo before this? Was this the first time you pushed yourself to this degree, or is your ability to rack up mind-blowing word counts old news to you and your family?


Sam: This was actually my first ‘official’ NaNo. I did fanfiction for almost two years, racking up almost 16 stories. I think my longest story was about 200,000 words.


Taryn: 7th NaNo! My first one just barely made it across the 50K line. Finished in 3 days last year, but this is the first year I kept that pace up the whole way through.


Katie: This was my seventh year participating in NaNoWriMo, and the fifth year that I hit at least 50k. It wasn’t until my fourth year that I learned that there were people who set out to write more than 50k. So the next year I set myself a goal of 75k and ended up hitting 222k. Last year I tried to hit 250k and ended up falling short at 242k. This year I thought I would be lucky to hit 250k. I never thought that I would be able to write half a million! I didn’t even make that my official goal until about halfway through the month when I realized that I was still on pace for 500k.



Marissa: Speaking of friends and family—what did they think during your November writing madness? Did you have a lot of support, or did they mostly just think you’re crazy?


Sam: I actually only told my mom that I was doing it! She didn’t really say much or understand the significance. As for madness, I usually spend most of my days in my room anyways. (Antisocial teen stereotype. I know.)  So my family didn’t think much of it.


Taryn: I don’t have a roommate, so I basically spent most of my time in my room when I wasn’t at class or at the gym. No one was around enough to think I was crazy. My support system was twitter, and that was vital.


Katie: My family thinks I’m crazy, but they’re pretty much used to it by now. They got a bit annoyed at the constant writing, but they were still really supportive. My boyfriend constantly volunteered to make me more tea when I ran out, and he always cheered me on when I felt like giving up. And my friends are mostly fellow Wrimos, so they definitely helped cheer me on!



Marissa: Can you offer any tips or techniques for how to be such an efficient word-count machine? (In other words: How did you do it?!)


Sam: I used a technique that my shop teacher actually taught me. That is to retype a same sentence while you think of your next one, just so you don’t get stuck there staring at a blinking black line. I also planned. A TON.


Taryn: I have a ton of tips on my blog, but the most important one is this: Know how you write. Know your pace and how long you can keep it up and how long you need to recharge in between writing sessions. Plan ahead—A) in order to be excited about what you’re writing, and B) in order to not have distractions discourage you.


Katie: There are three things that I absolutely would not have won without. A) Write or Die. I don’t know what it is about that program, but it completely silences my inner editor about 98 percent of the time. Best ten bucks I’ve ever spent. B) Word wars. I have an awesome chat group that ran word wars all the time, and those (combined with WoD) really helped push me to write more than I would have on my own. C) A friend really close to you in word count. I wanted to stop writing a lot in the beginning of the month when I was so far ahead of my goal, but every time I wanted to quit, a fellow Wrimo was really close to me, and I had to keep writing so she wouldn’t catch up. Those three things combined to keep me writing all month long, even when I wanted to stop.


Of course, it also helps that I had a lot of free time and have gotten to the point where I can easily type 3-4k an hour. I even hit 5k an hour once. That definitely was something that I worked up to, though. It was only a few years ago that I thought 1k in 30 minutes was impossible for me! 🙂



Marissa: How about any advice for staying sane during a huge writing marathon like this?


Sam: Outline. Outline. OUTLINE. It helps decrease the panic when you reach a word block. Just go over your outline and try to get a feel for where your story is going.


Katie: Remember to have fun. I have a lot of friends in chat, and I would never have made it if I didn’t have them there to cheer for me when I did something awesomely crazy, to motivate me when I felt down, and just to joke around when I needed to think about something other than my novel. Writing is clearly important, but it’s also important to make sure that you have people around—either in person or online—who can make you laugh when you need it.



Marissa: What was your favorite part of the Write Like Crazy Challenge, or NaNoWriMo in general? Least favorite part?


Sam: My favorite part of NaNo was just the community. I grew to love checking twitter to see how everyone was doing and connecting with others going through the same thing I was. My least favorite part was having self doubts and stressing over wanting to win the challenge so bad. My own mind was freaking out on me when I didn’t type fast enough for all the information it was spewing at me.


Taryn: I love the atmosphere of NaNo, where creating is of #1 importance. Too many people get caught up in the minutiae of writing, but without a full picture, the details don’t matter.


Katie: I loved the Write Like Crazy challenge because it really helped push me to write more than I originally intended. NaNoWriMo is great in general because it pushes me to write in general. I’ve always loved creating stories, but I was always afraid to write them down because they were never as good on paper as they were in my head. And NaNo helped me realize that that’s okay, that there’s always another draft to write that can make it better, that a first draft doesn’t have to be good.


My least favorite part of NaNoWriMo is all the hate that comes with writing more than 50k. People on the forums can be really nasty sometimes. A bunch of people have gotten hate mail, and we have a bunch of people who come into the “Beyond 50k” forum (designed particularly for people who write more than 50k in a month, or 50k in less than a month) and start telling us that we must by lying or cheating or writing stuff that is of substantially lower quality than all the other drafts. Of course, there are also a lot of great people on the forums, and those people definitely outnumber the bad ones. The trick is to learning how to ignore the haters and just to keep doing what we love doing—writing.



Marissa: Would you do it again?


Sam: My gut is telling me NO! Even though it was an awesome experience, my school work decreased drastically! I already have school anxiety, and not completing school work really killed some of my grades. But have no fear, I managed to complete almost all of my work on time. Most of it. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.


Taryn: Probably not >500K. Writing 16,667/day left me creatively exhausted. Still, I plan to stick with 2 full MSs each NaNo. Having thousands of other writers doing the exact same thing—challenging themselves—is so motivational.


Katie: Maybe. Somewhere around week three, I told myself that I would never, ever do this again. But then I hit 500k a day early, and then I started to think about how much I could have written if I had actually aimed for 500k the entire time instead of just sort of half-aiming for it most of the month, and now I really want to see if I can write more, or at least hit 500k faster. But that will have to wait for a month when I have more free time. I’m hoping to start my first year of teaching next year, and while I’ll still be aiming for at least 100k, I doubt I will be able to write 500k and teach. Although I guess I’ll never know if I don’t try. 🙂



Marissa: I am so inspired after reading your answers! Thanks for answering my questions, and I wish you the best of luck with your revisions and future writing projects… and catching up on that school work!