Sunday, November 29, 2015

Five Things I Learned in NaNoWriMo

Today is November 29th. Day 29 of NaNoWriMo. To be on track to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, writers should be at 48,333 words.

I am at 50,083 words! I won NaNoWriMo!

My first draft is not finished, though. There are still loose ends to wrap up. I realized this morning that the resolution of a novel is really your main character dealing with all the fall-out from the decisions they made on the way to achieve their goal. There are side effects to all of those choices that led to the character saving the day!

I hope to write another 2000 words or so today and tomorrow to wrap things up before I forget what is churning through Kass’s mind.

That will still put me at a very slim 52,000 word first draft. I’m okay with that. (I’ll explain why shortly).

On December 1, my novel will get tucked away for a rest. I won’t read a single word I wrote for at least a month. I’m sure the story won’t leave me, I will have ideas and thoughts. I will save them for later.

Since I have reached the target for the month, I thought this would be a good time to sum up what I’ve learned from participating in NaNoWriMo. This is my second time winning this crazy, loony game (first was this summer in the Camp version).

Five Things I Learned in NaNoWriMo

1. The pressure of a deadline is a good motivator for me.
Even though there were no penalties for not meeting the 50,000 word goal (and really not much of a reward) the simple act of logging my word count on a website where other people could see it if they were so inclined made we want to sit and write. I didn’t want the world to know I am secretly a slacker.

2. I write short first drafts.
For many writers, the revision process is cutting their manuscript to bits. Their first draft is an unwieldy 500,000 word monstrosity. A giant slab of marble. They need to go through and cut away the excess to reveal the story hidden within.

I am not that kind of writer.

My first drafts lean toward the short side, barely skimming over 50,000 words. I found when I worked through revisions on the novel I wrote in July that most of those words were keepers. There wasn’t much that I wanted to cut.

What I found instead were lonely sentences that wanted to be part of a scene. I added over 10,000 words to my manuscript during revisions in September. Apparently my first drafts are skeletons waiting for me to add flesh.

3. The pace of NaNoWriMo is a little too fast for me to sustain indefinitely.
For me, the trouble with the pace of NaNo is that I can’t take a break. Ever.
I can’t take a day to be lazy and drink hot chocolate on the couch.
I can’t take a day to let a story idea percolate, grow into something else.
I am committed to moving the story forward every single day.

I did well with this for the first 20ish days this month. Then I hit a wall. My main character was at one point and I knew she needed to move to another. What I was missing was the nudge. The thing that would send her over the edge, recommit her to her goal. I really could have used a day or so to brainstorm and come up with lots of possibilities. I was able to take thirty minutes. I’m not sure that what I currently have done to move her forward will stay.

I have learned that my writing schedule could use a touch more flexibility than NaNo allowed me to give it (and still make it to work five days a week). 40-45 K is probably a more realistic monthly goal for me.

4. NaNo is not for everyone.
I had heard writers before dis on NaNo, commenting that only crap was written in the month of November. I didn’t quite understand their point, because to me it’s not just the number of words. Yes, I wanted to write 50,000 words this month. I wanted at least 45,000 of them to be relatively decent. I was after quality quantity (you know what I mean, right?).

This month, I finally heard an argument against NaNo that made sense to me, even though it wasn’t my point of view. Jenna Moreci made a video about NaNo and explained why she doesn’t participate. One of her reasons was that she tends to overwrite, including a lot of crap that she cuts during revisions. For her, NaNo fuels this bad habit. She becomes too focused on the number of words, not caring anymore about the quality of what she is writing and whether it serves the story. I could see this being an issue for writers who are highly competitive, determined to have the highest word count at the end of the month.

5. I recommend every writer try NaNo at least once!
To me, what NaNo does above all else is helps writers find their habit.

The completely artificial and arbitrary goal of 50,000 words pushes you to figure out how you work as a writer.

Are you a write every day, no matter what writer? A write ten thousand words on the weekend and walk away during the week writer?

Are you a die-hard plotter who needs to outline every detail before you write a word? Are you a pantser who starts with nothing more than a single image? Are you a plantser who has a few key plot moments and waits for the characters to fill in the blanks?

Do you tend to overwrite your first draft or underwrite it?

There are a million other questions that will occur to you as you wrestle your way through a novel in a month. You will find endless advice related to all of those questions. In the end, you are the only one that can answer any of them. Every writer is different. The process is going to be unique for everyone.

Before I participated in NaNo in July, I did not think I was even capable of writing a novel, much less finishing one in a month. Now I know that I can. I am a writer.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on winning! I'm also a second time winner (2014 and 2015) and, like you, my first draft skims along at such a pace (so that the plot can be complete-ish by 50,000 words) that the second draft must add more than it takes away so that the world the novel inhabits becomes more real.
    I also find the pace relentless - I can just about do it once a year (although November is my busiest month so it's not ideal) but it wouldn't suit me to try it more than that. For me, writing every day is the way to get from here to a complete second draft I can then polish up for publication. But I won't be looking at it (once I've concluded the plot which needs some more words) for a month.
    I will, however, be printing the whole thing out. Not great for the planet, I know, but it's a huge feeling of accomplishment to have your first draft in a real, physical, heavy form.
    Good luck with your editing!