NaNoWriMo: What I Learned
Well, November is over, and with it, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What started as a half-serious experiment for me ended as a useful and productive experience, one that I’m happy about and glad to have had.
First thing’s first–I DID make the 50,000 word count goal on November 30. It was very up to the wire, and I wrote more than 2,000 words in the hour between when I got home from Rhode Island, where I spent Thanksgiving, and when I was meeting a friend to see Catching Fire. There’s nothing like a deadline to light a fire under your ass. I celebrated hitting the 50,000 mark by throwing on my coat and dashing out the door (but later rewarded myself with a pack of Goobers at the movie).
Do I have a finished novel? Not even close. Do I have at least a draft of a novel? Nope. What I have is closer to a 50,000 word fleshing out of an idea, an exploration in point of view and character. I will likely keep some of it, but not all of it. My plan is to keep writing for as long as it takes to finish a first draft before I go back and do the necessary extensive chopping and editing and reconfiguring–revision. But while I have to keep working, for a LONG time, to get this thing even close to what one would call a novel, I am SO MUCH closer to that novel now than I was on October 31. And that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo–it gave me an excuse, a reason, to actually start writing that novel that’s been living inside my head for a long time. Without that motivation, flimsy as it was, who knows when or IF I ever would have attempted to write a novel?
I also came away with the knowledge that no matter how busy you are or what you have going on, you CAN make time to write every day. I actually didn’t make a lot of sacrifices to make my word count goal. I didn’t have to give up social plans or change my daily routines. I wrote some during my lunch break and squeezed in some writing time with my morning coffee. I got a lot done on weekends and at night, an hour or two in the evenings after dinner, before watching tv or reading. Sometimes I went to a bar down the street with Joe, and we were those people sitting with our laptops and beers in a bar, not talking to each other, but it was okay–I kinda liked it. But I did actually fail in the writing every day department–there were two days that I didn’t write a word, and it was toward the beginning of the experience, when I was in Boston for work and visiting friends. I possibly could have written a little those days, but it would have meant giving up time with friends, which I didn’t want to do, and I’m glad I didn’t.
I didn’t make use of all the resources NaNoWriMo gives you–mostly, a community in which to share your ideas and tips and frustrations with. They have community write-ins where you can meet with other writers in your area and write together, as well as virtual write-ins. There are forums and Twitter challenges. But I was writing for myself, so I kept to myself. There was also, to me, an emphasis on different types of writing that I’m not necessarily interested in doing, like YA and sci-fi and romance. It just goes to show that anyone can do it, you don’t have to participate or “join in” if you don’t want to. You don’t have to buy the winner t-shirt with the video game graphics or display a flashing winner banner on your blog. But you CAN if you want to. Which is also an awesome option.
So I’m starting to ramble a little bit, so I’m going to summarize the key lessons I took away from NaNoWriMo:
- Just get started.
- You DO have time to write every day.
- You can do a lot more than you think in just fifteen minutes of writing.
- Keep a brief outline and list of characters’ names handy while you’re writing–you WILL forget things, even though they’re your creations.
- You can skip scenes if you want to.
- 50,000 words is actually not that many words.
- Don’t be afraid to write crap and go back and edit later.
- Having a structure, any structure, is hugely helpful in attempting to tackle a large project like a novel.
- Writing in bars can be fun.
- Don’t quit.