The final word on my first NaNoWriMo experience. It certainly had some bumps but it was a very valuable learning experience. I can’t really narrow it down to just one thing but several things I learned about writing a novel and about myself during November.
As my spouse pointed out to me the second day of NaNoWriMo, just concentrate on what it feels like to write a novel rather than focusing on if it makes complete sense. That was probably the biggest thing I learned during November. It was about understanding what my process is, discovering what it physically feels like (hello more callouses and wrist pain), and discipline. Don’t get me wrong, finishing the novel was a huge goal and one that I’m happy to say I accomplished even though I wound up adding to the ending a bit earlier this week.
Another thing I learned was it is more than okay to have a really, really terrible first draft. My draft is terrible and makes little sense to me. The characters are inconsistent and at one point I decided I wanted to age up the main character. Since my original plans for NaNo weren’t working out, I focused on writing a story completely from scratch. I truly tapped into the pantser way of thinking and I found it quite freeing. It also means chunks of what I wrote will be cut as it doesn’t make sense for the story. I got the feeling around the middle of the month that I had written myself into the story. All this means is that when I go to revise the novel sometime next year, it will be a lot more work than the draft.
This leads me to the next thing I’ve realized. I think of my NaNo draft as a bones draft. No, not Dr. McCoy (dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a writer). To me a bones draft is just getting down the basics. I got down a lot of dialogue with some actions and some setting descriptions but beyond that, there isn’t what I would consider a lot of ‘meat’ to it. I’m thinking my technique may be to flesh out the story in terms of setting and getting inside the characters in subsequent drafts before paring it down again to a concise story. I guess it’ll get fatter before getting down to a healthy weight.
I also learned to somehow keep that inner editor at bay. The phrase ‘I can fix this later’ was circulating through my head every day. I needed to constantly remind myself to just concentrate on getting the word count in and just getting thoughts down. Also that it is okay to run spell check but to ignore the grammar stuff, especially passive voice reminders, because again, it’s just a rough draft and the story itself will change significantly. The story became the guiding force.
Discipline was another biggie in November. I had been struggle all this year trying to figure out some kind of routine. It even got to the point that I created a time sheet for myself to help me stay on task. That didn’t work but telling myself I will write at least 3 hours each day, 5 if I can manage it, did the trick. Somehow I managed to commit myself to that schedule nearly every day despite the fact I was prepping for a major move. The only exception was when I was out of town yet that break was beneficial. It allowed my brain time to refresh and make the final push to the end. So if I can get 50,000 words in during all that imagine what more I could do when life isn’t so crazy?
Finally, I think I learned this past month was that each novel will probably have its own process. This one had none other than to just write anything down. But for novels that will have had more research, thought, and plot notes done, the process should be less seat of the pants. This novel was written linearly yet there are plenty of scenes that need to be added to it which means in the revision stage I’ll be writing out of sequence.
Overall I enjoyed my NaNo experience. I think I will definitely participate in 2014 and beyond. I’ve learned to be a bit gentler on myself and let that inner editor go far, far away. While I wasn’t as active on the forums on NaNoWriMo’s website as I intended to be, just looking around that international community of over 300,000 writers meant a lot of them were going through the same experiences at the same time. Somehow that worked for me psychologically more so than reading or listening to author interviews. I think that says a lot about the people behind NaNoWriMo and their approach to novel writing.