Weekly Musing: It’s a Wrap

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.


Weekly Musing: NaNo Check-in #3

Just about the end on Week Two of NaNo and it went much, much better than Week One. On NaNo’s website, they have pep talks about slumps people go through in the second week due to the excitement of week one wearing off. Apparently I’m a bit odd, which I already knew, because I didn’t notice a slump. I don’t know if it is because I changed what novel I was going to write from one I had planned out to something completely new, but I didn’t feel any anxiety. I’ve just been letting the characters do what they want to do. The only thing worrying me at the end of the second week is I don’t have an ending.

Day 8: A pretty good writing day. I reached 10,000 words the day before which was a really good motivator heading into the weekend.

Days 9 – 10: November 9th was set aside by NaNo as a day to write as much as possible. I used it and Sunday as a personal challenge to write 6 hours each day. I discovered I was averaging about 2300 words in 3 hours so I thought I could probably push my total word count to 5000 each day.

Saturday I did it in 3 hour blocks with a nap in between. I only managed 3800 words which was good but also a bit disappointing. It was a lot of physical and mental fatigue and I lost a lot of steam at about the 5 hour mark but pushed through an additional 30 minutes. I also discovered that stopping at the 3 hour mark I lost a lot of story momentum.

On Sunday I changed up my strategy and decided to do write for 6 hours straight. The word count only went up to 4000 words so still below a target of 4600 words. The straight writing session was easier because I could keep going through with a thought yet at the same time I got more distracted. It wasn’t even the internet that was a distraction, it was just my mind wandered to everywhere but on my story.

Day 11: The novel felt like it was coming along quite well. I discovered it was becoming much easier to get into writing. I spent less time trying to figure out where to start since I developed the habit of leaving the previous day’s work at a good stopping point. I also discovered that I can’t quite completely squelch the Inner Editor but it has been at bay. The only thing I’ve been doing is taking notes and inserting comments to help remind me where I should expand descriptions.

Day 12: I passed the 25,000 word mark! Half way there to the 50,000 goal for the month! That doesn’t mean the novel is half done, though. Still don’t have an ending and the characters keep changing their minds about what they want to do and who they want to be. But at least I earned my reward of a nice lunch, a NaNo T-shirt, and cupcakes. Hmmmm, cupcakes.

Days 13 – 14: During this time period I passed 30,000 words count, another milestone down! I feel that the quality of the writing has been hit and miss but that’s not bothering me. What’s also not bothering me is the fact that I brainstormed a different opening and am considering aging up my main character. I’m still fumbling around with who these characters are as people. I think if someone read it the way it is, not only would they be confused as to what’s going on, but the inconsistent actions by each character. Might come off as a world full of bipolar schizophrenics. I figure when I revise it, that’s when I will get characters hammered out better and fix some of the gaping plot holes that currently exist.

So heading into Week Three I wonder if that’s when I’ll hit that wall I was supposed to have hit this week. I’m hoping I’ll get something nailed down for an ending to shoot for. I also think I may be surpassing 50,000 words before considering the novel finished. The overall experience for me has been a freeing one. It’s shown me that yes, I do have the work ethic and that I can get into a good routine. I can make the daily goal of 3 hours writing work even on days I am running around doing errands, filling out paperwork to sell my house, looking at houses for my new home, and being sick.


Weekly Musing: NaNo Check-in #2

First official week of NaNo is under my belt and it was a roller coaster experience.

Day 1: This day was hectic mostly due to personal reasons but I got my writing in. I barely exceeded the advised daily average of 1,667 by 11 words. Cool and at least I’m on target.

I went to the kick-off meeting in my area and enjoyed it. Although I was quite tired by that time of day, I was happy to bring what I’d been working on. The kick-off meeting consisted of introducing ourselves and describing what we were planning on writing and any other information we wanted to volunteer. After introductions, our ML (Municipal Liaison) had as an ice-breaker a game where we had to talk to each person there and figure out if we at least one read book in common. The catch was we couldn’t use the same book with anyone else.

After that game, we did an exercise that I saw as very beneficial. On a notecard we were encouraged to either draw our Inner Editor (or Heckler as one guy referred to it) or write down phrases it says to us as we are writing. We then put that notecard into an envelope and sealed it with instructions to not open it up until after NaNo. It’s a symbolic gesture. For the month of November, that evil, evil little bastard is supposed to go somewhere. I hope to die a horrible fiery death.

After our notecard Inner Editor/Heckler banning, we wrote for an hour. Some of us, like me, were lost in our own world while others socialized in between paragraphs. I went home exhausted but I had gotten in my personal daily goal of 3 hours in.

Day 2: It was a bit of a disaster for me. The scope and breadth of what I wanted to write got to me. I had everything somewhat plotted out, my character sheets ready to go, 2 years of planning, and I choked. I absolutely hated what I had written the day before. It didn’t feel like it was enough and not where I wanted to start the book.

That’s when it went downhill.

I went to a write-in at a local library not knowing what to expect. A nice little group of about 10 people showed up. Some I recognized from the night before. Again we did introductions but then we talked about writing, how many NaNos we had done, how day 1 went, etc.

Then we got down to writing. We decided as a group to do word wars. Being new to all of this, I didn’t know what a word war was. A timer is set and you write as many words as you can in that time. That first five minutes, my brain froze as I decided I wanted to redo what I had written on day 1. That’s a big NaNo no-no. And it showed. I managed to only keep 3 words which wasn’t a sentence of 3 words, just 3 words. We did more 5 minute word wars then expanded the time to 10 minutes. In total, I only wrote about 600 words that day.

I decided that format wasn’t the correct environment for me. Small bursts of writing with periods of socializing in between didn’t bode well for my brain. I need time to just stare off into space to collect my thoughts then write.

I went home quite, quite dejected. I had a full on meltdown, crying to my husband that I wasn’t cut out for this and perhaps writing novels isn’t what I’m meant to do. He pointed out that perhaps the project I wanted to do isn’t appropriate for a timeframe like NaNo. We talked some more and I bounced the idea of starting with a different novel altogether. He thought that might be a good idea, a way to clear my head and gain energy. The biggest help he provided was helping me realize that since I’ve never written a novel before, I should be using NaNo as a way to learn what writing one feels like. Epiphany time!

Days 3 – 7: I did something which could be considered another NaNo no-no and that was to start a new project. Not only is it a new project but a different genre. I switched from historical fiction to fantasy, a genre in which I have dabbled in. The only thing I was certain about was my main character who was one I has used in a short story but had always been curious to know more about. I wanted to explore more of her background, who and what shaped her before the short story I wrote about her took place. Sounded like a perfect NaNo project.

Since that decision, I have been able to write with that sense of enthusiasm and abandon NaNo encourages. And my daily word count has increased. That’s not to say I haven’t had some moments of ‘What now?’ but the creative juices are flowing. Of course, daily rewards of candy help, too.

Here’s hoping next week is just as productive. I have a crazy idea of doing some marathon writing this weekend. 6 hours each day on Saturday and Sunday. Here’s to lots and lots of caffeine and excessive word counts!

Happy NaNo!