Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I learned from NaNoWriMo

As you can see in the sidebar, I've completed the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge - and even before the deadline of November 30th. The reason I got it done - and early - was that little nagging fearful voice that kept whispering, This is too hard. You won't really get to the end, or at least not on time. What you're writing is garbage and a huge waste of time....etc. Completing this project became more about conquering that bit of negative self-talk than anything.

This month I have learned:.

1. Actually writing a novel is a lot harder than it looks. It's easy to armchair quarterback someone else's tale. But when you're creating it yourself - whole different ball game (to extend the metaphor).

2. A fast way of writing a first draft. I normally write, edit, rewrite, edit. It's push-pull all the way. This time I wrote the first draft like I've read of others writing it - FAST. No looking back. No editing along the way. I was afraid that if I started reviewing yesterday's work, my editor would get all excited and eager and I'd get distracted with that - OR, I'd be so discouraged about the dreck I was writing I wouldn't finish the project. (I still haven't read what I wrote.)

3. About the various elements of a novel - characters, scenes, mini-scenes, dialogue, transition stuff. I tend to be one of those people who feels like I've conquered something after I've read about it (thus my collection of feel-good writing how-to). But following that advice when writing an actual story is as different from reading about it as walking across a stream on a slippery log is different from seeing it on film.

4. Writing a novel-length story can be full of surprises.
  • For example, I was surprised by how my plot took different directions than I thought it would. What I tried to do with each scene was turn the characters loose and see what they would do. Often they didn't end up where I had thought they would. 
  • Also, some of the things that felt arbitrary when they first happened ended up advancing the plot later in ways I had never envisioned. It was really quite amazing. 
  • Another surprise - how I composed best. Writing longhand, though I put up more words when I composed at the keyboard. For some reason keyboard composing felt like making something with gloves on.

5. My story is far from done. Even as I was writing, I realized I was leaving out so much that had seemed important during the imagination stage. Now I need to look back to see if some of those things have a place. This initial writing has been a way of simply pinning the thing down, or as Stephen King describes it, uncovering the fossil. I take comfort in the chorus of voices that reassures me the brilliance of a piece of fiction comes from the author's ability to rework that clumsy first draft into a readable story. In that department I have my work cut out for me!

6. NaNo is a great way to get at the bones of a first draft because:
  • You're not alone in this craziness. NaNo emails, your NaNo buddies and regional events (should you choose to participate) alleviate the solitariness of the task.
  • Those NaNo emails, in particular, are something else! As one of my buddies said, someone should invent such an encouragement service for writers all year long.
Have you ever committed to NaNoWriMo? What was your experience?


    Belinda said...

    Let me be the first to congratulate you on this amazing achievement Violet! Woo hoo! Good for you. I stand in awe and admiration. It was interesting to read of your learnings. :)

    violet said...

    Why thank you, Belinda! It was fun - though a marathon way of writing. But it's also fabulous to be at a point in this project that I thought it would take me months to reach.