What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Hello darlings. It’s me, your favourite dilettante.

After finishing up several projects in October – CHUK finished, Volume Two of the Memoirs was prepped for editing, and there was even the meta-project JESSICA, which would make a perfect Christmas present for anyone who loves creepy stories — just saying — I just didn’t know what to do with myself.

There was a void in the wake of all that, and I knew that I wanted to get back to the trilogy of novels which I’ve have had kicking around in my head for some time now. So, I put on my Jessica hat and challenged myself to write the first book by the end of 2014. Two months to write a novel. Still a big challenge. I didn’t know about the whole NaNoWriMo thing — seemed like too much pressure, and besides, what would I do if I got blocked? Would I compromise and fake my way through it?

So I didn’t sign up for NaNoWriMo. But then, three weeks in, I had over 35,000 words, and the NaNoWriMo challenge is for 50,000 words.

So I threw in my hat, with the personal challenge to myself to then not only hit my 50,000 word mark, but to finish the novel, which I expected to be slightly larger than that.

Long story short (pardon the pun, darlings) I hit both my goals.

What I learned:

1) Writing is a lonely business. It’s not a group activity, and in order to write over 6000 words in one day (as I did one of the days) you pretty much have to work in isolation. When I told Spenser that I was thinking of writing book two all in the month of December, he suggested the idea of an open marriage. Or maybe he threatened to kill me in my sleep, I can’t remember — anything he said went in one ear and out the other — another thing for which he’s shown amazing patience (for the most part) about. I wasn’t too worried about the sleep thing, though — I don’t think I slept during the month of November. Between the long writing hours, and my brain not shutting off trying to brainstorm the next chapter, I was sleepless in Seattle, the Toronto edition. Then I’d crash and sleep for 14 hours straight. Good times.

2) You can’t make it up as you go along. Spend some time planning, even if that means you get ZERO actual words written one day, but you got five chapter outlines done — this is where the real work is anyway. Then you can sit down the next day knowing exactly what you’re going to write.

3) I learned that I am primarily a storyteller, and that bringing the writer out can sometimes be difficult. I get so excited to just tell the story that I have to slow down and let the story evolve. Constant mantra is SHOW DON’T TELL. When writing, think about the EVIDENCE of something. People don’t just walk up to you and tell you how they are feeling, or explain their motivations — this is revealed by their actions, and sometimes, it’s not something you can figure out in one encounter. You can tell your friend is happy because they are smiling or laughing, or crazily bopping around to music.

4) I learned that I am very disciplined when it comes to my writing, but that I have a tendency to fixate and get lost in it. Mea culpa, darlings. Mea maxima culpa. I have what mothers call baby brain, only my baby is my book. I can’t remember my middle name right now, let alone where I left the car keys, or to put the clothes in the dryer, or where Penny’s swimsuit is, ’cause she wants to go to the YMCA tonight and bare her vampirically pale flesh and go swimming because she already misses the summer.

5) I can do it. 50,000 words (or in my case, just over 64,000) is not a large novel, but for a month’s worth of work, it feels like a big accomplishment. I think that I could realistically slow down a bit and write book two in two months, giving me a little more breathing room, but still not dragging the process out over the course of a year.

6) Writing in such a short period of time was actually great for avoiding continuity errors and forgetting things.

7) Cons: writing in such a short period of time, I felt challenged to fully develop the characters, though a certain British beta reader says she definitely cared about the characters, so, apparently I succeeded.

What did you learn, if you wrote? Talk to me, I’d love to chat now that I’m again in the void.


7 responses to “What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

  1. Well, I learned that I can actually do it. I was also more of a ploster than a panster, and that event though you got it all plotted out sometimes it just don’t fit and the characters take you off to a different direction. πŸ™‚

  2. Hey, Helena, congrats on finishing your novel. You’re so right that writing is a lonely business. As an introvert, that shouldn’t bother me too much. Ah, but sometimes it does, at least when I’m taking time away from my husband or my cats. Add to that: I’m a pantser. Even though the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo is the first one where I had a synopsis, the novel took different turns as I wrote, veering away from the original structure. A good thing in some ways, but it also caused some panicking here and there. Although I don’t consider the novel “finished,” it does have a beginning, middle, and end. For that, I’m grateful πŸ˜‰

    • I think it’s that moment when you look up from the keyboard and say “I’m done! I’d like some company now” and they’re asleep, because you’ve stayed up ’til 2am writing.
      Also, it made me realize that you can’t spend all your time writing. You need to come up for air. I feel like I haven’t spoken to you in forever — so I’m glad you dropped by today. I sent you an email, too, by the way.

  3. I wish I could plan my books, but I just vomit words and rewrite. And wander. And rewrite. And drink. And rewrite. And fix MTM’s bandages. And rewrite. I’m glad NaNo was productive for you. I’m looking forward to reading the output.

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