What I learned at NaNoWriMo

I know. I’ve already written one blog about Writer’s Block and another about how to use a Simple Outline, but now NaNoWriMo is officially done and over.

The official status of my manuscript is 37,796 words. In the “official” standards of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t “Win”. You win by finishing 50,000 words in one month. However, I moved twice in this time, and honestly I think I did a damn good job. I practiced writing daily – some days I pounded up to 5,000 words out in one day, other times I was lucky to write more than two sentences. But the daily goal was 1,700, and for the most part – I met that. I built up a whole new experience, having hurdled the largest chunk of writing on one project that I’ve done so far (The largest before now was a 10,000 word short-story for a World of Warcraft Submission).

The best part is, I don’t have to stop. My goal is to finish the novel this December. I’m at the halfway point of the story, which means my complete manuscript will probably be upwards of about 80,000 words. That’s about the size of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for reference. I’m the “Eternal Revision” type of writer. Brandon Sanderson, who also teaches Creative Writing classes at BYU, said it seems that there is two types of writers that don’t publish anything; the one-drafter and the eternal rewrite. The one-drafter writes straight through to the finish, looks at the book and says, “This sucks” and continues on to another one. I’m the other one – the one who writes chapters 1-3 over and over again, getting them perfect.

That’s why NaNoWriMo. I finally got to chapter 11. Chapter 11! I know I’ll end up revising later, but I needed to focus on that rough draft. No editing until the ending is written.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my own writing process, this November;

  1. Leave the house. JK Rowling often talked about how she writes at a coffee shop, even after becoming wildly successful. I can now see why – Home is a place for me to kick up my feet and relax, and watch Mythbusters, and read books, but not work (unless cooking or cleaning). While I have succeeded at writing some of my 1,700 word per day at home, for the most part I couldn’t focus. I went to a coffee shop, bookstore, library, or study hall instead.
  2. Put my phone away. Sometimes I want to talk about something else and avoid writing, and sometimes I want to discuss parts of the story I’m struggling on with friendly confidants. Either way, though a good break is good once in awhile, I needed to consciously put the thing away – otherwise I could sit with the Bluetooth in my ear, whittling the hours away and accomplishing nothing.
  3. Shut the internet browser. Thesaurus.com, the Research Doctors -Dr Wikipedia and Dr Google, and Pandora Radio are all good resources for a writer. However, I often begin doing research and end up on Facebook, or checking my email, or even looking at Lolcats or something equally pointless. Now I’ve got an ipod with a Pandora app, a dictionary/thesaurus app, and Wikipedia and google apps. No more internet browser up while writing.
  4. Tell the internal editor to take the day off. When writing a rough draft, I don’t have time to be critical of my names, or almost anything else. Discovery writing brings out some of the more interesting bits, in my opinion, and I can’t get to that point with my editor self watching over my shoulder. Sometimes I find that Editor Sam and Dumb Sam are the only ones that showed up to work today, and I don’t have Business Sam driving Artist Sam to get things done. In that situation, Editor Sam needs to go home – there’s nothing for him to do. And Dumb Sam, he just continues with the next step, doing what he can in case Artist Sam decides to show up late.
  5. Read myself into my writing. Read what I’d written the day before, making small corrections in spelling and grammar, and filling in names where I wrote *thebartender*. By the time I get to where I left off, I’m often set to keep going. This only works if you’re making “small” corrections – major plotpoints, things that may get cut later, characters and points that need to come in earlier – those can wait for revision.
  6. Skip to another scene when I get stuck, and connect them later. As a good example, with one of my recent short-stories I knew I wanted the ending to involve a character using his music to “heal” his comatose wife. I knew I wanted the scene to be very emotional, but I didn’t know what to write leading up to that point. Instead of trying, I skipped forward and wrote the ending. Then, I went backward and wrote what led up to this scene, making sure to try my best to make my characters familiar to the reader, in order to make that ending powerful. I don’t know if I did it well, but I do know that I finished that short-story even though I had been very stuck at one point. And that’s the important part right now.
  7. Learn to “Ask” my characters things, instead of trying to fabricate storyline from thin air. Whether the characters are complete or incomplete, if they have even the tiniest amount of voice in my head, I’ve learned it’s so much easier to come up with answers when I consult them. What would you do here? Are you likely to be rash, or thoughtful? Does this kind of thing make sense in your world? I guess it’s weird to admit here, on public internet, that I’ve just learned that I write better stories as a total schitzo, but I’m probably not too different from other writers in this. I got the idea, in the first place, from the excellent Ursula K Leguin – and if you haven’t read one of her stories yet, go find “A Wizard of Earthsea” and read it. It’s short, so no worries about getting overwhelmed, but it is, in a word, awesome.
  8. I’ll end up cutting the first chapters anyway. That’s the funny bit about being an eternal re-write; you end up deciding later, the best way to begin the book. As my book continues, and plotlines develop, and I learn to focus in the story on the most important parts… Chapters 1-3 are going to have to be cut. From what I know of other authors, this is normal, but it sure makes me glad that I’m learning to move on from being the “Eternal Re-Write”. Before November I’d never gotten past Chapter 3. Now that I have, they’ll have to be cut – and Chapters 4 and 5 are going to have to be majorly tweaked. But that’s ok, the further I write, the more I’m learning about the structure of a novel-length piece. By the time I’m finished, I’m sure I’ll have learned even more!

This is what I can think of right now. I still need to experience having written the ending, and afterward, the next editing draft of the same book. After this, I may even let some of you read some of it; probably not though. It’ll still be pretty bad at that point, I’m sure. =)

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