Holy cats, I really have been NaNoing since 2010.
Considering everything, I was thinking of skipping this year. But things bubble, and NaNo has always been a really satisfying experience for me. So here we go again!
And since I’m into lists of 5 these days, here are 5 things I learned from NaNoWriMo. Your own mileage is likely to vary, but you never know.
1. Milestones matter.
Back in 2010, I did the math like everyone else does, and figured out I had to cough up 1,667 words a day to get this thing done. The first few days were easy. I’d been letting the story back up in my head, and the beginning of it just spilled out. But after that it became harder and harder, and I started watching the word counter, and sometimes I thought I was never going to be able to tap out those last 100 words to hit the number.
But I did. Every day.
Having that concrete goal kept me going. I wrote extraneous dialogue, pointless scenes, stupid asides–as well as sharp plot points and essential happenings. Writing isn’t linear for me. It all has to come out, rubbish as well as good stuff, for me to see the proper shape of the story. And having to push out those last few words, good or bad, gave me something to work with. Words are motivating–even the wrong ones.
2. THE END has significance.
With a week or so left to go, one of the NaNo pep talks offered me a strange suggestion: abandon your sequential storytelling and write the end.
Now, that sounded bananas to me. I’d been writing in order, and it was going well, and I sort of knew where I was going, although I was still feeling out details. Why kill my momentum by writing the end?
In 2010, the only novel-length thing I’d ever finished was a piece of fanfic, and that I’d done back in 1994. Sixteen years is a long time between finished books.
So I wrote the final scene, and a little epilogue with the fate of all my characters. I wrote the words THE END when I was done. And suddenly, instead of an unfinished manuscript, I had a finished manuscript with a few holes.
Semantics? Oh, certainly. But psychologically it was huge for me. I had finished a thing. I had finished a thing. I had become a person who could finish a novel.
I have remained a person who can finish a novel.
3. Side roads can fix everything.
Sometimes, while writing, I’d hit a plot wall.
There are a lot of ways to handle this, but I became fond of fights, chases, and sex scenes: all fun to write, all full of words that would count toward the total. And sometimes, once written, full of plot complications and subtleties that gave the story nuance and depth it had previously lacked.
Sometimes side roads can make a plot out of a set of meandering characters. Without getting specific…a big part of BREACH OF CONTAINMENT came out of some random detail I idly added because I thought it might be fun. I’ve learned to pay attention to those bits of my mind that say “Ugh, I need to do something else for a while, so maybe I’ll have this happen.” This sometimes makes the whole story.
4. Blind alleys are okay.
Sometimes, of course, those side roads go nowhere, and you’re partway toward your 1,667 words for the day when you realize you want to chuck everything you’ve just written.
That’s okay. Keep going. End the scene if you must, and start anew. Pretend that scene didn’t happen if you want. You can delete it in December.
The thing I’ve learned about blind alleys is that sometimes they’re necessary. Sometimes I have to write a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work before I can get back to writing the stuff that does work. Sometimes I have to go backward before I can go forward again.
5. Writing is work.
I spent most of my life writing recreationally, with no notion of finishing a novel, never mind showing it to anyone else. Sure, writing took concentration, and a certain amount of mental energy; but I had no deadlines. If I wasn’t in the mood, I just didn’t write.
NaNoWriMo has taught me writing can make me utterly exhausted like nothing I’ve experienced since college all-nighters.
I can write in bursts, sometimes. I’ve been known to do 4,000 words a day for nine or ten days in a row. One does get in shape, as with any other kind of exercise. But the constant pace of NaNoWriMo wipes me out. For the last several years I’ve pushed it a little so I can finish before Thanksgiving, and my memories of family gatherings are of being punchy and inarticulate and more than a little weird. (Which is possibly just my family, but still.)
Never let anyone tell you writing is not work. Not just the ideas and the worldbuilding–between you and me, those things are easy. But putting the words together? Getting those ideas onto the page in any kind of coherent fashion? Work.
It’s the greatest pleasure of my life, and sometimes it’s really, really hard.
I’m always optimistic the night before NaNo, and not just because I love Halloween. The night before, I can imagine what I’ll have by December 1. For me, 50K is half a book or so; but I’ll also have the ending, and more blind alleys and red herrings than I could possibly need to knit together the remaining gaps in the story. I’ll have characters I haven’t met yet, and new plot points that will somehow work with the big chunks of story I have so far.
Considering everything…yeah. This year in particular I really need this.