And I thought I’d learned a lot from my first year of participation in NaNoWriMo.
I confess that my transition, I feel, was a bit rockier than most in the beginning last year, likely because up until that point I had spent the previous nine years writing only fanfiction, which is a completely different beast than original fiction (and NOT just for the obvious reasons, but that’s a whole different post…). It took me awhile to settle into the original fiction brain last year.
But this year, I had two things going for me straight from the start:
1) An entire year behind me in which I did NOTHING but write original fiction and
2) An entire month of planning the NaNo novel in October
I was SO READY this year (thus my Boot Camps, lol). I thought after a year I had a pretty good handle on things. And yet, whaddaya know, I STILL learned new stuff during my second year. Things that had started as little inklings in my skull last year finally coalesced into concrete blocks that whacked me across the temple a few times over the course of November.
Some of these things were just habits of mine I noticed. Some of them were much more important lessons that finally, FINALLY took hold.
So, I would like to share these things! For the benefit of anyone who did not attempt NaNo, and for the curiosity of anyone who did, or who has nothing whatsoever to do with writing but finds it amusing to laugh at the really bizarre stuff we writers go through sometimes. 🙂
So here they are, organized into the important lessons, and then into some of own personal little quirks and realizations:
- Characters poop plot, plot does not poop characters!!! (Thanks, Chuck Wendig, for that phrase. I will use it forever.) This lesson will get it’s own blog post, so for now I’ll just leave it at that. But let’s just say this seemingly obvious statement didn’t really sink in until this NaNo…
- Trust your story, not yourself. Related to Lesson #1, but a little different. Don’t try to force your story to follow an outline, however detailed or vague. It’s good to have a direction (see Boot Camps) and I still think that’s the best way to go – at least have something VAGUE down, but if you’re stuck – it’s probably because you’re trying to force the story to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go. As crazy as it sounds… your story will talk to you. Try to listen. Try really hard. It might take you awhile to learn it’s language, but once your attuned, things will go much more smoothly!! As a newly story-literate person myself, trust me on this!
- DO NOT expect your rough draft to be a final draft, or even a GOOD draft. As soon as you let go those expectations of perfection (or even general decency), the writing will begin to flow. DO NOT force your rough draft into being awesome. It will not happen. You’ll just end up getting frustrated and then won’t write it. Striving for GOOD at this point in time restricts your creativity. Now this lesson took me a good long, long time to finally embrace. I kept telling myself I wasn’t looking for good on my rough draft, but unconsciously, I really was. (A leftover habit from fanfiction, I’m quite sure, but again, that’s another post.) You always hear career authors telling new authors over and over, “Rough drafts are always shit.” But it still took me a very long time to allow that this was true – or at least allow it to be true on MY drafts. Okay okay, it’s not really true… rough drafts are amazingly awesome, really. I mean seriously. Here’s an adequate analogy… rough drafts are like having babies. It’s never going to be a clean ordeal. It’s going to be sloppy, messy, painful and probably embarrassing in some way or another, and the end product will be pruney and purple and sticky and screaming. But it’s also a whole new creation brought into the world, yes?? However, just like you don’t try to give the baby a bath and one of those adorable little stocking caps before it’s made it’s way fully from the birth canal, you need to let your rough draft be fully birthed before you begin analyzing it for greatness, etc. That’s for later!
- Allow yourself to stumble around in the dark if you need to. If something doesn’t work, go back and rewrite it. Now, let me be clear, THIS DOES NOT MEAN EDIT. Ex] I just finished a chapter on the novel WIP last night. Today, I happened to think that chapter could have gone a completely different way. As in, the character would wake up in a different setting, with different characters. I think I like that path better than the current one. I have decided to rewrite the entire chapter along that new path. This will be the THIRD time I have completely redone this specific chapter. I have completely rewritten two previous chapters already, as well. If this happens to you, don’t get frustrated!!! This story is BRAND NEW territory! You are an EXPLORER!!! So explore it! Think of yourself as an astronaut who actually gets to explore the quantum string theory. Write out one possibility. If the next scene or chapter doesn’t spring to mind, you might have the wrong universe. Try a different possibility. If things start flowing again, you’ve probably found the right one. The wrong turns are PART of writing the story. Without the wrong turns, you wouldn’t be sure the RIGHT path is actually the right one! So welcome those U-turns. Don’t think of it as going backwards, but as an exercise in getting to know your story on an even deeper level. ANYTHING you write in that world is expanding it! So even if you decide to rewrite a chapter, keep the old version in a separate folder called “Discarded Scenes” or some such. You never know if you might, indeed, use something later on down the road!
- WRITE EVERY DAMN DAY. Most career authors say this, and do it. We as new authors or aspiring authors tend to cringe at that advice. “Yes but THEY don’t have day jobs anymore. Or kids. Or [insert frantic excuse here.]” The thing is, a lot of them DO have other jobs, or kids, and a house, and a spouse, and pets, and on and on. And most of them work a LOT longer and harder at writing than any of the rest of us do at our “regular” day jobs. So buck up, people. Tighten those bootstraps and get to work. It doesn’t take long to bang out even 100 words. I can tell you personally, ESPECIALLY on this second NaNo, writing on a consistent basis did WONDERS for my motivation on the project. Since NaNo ended, I haven’t written hardly at all, and not only has it made me pretty cranky, but now when I DO go and sit down and try to write, it is SO.MUCH.HARDER to get myself started! SO MUCH HARDER. The self-sabotage and procrastination and resistance is an ALL TIME HIGH. If you can write something, ANYTHING, every single day, you can leverage yourself out of any resistance rut you might have recently fallen into. It will take a few days to get into the flow, but once you’re there, STAY THERE. DO NOT FALL BACK IN! Writing six days in a row and then taking one day completely off worked really well for me during NaNo 2, but I was also writing over 1000 words/day. If you write less than 500/day, I’m not sure you’d need the break unless you get really burned out. Do what works for you, but above all else, for the love of your story – WRITE EVERY DAY. Something. Anything. DO IT.
- (A few days into NaNo) My brain seems to operate best in 600-word sprints, after which I need a short mental break.
- I write better and it comes much easier if I listen to blasting epic music through headphones… simply playing it doesn’t work. Has to be on headphones, and loud.
- Wine helps. A LOT.
- (Nine days into NaNo) It’s becoming surprisingly painless to hammer out 1300 words in one sitting….
- There IS such a thing as a writing coma. And when you come out of it, you will have no recollection whatsoever of anything you did while in the writing coma. But usually… whatever you wrote will be pretty damn good, considering.
- (Three weeks into NaNo) My average writing speed seems to be about 300-400 words in 30 minutes. Not stellar, and everyone else I know writes faster than that, but I just can’t break that standard. Is it my subject matter? (aka epic sci-fi?) Maybe. It’s annoying as crap, but I guess I’ll have to just learn to work with it…
- (Last week of NaNo) My average writing speed increased to about 500-600 words in 30 minutes. Closer to the average, but still on the lower end.
- My record sprint word count was 1829 in a little over an hour. When I reread that section, it was the worst section of the novel I’d yet written. But, I did not despair, that’s what EDITING is for! (See Lesson #3 above… YOU JUST GOTTA MOVE ON!)
That’s all for me today… if you participated in NaNoWriMo this year, or even if not, what are some of the craft “lessons” you’ve found have finally clicked after so many years of writing?