Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo

What? No post for November? I skipped a month?! How could that beeeee?!

One word: NaNoWriMo.

Going in, I had no idea what to expect from NaNo. 1667 words per day is a little…intimidating, when you first consider it. 50,000 words in a month sounded harrowing, but the thing I told myself was that if tons of other people could do it, I could, too.

In the past, it never seemed to be a good idea because my process took time. I like making character backgrounds, doing lots of research, and writing really, really involved outlines. The project I was considering for NaNo? I’d written a short version of it three years ago, and dudes, that thing was crazy. It bounced between two different timelines, had something like five different points of view, and was written before I’d decided to write for an actual audience. It served me just fine, but there was no way that hot mess would ever see the light of day again. That draft was a framework. It gave me a cast I was already familiar with, and that, I decided, was all I needed for NaNoWriMo ’13. Sure, 50k in a month is a beast. But whatever.

I can take it, I told myself. I’ve got this thing. No prob. Shutting off my inner editor and going in head first without an outline and pantsing my way through a first draft? It’ll be fun! I’ll just pretend I’m in 3D maneuvering gear! It’ll be great!

Welp.

Speaking of Attack on Titan, NaNo ended up feeling a lot more like this:

  • Point #1: Be prepared. To push ahead, you need characters and conflict to drive the plot. What kind of grudges are your characters nursing? What internal conflicts lurk inside their heads and hearts? What are they afraid of? Who do they love? I thought I already knew these things with my cast for THE WILD HUNT, but no. In the first week, they threw me so many curve balls that I could barely keep up with them. At first, I thought to myself, “hey! That’s great! Plenty of material!” But by the end of the second week…my thoughts were more along the lines of this:
  • Point #2: Remember: first drafts are supposed to messy. Repeat that. Repeat that fifty bajillion times. It’s going to become your mantra. Let go of the idea that you will have control. Control boxes you in. Feel the urge to go back and edit what you’ve written so far? You don’t have time for that! The point is to work on a first draft and to keep pushing until it’s done. You’ll have to edit later, homes. For now, you write.

A lot.

As much as you can possibly stand.

For me, what began as an exercise in throwing writer OCD out a figurative window turned into a totally different challenge. By the end of that second week, I’d actually stopped caring about sentence structure. I couldn’t keep up if I tweaked line-by-line–I had to plow on, even when the words didn’t sound good. I had to get the story out, and to do that, I had to stop caring about it being perfect. NaNo ended up being like exposure therapy for me, and there was no lowering the intensity. It was only going to get crazier, and it did.

At one point, there was a scene that featured a car rave with the characters jamming out to a mashup of Rammstein and Lil Jon. Why? Because I was having fun with the story! I had actually let go enough to stop thinking about whether it worked, and just wrote something fun. (And hey, my compatriot in this madness thought it was pretty much the best idea I’d ever had, so who knows? Maybe it’ll stay.) For the two first weeks, I was concentrated mostly on exploring the world I’d built and getting to know the characters in it. But then there was this little eensy problem I hadn’t really poked at, and when it reared back and stood on its hind legs, I felt like this:

right before the plot did this:

However, once I started delving into the meat of it and got those important plot-heavy chapters out of the way, I felt more like this:

image

Everything was coming together! I’d hit the best possible part of the writing process: the moment when you discover how the whole thing works. As I kept going, more and more pieces fell into place. I was feeling pretty good. The writing was coming fast and furious, and I was getting closer and closer to my goal. Right as I told myself You’ve got this thing in the bag, you rockstar, you, I realized just which week it was.

Thanksgiving.

ENTER THE CRUNCH. I hadn’t been worried about my word count all month, but once I realized I had less than a week left, the bullet-sweat set in. Seven days? Could I really hit 50k with a thousand social obligations coming at my face? Would real life deter me from doing the thing?

Let’s cut to the end here:

I did the thing.

Here’s why I’m going to do it again:
  • NaNo is writing bootcamp. It’s a great way to train yourself for deadlines, and it forces you to strip your process to the bones. The only thing you have to do is write. Everything else? Guess what. That’s what revisions are for.
  • The competition and support is great, especially if you have a writer friend to challenge you. Me and my closest writerbuddy sent each other a lot of instigating texts and really, really bizarre reaction posts to each other’s chapters. A year ago, neither of us thought we were up for the challenge. This year, we surprised the crap out of ourselves and each other. Not to mention that…
  • The feeling of accomplishment is great. I still have 30-40k to go on THE WILD HUNT before the first draft is complete, but hitting 52k? I was grinning for the rest of the day. Not only had I done the thing, but in the course of doing the thing, I learned so much about these characters, their world, and how complicated it really was. That 52k may not have been perfect, but there were a lot of words in there that I know I’ll keep even after I revise. It was most certainly not a waste.

For next month, I continue to write. Good luck to everyone in Pitch Wars! I’d quote Effie here, but Catching Fire left me a little sad. Till the next post!

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