NaNoWriMo is over, and for those of you who follow me on twitter, you may have realized that an “I won NaNo” post was conspicuously absent. Did I win? Technically no, and yet, I did.
Last year was my first year doing NaNo, and I went into it with a vague idea. I got one chapter written and then fell completely off the wagon. I can’t really remember much else, but I know it was a total failure.
For this year’s NaNo, I chose a piece I had been developing for a little over a year. Now, don’t judge me, but the reason I didn’t do this year’s piece last year was because I had already started writing it. Yes, but this year, I didn’t care. Here’s why: I knew it was a story I would have no trouble chugging through. It’s a piece dear to my heart and encompasses two very real things in my life – losing a best friend to cancer while still new to my 20s and getting stuck in a dead-end job just trying to make that break into the field I studied in college.
Since I already wrote sections of random chapters (1-4k), I used that as a bit of a reward system for NaNo to keep myself going. Bonus words! Call it cheating if you will, but it really helped me push through more than I thought I could. So, reason #1 why I lost – about 10k of my words were pre-written, but that was only adding about 1-4k every couple of chapters.
Now, I did hit 50k words total for the month. Reason #2 that I lost, if you’re going by the rule that NaNo needs to be a complete 50k novel – the novel itself topped out at the end at 34k. The rest of the words came from a little side project I did with the awesome REUTS publishing company. Their weekly short story contest, Project REUTSway, was a fun, challenging break from the grind of my novel. I never received top looks for the any of the weeks, but I loved the stories I got to write (and the complete judging isn’t over yet!). I wrote: Snow White & seven vampires set in Italy (think Masque of Red Death), a ghost Rapunzel shortly after the Salem witch trials, an incubus as a male version of Ariel who accidently falls for a siren, and a Japanese take on Beauty and the Beast where the beast is a Jekyll/Hyde shapeshifter as both Gaston and Beast. Crazy times be had, for sure. Pending the results, I will post my stories here, which won’t be until January.
When I started NaNo, I had a beautifully designed spreadsheet that would keep track of my word counts and my overall count toward the goal. Then, in a glorious fit of luck, my laptop died. “Put some roses over it, because it’s not coming back to life” dead. Thankfully, (all of my thankfully) I was able to back up my NaNo piece as well as a few other writing projects and my word count sheet prior to the complete meltdown. I had to continue NaNo through my iPad (which still sucks, even though I have the keyboard attachment) and my boyfriend’s work laptop. Neither one would read my word count spreadsheet, so I have not been able to update it. Super bummer.
And then to top it all off, Brenda Drake’s exceptionally fantastic Pitch Wars accepted submissions yesterday. That means the tail end of my NaNo days were squandered with much query writing and fixing the first 5 pages from critiques. So, needless to say, November was a busy writing month to me, regardless of not winning.
What I learned from NaNo:
1. Don’t edit – write. I started NaNo and ended up killing almost a full thousand words because I decided to edit. That was a tough lesson for me to learn, considering my first novel was written and edited at the same time. If I got stuck on what to write next, I went back and edited a chapter. No. Not in NaNo, and actually, I probably won’t do that again.
Even though I had done a ton of research on Seoul, South Korea before NaNo, I ran into parts where the characters decided they were going to pop into a shop or a place to eat or go somewhere like the Banpo Bridge. At first, I’d stop and google some things, but after doing this a few times, I realized I was eating up precious writing time. And getting super distracted. “Yes, I would like to learn more about South Korean cocktails, that might come in handy later.” No. I eventually got into the habit of just writing “then they go into the SHOPNAME and they eat – research their food later, but it will probably be something light like a sandwich or some kind of finger food.”
Why it works: I got to stay in my writing flow. No interruptions made it easier to just keep spitting the words out. And even just writing yourself notes about what to add or change later will help me significantly when I go to edit. I will already know what I need to add or research, without having to read back through a half-tried mess several months later.
Also, when you train yourself to just keep writing, you won’t talk yourself out of exploring ideas that might actually turn into something great. I almost did that a few times, and I ended up just pushing through with it and telling myself “well, if it sucks, I can yank it out later.” Most of the time, it didn’t suck.
2. PLOT before NaNo. Nothing against pansters here, but I have always been a plotster. I had an outline going into NaNo, but it wasn’t very detailed. It helped more than I can say. Last year I got stuck, because I didn’t know where I was going or what was going to happen next.
Fear not, pansters! Plotting doesn’t take that creative whim away. For instance, I knew my MC would go out and take in the sights of Seoul. What ended up happening is that she wouldn’t go by herself, because she’s too cautious, so one of the band members offered to go with her. Then I was able to completely explore his depth of character… and I might have to switch my love interest. I don’t know yet. Pants moments happen. A lot! Did I think my star dancer would get injured in the final performance? No, but it happened. Those crazy characters never want to do what you tell them.
My NaNo profile might not say “WIN,” but I still feel like I did. It was a month of pure writing focus, whether I wrote my second novel, queries and crits for Pitch Wars, or short stories for REUTSway. I did win, because I learned way more than I expected to. I got 2/3 of a new novel finished, and I got to challenge myself in ways I didn’t think I could handle.