What NaNoWriMo Taught Me

Now that my big project has ended, I’ve been unsure what to post on this blog. Something writing-related seemed the most logical–and the biggest writing project I’ve been working on was, well, National Novel Writing Month. So there you go.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Participants can plan as far in advance as they want, but must not set pen to paper before midnight strikes on November 1st. From there it’s a mad rush to the finish line on the 30th. Throughout the rest of the year are revisions, camps and other challenges to keep people interested. The site can be found here.

As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t work for every writer. Some people need to draft as they go, some prefer to write smaller chunks a day, some don’t like the pressure, the list goes on. Everyone has their own writing method and churning out 1667 words a day every day for a month doesn’t gel with all of them. And of course the novel may not turn out to be any good, even with revisions. However, without trying it, I wouldn’t have learned some of my own writing methods.

The first year I participated in NaNoWriMo was 2011. I had a couple of vague ideas for a novel, but no real characters or plans. I dove in headfirst, and got into trouble really quickly. I actually stopped on the second week or so and went into revisions–which by the way is a terrible idea. Not only is it super-stressful to keep up the word count while going back, you’re liable to rush and make really obvious mistakes–skip scenes, move them around so they don’t make sense anymore, etc. Besides, that’s not the point of the challenge, as I came to realize. It’s to make words so you can shape them later, because no matter how bad that raw material is, it’s better than nothing. 2011 was probably the clearest demonstration I’ve ever given myself of my overactive inner editor. When I don’t have any external pressure, I tend to start writing, run out of steam, then revise so drastically that I get worn out and eventually abandon the project. It’s a problem I’m still trying to get past.

2012 rolled by, and by this time I had gotten well into the world of fanfiction. It’s not something I like to talk about a lot, but that’s a topic that could fill a whole other blog post. The point is, by now I’d taken on a number of projects, and so this time NaNo could serve an actual purpose: give me a running start on one of my big fics. So in I went, this time with the familiar framework of a series of Power Rangers to hang my new ideas on, and some characters to follow. Whenever I got stuck I’d skip around to whatever scenes were tickling the imagination, already planning for the rewrites I stopped myself from making. By the end of the month, I had a chaotic jumble of snippets. I’d brainstormed, come up with a couple cool ideas, but hadn’t really planned how my story would even begin, and now I didn’t know how to stitch the pieces together. I couldn’t write out of chronological order and have the story move smoothly.

NaNo 2013 was another fanfic-focused month. This time I was ready. I had plans from detailed to sketchy, knew where I was going, and (as it later turned out) most importantly, knew my characters. It went a lot more smoothly than the last two years. I wrote pretty steadily, but still skipped a few times on days I felt less motivated. I got sloppier later on, but unlike the last two years, I had another external motivation to not only write, but improve. I got about halfway into the series before the month ended, and began publishing it on January 1st, 2014. A new chapter came out each week. In retrospect that extra pressure was probably too much–I didn’t feel like I could write anything else during that time–but the basic point was sound.

Finally, last year, I’d decided it was time to turn back to original fiction. Granted I hadn’t worked on any lengthy original fiction for a while by this point, but that was part of the reason I wanted to give it another shot. I wanted to finally be able to talk about my project without admitting it was fanfiction or having to explain the setting to an uninitiated audience. I came up with my novel idea in October, planned for a little while with different profiles and the like, and got going. This was probably my most organized year, and one of my most steady. The words rarely came easy, though, and in retrospect this was the time I started noticing signs of what was later diagnosed as depression. Writing, something I’ve always enjoyed, started to get harder and harder. However, I stuck to the novel plan pretty well, and even came up with a reasonably acceptable ending. The real problem with this novel was the revisions, actually. I’ve discovered that the more I plan, the better the overall result is, but once I start looking to change something, everything is up in the air. And I do mean everything. The setting, the length, the characters, the plot, the themes…

Am I going to participate again this year? Maybe. I don’t know. Don’t know where my head’s going to be when the time rolls around, what ideas I’ll be working with. Guess we’ll just have to see.


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