This time last year I was done with my NaNoWriMo book and proud of myself for crossing the 50k finish line. After doing the dance of joy I saved all my work and forgot about it for the rest of the year.
The holidays came and went and the time came to go over the amazing creation I’d put together in less than thirty days. Now I know first drafts are supposed to be awful, but I felt mine was a cut above. Maybe I was being too hard on myself; I tend to be very critical, but I saw nothing usable. Nothing. I was staring at a two-hundred page outline.
Despite that I saw hope in my story because of the characters I’d created. I liked them. They were interesting and if I was prepared to take another stab at telling their story, other people would see that too. Yeah I know, every writer loves their characters unconditionally like a parent, but the reason why this story spoke to me differently than the others is kind of going off topic. Before I totally land myself in tangentville, I’m going to move on.
So here I am, in the thick of it rewriting my story. It’s been slow, difficult and occasionally frustrating because I know if I had taken the time to write each page as I now am, my first draft wouldn’t need so extensive a rewrite.
This isn’t me bashing NaNoWriMo or me attempting to deter anyone from doing it. It’s a great test, especially if you’ve never written a novel or like me, wanted to try something new. The other positive is that you walk away from it with lessons learned about yourself. Here’s what I learned.
1. Writing 50k words in thirty days is madness for me and counterproductive. NaNo makes no claims that 50k in 30 is an easy thing to do. In fact you are told in the NaNo how to, No Plot, No Problem, that no matter what word count you reach it’ll be far more than you’ve ever written in a month. They don’t want anyone to feel bad about falling short because the point is to get your words out of your head.
Unfortunately or fortunately I don’t like to “lose”. If they say 50k is the goal and I know other people have done it, then I have to be one of them.
And like most human adults, writing is not the only part of my life. I have a day job, household responsibilities, and general things I like to do. Plus I’ve been known to enjoy the company of other people. To do nothing but write in an effort to reach a very difficult goal means I have to eliminate everything in my life except my job. Maybe that’s not the case for others, but it’s what I had to do. I love to write and I love a challenge, but the stress of meeting that word count took the fun out of it.
If I can sit down and write 500-1000 words a day I come up with far better material. It’s still not perfect, but leaps and bounds away from my NaNo first draft and a hundred percent more rewarding because I feel like I’m making progress. Maybe as I get more experienced I’ll be able to up my word output.
Lesson learned: I now know my limits to produce good writing.
2. Before NaNo I had one completed draft and tons of unfinished stories under my belt. I thought maybe the completed draft I had was a fluke. On top of that, there were all sorts of things happening in it and I honestly didn’t think I was ready to revise it. When I set out to plot my NaNo novel, I purposely shaped it as a first person to focus me on one point of view. That way I could concentrate on one main storyline. Everything else before that was third person omnipotent.
Lesson learned: I’m not a one hit wonder. I can write!
3. I need a deadline to get anything done. This one sounds elementary, but it wasn’t how I was working. I had no schedule. When the mood struck, I wrote. If I got stuck, I stopped for days or weeks and sometimes months. I still struggle with procrastination, but I’m more focused because I know it’s the only way I’ll reach my goals.
Lesson learned: A simple end date gets me to accomplish far more than I thought I could.
So what about everyone else? Besides writing buckets of words in a short amount of time, what lessons did NaNo teach you?