Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Lessons of NaNoWriMo

Look at that. I'm not dead! Impressive, if a bit surprising. I'm aware I rather disappeared in the last days, and apologise for it. NaNoWriMo always do that to me. I find it hard to do anything but study, write, and lead my region (believe me, the last is quite a lot of time).

But it's over now, and I return to my little corner of the internet. I feel different, too. I always do, after NaNoWriMo.

The simple reason for that is that every year, I learn something new about myself, both as a person and as a writer. And we'll focus on the latter, of course. ;)

The first year of NaNoWriMo was a very simple lesson for me: I could, indeed, write a novel, and I found it immensely fun and satisfying. There was a magic in the experience nothing else had ever brought to me first. I wanted to keep writing, year after year, as a hobby.

The second year of NaNoWriMo is when I started dreaming of publication. It'd crossed my mind over the summer, when I wrote a straightforward fantasy novel called Ellistrie, still waiting to be revisited. I loved the plot. I loved the characters. It was my first novel since NaNo '08, too, but the magic had been back. It returned during November, a thousand times over, and I went from writing 64k to writing 207k. It was crazy, but strangely enough, the two main stories had a solid plot. I could write fast, but well enough. (on a macro level).

This year, my third, I admit I had a lot more trouble combining my obsessive, overachieving wrimo personality with my calmer, aspiring-writer half. I wanted to come out of this NaNoWriMo with something readable, and unlike last year, my plot refused to obey me. I fell behind. I got angry, and desperate. I stopped posting here, too, at about that moment.

It wasn't before the middle of the third week that I found my balance. I still hadn't finished my first novel (Edingher) and was 30k behind schedule. I realised this hadn't gone where I wanted it to, and not because the scenes weren't as 'shiny' as first imagined. It was something more, something deeper about the novel.

I still don't know what, either. But I accepted it. The storyline needs to be reworked. The characters were doing things that didn't match what they'd become. I could feel more problems coming. I wanted to stop, to move on to the second story (White Echoes). And then I clicked. I figured out how to cover one plot hole, then a second. Not all of them, not quite, but just enough to give me a second wind.

That's when I understood this wasn't my real first draft. This wasn't my storyline as it'd stand for publication, not even close. This was me, in the middle of my favourite month, the craziest of them, surrounded by friends both new and old, trying to figure out who these characters were, and how the world reacted to them.

This year I learned to use NaNoWriMo as a sandbox. I decided to build all the castles I wanted, to cast them down if I felt like it, to try things out. I wrote three different endings to Edingher, two beginnings to White Echoes (and I know a third is coming). I scratched out entire scenes that had gone wrong (kept the words) and rewrote them right away.

Everything was easier from there. So easy, in fact, that between Friday the 26th and midnight on Nov. 30th, I managed to write out 65,000 words. And you know what? They are probably the most important scenes I've written through the entire month. They were the one that worked.

Yes, I will rewrite it all over again, through the year. I don't think I wasted my time, however, not for a single moment. Now I know who my characters are. I know where my story goes, from top to bottom, and I know that even when put to fire, that outline will hold. There's something organic to it that I have trouble recreating when I am not writing.

That's what NaNoWriMo 2010 became to me. My two NaNo drafts are, in truth, two big outlines. And more than ever, I feel motivated to keep going.


  1. I did something similar, but more character focused. For most of my words (almost 2/3), I was writing a story that was just throwing my characters from different stories together to fight. I ended up learning a lot about them.


  2. Congrats on making it through NaNo! I learned a lot of lessons this year too, but mine go more in the way of "losing is okay" and "if you'd rather be editing then don't start writing something new" and "I have the most awesome support system of writers in the entire world" :)

    Good luck on finishing your novels!

  3. Thanks, sticky! You're right that starting something new when you'd rather be editing isn't the best plan. At least something serious, anyway (I know that should I be at that point, I'd likely write something silly and unpublishable during NaNo, for the sake of doing it. I love NaNo)

    Travis: Most of my big plot changes will be because I discovered new things about my characters, too. I work like that. Characters drive the plot, all the time. :) That's one way to discover them, though admittedly most of my characters don't fight at all, so I couldn't use it. ^^