Earlier this year, my 23 year old son convinced me to participate in NaNoWriMo with him during the month of November. Thinking it would be a bonding experience, I quickly agreed. Then, he met a girl. I was abandoned; I was on my own. And now, a NaNo winner, I have some thoughts on the experience.
The first thought is -- I wasn't alone. Even if Eric disappeared on me (and fortunately, his girl seems lovely, and yes, I'm happy for you), this past month was the most supportive writing experience I have known since University Creative Writing class. Writers of all experience levels took part, commented regularly on the ups and downs of their personal experience, 'liked' one another's achievements and spoke encouragement and common understanding over each other's challenges. I absolutely loved that aspect of the experience, and hope that writing community will continue to be part of my life.
More than one person posted that what they had written was bad and they had deleted the entire document, some after 20,000 + words. This makes me positively cringe. I don't know that I could or would every do this, but to each their own. I am always cognizant of the lesson taught in painting class that you can't really see a work until you take a step back and view it at a distance. My personal feeling is, NEVER delete. I am a click and paste-r -- I'll take words that seem a poor fit and slide them to the rear of a manuscript until the document is done. Only then do I judge if there are redeeming qualities to be found. But again, that's me. I am a word hoarder. I do not LIKE to kill my darlings.
I wondered going in if I would truly be able to complete 50,000 words in 30 days, and so I deliberately set myself what I considered an attainable storyline. The book I wrote for NaNo was set at a ranch I actually worked at. It involves teaching horsemanship, a job I've actually done. It is a romance with a nominal suspense angle. Easy peasy. But, one thing I learned is, there is no such thing as easy when it comes to writing a novel. The further in I went, the more I complicated EVERYTHING. Huh, I realized, there is more to this book than exploiting the crush I have on horses, there is more to it than my characters rolling around the sheets together. This book has an actual PLOT! No one was more surprised than I. Ha!
I started off the month with a jump start due to the flu keeping me home from work. Week one of NaNo saw me alternating between naps and writing. Therefore, in the first seven days, I had 19,000 words done. This turned out to be a good thing considering complications kept arising with my story line, and a book which was supposed to be 50,000 words ultimately took 60,000 to complete. I did finish the book by November 28, and I did write something every day, meaning I novelled for 28 days straight. On day 29, I edited a previous piece of work, and on day 30 I started prepping up a book of poetry for publication. So, I was continuously diligent every day of November.
And how do I feel about that? Well, my conclusion is that writing every day is an act of discipline, and as such, it has merit. I loved knowing I was able to produce the kinds of word counts I did in the amount of time I had. I loved that the NaNo web site had a word count updater feature which allowed me to track both the words to target and also my daily output. Seeing the words tick away -- and the bar graph climb -- really helped me carry on even on days when I was not in the mood. Needing to make a word count goal did force me to silence my inner editor and simply forge ahead even knowing certain spots were not stellar and will likely require some extensive edits. I am not certain I could have done that as ruthlessly without that little word count icon staring me in the face.
On the other hand, I did give in somewhat to my competitive nature. There were moments where I had to remind myself that competing -- even only with myself -- was not the point. The point was to tell the story. And there were places where I am unsure I did this. I found that writing every day of the week really took the joy out of writing for me. It soon became a chore I had to do, rather than a treat I get to look forward to doing. For me, even a one day break out of six is imperative. That, for me, is another form of discipline, and one which keeps me hungry to tell the story, one which allows my subconscious time to process the details and next moves on a level which this NaNo month did not allow it to do. In the future, I do not see myself writing for long continuous stretches again. I feel it defeats the purpose, and steals the joy out of writing stories. After all, I am my novel's first audience. If I don't enjoy it, don't have a sense of the tale, it seems unlikely others will.
As well, at the end of NaNo, I can't say I have a total grasp on the calibre of my novel. I have yet to read it (letting it breathe - hopefully - like a fine wine), and maybe I will be pleasantly surprised, but that's not really even the point I am making -- I don't feel in touch enough with this tale to KNOW if the writing is good.
Oh, there are moments. I fell a little bit in love with my hero, which is always a good sign. And I had a brilliant brain storm to both start and conclude the novel. And as well, writing a novel is always a bit of a slog. There's just a lot going on and a lengthier process getting it done, so it's pretty easy to lose focus in the middle unless you are adhering to a strict outline. Since I tend to find any novel I write from an outline gets a bit stale and tepid as I try to follow a prescribed path rather than following the character's path, I tend to outline as I go. I know a and I know z, and I might plan b thru h, then write until it is time to plan i thru w. Often, my segmented mini-outlines get typed directly into the body of my document at whatever point I am stuck.
And so, at the end of it all, NaNoWriMo gets mixed reviews from me. I loved the comraderie, I found some of the NaNo toolkit helpful, but overall, the time crunch robbed some of the joy of discovery from me, since I am discovering these characters as I go along, the same as any reader would be. I also suspect this focus on speed writing does not make for a higher caliber novel. It seems to me that NaNoWriMo might serve well the writer who finds it hard to discipline themselves to write consistently, or the writer whose regular life is too full to justify writing. A one month writing binge is a great excuse or explanation for anyone who needs either.
When it's all said and done I ask myself, will I do this again? Currently, I lean towards No. I already am a fairly disciplined sort (read obsessive) where writing is concerned, and I don't want to rob myself of the pleasure writing brings me simply to meet some arbitrary time frame -- not unless there is a significant book advance on the line. That said, possibly this reaction is a little bit like having a child. Immediately after birth, you swear you won't be having a second child. A few years later, you forget, and only know Jr needs a sibling.
Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Not only did I learn a lot about my own writing style and preferences, I completed another manuscript, and that makes three in one year! I am proud of my accomplishment and feel like I have set myself up to be in a very good place for approaching publishers in the new year.
Already I am at work building characters and problems for the next manuscript, which will take the years I spent working in the food industry and turn that into a new series. Next week I will do a read thru of Rock Bottom Ranch. Then, I will see what I've actually got.
To all my fellow NaNo's whatever your own experience of this month has been, a huge congratulations! I wish you all joy in the next stages of your writing path.