NaNoWriMo, writing life, writing process

What I Learned from My First NaNoWriMo

November is gone. I have to take a moment, to lift my head from the laptop, to let my eyes adjust to the sunlight, to start breathing again.

50,011 words.

National Novel Writing Month is over. I did it.

None of it feels real.

I wonder if this has to do with John Gardner’s idea of the fictional dream: a writer’s job is to create a dream on the page. It’s a good dream if the reader becomes lost in it, and there’s nothing (inconsistencies in character, typos, bizarre actions/decisions, etc.) to wake them up from the dream.

The writer first has to put themselves into the dream and experience it. That’s the first draft. That’s NaNoWriMo.

The sense of continuity when writing chronologically, 1500+ words a day, for 30 days straight, is amazing. I know my draft has issues. I did do things in between writing sessions (sleeping, for one). Even so, it’s far easier to maintain the “dream” and to keep advancing the story with that external motivating factor, and entering hip deep into the prose every day.

As much as this once pantser is chagrinned to admit it, the thing that allowed me to keep my head in the dream was my outline. Outlines are ridiculously helpful. Don’t do NaNo without one. I’m not sure it’s possible to do NaNo without one, at least, not for me. I hit places in the outline that were less detailed and that I had to fill in as I went, but in general, I always knew what I was supposed to write next. This saved me hours of time second guessing myself, my plot, my characters, my scenes, or staring at the screen trying to manifest situations I hadn’t conceived of.

Finishing NaNo–waking up–is wildly disorienting. When the external motivation of November was gone, I felt a palpable twang of release. The dream was broken. On December 1, for the first time in 30 days, I didn’t write at least 1,667 words. I didn’t spend any time in the world of my novel. Reality broke in, and with it, some raw observations.

There were difficult days and minutes and hours, but I overcame all of them.

I am capable of far more than I thought.

These 50,011 words are not very good. They are mostly ragged sentences and paragraphs, full of inconsistencies of tone, character, and missing description and depth.

I wish I had spent a little more time being aware of the quality and grace of the words as I wrote them, instead of only prioritizing the number of words.

There is much more to be written. Everything I wrote can be expanded upon, and I haven’t reached the ending yet.

There is no reason I couldn’t hold myself to a similar daily word count goal in other months of the year. Maybe every month.

Turns out that shitty first draft is totally possible.

This has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, one I highly recommend, but only if you’re willing to put in the prep ahead of time.

NaNoWriMo also hosts a more open-ended version of the November writing month in April and June, called Camp NaNoWriMo. I may very well take advantage of both of those events to pressure myself into getting new words out. Because, as I was focusing on this new project, I got ideas for three more books . . .

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