NaNo Lessons: What I Learned From A Month Of Writing Really Fast – Part One

I finished NaNoWriMo. I completed the word count goal with 51,219 words on Friday, November 21. Twenty-one days. My story is not finished, but it’s an acceptable first draft. I can see revising it into something worth reading; I can see a fourth or fifth draft that’s 75,000 words and that’s worth querying.

This is fantastic. Tremendous. Huge.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

You’ve heard me complain about NaNoWriMo before. I still think it has some problems. Like, seriously, November?

But I am so glad I did this. I found out so much about myself and my creative process that I never would have learned without forcing myself outside my comfort zone (a place I DO NOT like to be). I learned that I can live without Facebook, and it can live without me. I learned that when I am busy, I get more accomplished (we all know that, right?).

In fact, I learned so much, it’s all too big for one blog post. I’m splitting it up into two.

Part One: What I Learned About Writing

  1. I can write really fast.

I have always been a “wait until the muse strikes,” meander through the manuscript kind of writer. That is a big part of why I have not been published up until now. If I don’t feel it, I can’t write it. (That, and perfectionism, and fear of rejection, and all that other crap.) But whatever. It’s all excuses. This exercise taught me that words are words, and excuses are just excuses. Stick the words on the page and to hell with everything else. I prefer editing anyway.

  1. I don’t enjoy writing really fast.

I plunged into this without a lot of planning. Usually, I spend a lot of time in the planning stage, getting to know my characters, understanding the world they live in, deciding what motivates everybody, what my themes and subplots will be, reading my source material several times… I did not have time for any of that. At the end of Week 1, I still hadn’t finished reading the play once. Not one read-through. I mean, I’d read it before and I knew how it ended, but I hadn’t done a close reading for writing purposes. Crap! I didn’t know what my characters looked like, much less the sounds of their voices. And when you don’t have those things, it’s extremely uncomfortable to sit down at a computer and just start writing. Decisions have to be made on the fly and while I’m making them, I’m second guessing them. In one scene, I think my main character’s growing up was like this; but in another scene, I’m going in another direction, and I know that at some point (ahem, revisions), I’m going to have to have a clear vision for this. Again: Is the abbess kind and sympathetic or mean and antagonistic? We’ll have to figure that out in revisions, won’t we? My skin crawls at this kind of “sure, go ahead, just write it now and sort it out later” thing.

  1. I hate — I mean, really hate — not editing as I go.

Soooo, I haven’t completely turned off the “IE” as the NaNos call it (the “Internal Editor”), but I have silenced her pretty well. She still manages to say things like, “Warm? Really? How about ‘tepid’ or ‘mild’? Or even ‘lukewarm’?” She controls the backspacer on things like that. But on the big things, the sentences and paragraphs I hate? Nope. She gets the muffler, the gag, the silencer. I have repeated the same word within a paragraph or even the same sentence. *gasp!* I have left false starts in place. *groan!* I rewrote a paragraph where somebody arrived somewhere because I didn’t like how they got there, but I DIDN’T DELETE THE FIRST PARAGRAPH. *the horror!* Because why waste my time? I’ll get it in the second draft. And maybe I’ll combine the two, or find something I liked in the first one and take it in that direction, or maybe I will follow my gut and delete the whole thing but THAT’S NOT A DECISION I NEED TO MAKE RIGHT NOW.

Notice all the caps lock there. I’m still convincing myself of the merits of this process.

One of the things I don’t like about NaNo is that it encourages this kind of thing, which I think, over time, would lead to some bad habits. Can’t think of the right word? Write down five words, and you’re that much closer to your word count. Oh, you just wrote “I feel…”? Don’t worry about it, you’ll get in edits. Normally, I would never let these things stand. But I can now see the merit in just moving on, just getting through, knowing that I’ll fix it later. And I will. (The fact is, a lot of people won’t, and that kills me. The whole “free coupon to get your NaNo novel printed” thing kills me. Oh, please DO NOT print/publish your NaNo novel. It sucks. Trust me.)

  1. I may prefer to write by hand but I don’t need to write by hand.

I have this conversation with my kids all the time: there’s a difference between what you need and what you want. I just never thought to apply it to my writing. This whole “I have to…” was simply bullsh*t that allowed me to define the parameters within which I could not begin a necessary task, i.e., procrastinate.

Yes, I still think the worst thing in the writing universe is the blank Word Doc that sits there taunting you with a cursor blinking ominously at you over and over. But you know what? If you type some crap like, “It was a dark and stormy night when my main character walked into the room and threw a duck at her mother…” that’s a totally acceptable way to begin because NO ONE WILL EVER SEE IT. This is a first draft so who cares what it looks like? It will be revised and rewritten until it is unrecognizable from where it began, and that’s a good thing, so just throw some words at the page and get started.

There is no way in hell I could have written 2,000 words a day by hand. No way. In hell.

Anyone else out there a NaNoWinner? Still working at it? What have you learned? Did you enjoy it, hate it? Never do it again, or can’t wait ’till next year? I’d love to hear from you!

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5 Responses to NaNo Lessons: What I Learned From A Month Of Writing Really Fast – Part One

  1. mabelgygi says:

    Maryanne,
    I am so proud of you, and I loved reading about what you learned – Part One. I can’t wait to read Part Two! It has been fabulous being on this journey with you.

  2. This was so interesting to read, Maryanne. I haven’t done NaNo before but I need to fast draft a book and these are really good reminders to read. Congrats to you on your accomplishment! 50,000 words in less than a month! I’m going to be thinking of you as my inspiration when I’m feeling like I’m not cut out for fast drafts.

  3. Jami Gold says:

    Ha! Even in word sprint mode, I can’t turn off the backspace key for fixing things immediately. *eye twitches* 😉

  4. Pingback: Resolutions | A Writer's Notepad

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