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

So here we go. More lessons learned from completing a first draft of a novel (albeit a short one) in less than a month.

See that? I’m a winner!

Part Two: What I Learned About Myself

  1. I can get a lot done in 15 minutes.

My classic excuse, perfectionist that I am, is that I just can’t get anything done in fifteen measly little minutes (whine, whine, whine). By the time I sit down and figure out where I was and what I was saying and what I want to say next and get up and fetch my glass of water and turn on some music… Yeah, you see where this is going. Fact is, when you do a NaNoWriMo sprint, and someone says, “Fifteen minutes, GO!” you just start writing, working on whatever you were working on. Your fingers move, your thoughts go with them, and it doesn’t matter if you’re out of water or Pandora stopped playing, you’re gonna WRITE, dammit (I figured out pretty quickly, it helps if you’re mildly compulsive and/or vaguely competitive).

In a ten minute sprint I did over 200 words, and in a fifteen minute sprint, I did over 400. That was the first day. One time, I managed 53 words in the 2 minutes while I waited for something to heat up in the microwave.

I was shocked. Seriously? That’s how much I could be doing if I just sat my ass down and stopped fussing? I have wasted the equivalent of years in fifteen minute increments. No more.

As the month went on, I decided that the sprints weren’t really for me, given the material I was working on (it’s a little hard to “sprint” your way through Shakespeare). But knowing that I could do 1,000 words in an hour freed me to be positive and, quite frankly, joyous, when I would sit down to write. I’d get up at the end of a session and think, “Oh, that didn’t go so well,” and check my word count and, surprise! A bad day was suddenly 1,800 words or 2,100 words. Sorry, kiddo, that is NOT a bad day in any way, and as anyone knows, positivity feeds on itself just as negativity does.

2. My obsessiveness can be a problem.

I wrote 3,200 words one Sunday, along with cleaning the garage and preparing for school visits to two separate schools (a presentation on Shakespeare and a creative writing lesson). And put away groceries (that my husband and son graciously shopped for). And roasted a chicken and mashed potatoes and spent time with my kids that didn’t involve lectures on cleanliness or the state of their grades. But when there was a quiet moment in there — when my husband and son were watching the Broncos, and my daughter was taking a shower — I thought, “I could be writing again. Or I could read ahead in the play and figure out what to write tomorrow. But I should definitely keep writing. More. Writing. Must. Keep. Writing.”

This kind of single-minded focus was a real asset when I was a lawyer, and it will also benefit me someday when I am working on a publisher-imposed deadline (keeping the faith, folks!). But sometimes, mid-NaNo, what I needed to do is relax.

3. Now that it’s over, I miss it..

It was fantastic having a goal to reach for, something that gave my days purpose and focus. I loved being connected to all those other millions of people across the globe, as well as to my own little community here in the Boulder area, not to mention how it drew my writing group closer. I loved the tweeting, the Facebooking, the support and the cheering each other on.

And, I’ll admit it, I was competitive. I always wanted to be the first. The one out in front on the word count between the three of us in my group. I think I was behind in word count that first weekend and never again. It drove me.

Since I finished, I’ve been tweeting with the hashtag #NaNoWithdrawal, because that’s how it feels to me. My characters are still moving on in my head and my heart. I’m a little bit in love with my hero, and a little bit entwined with my heroine. I want to get back to them. I want to smooth out their rough edges, resolve the things I left unresolved, let them be more deeply connected (which I suspect they’re doing behind my back)… I miss them, and I miss the process. I’m trying to move on to other things, like Thanksgiving and some revisions to FINDING KATE, but my NaNo novel doesn’t want to let go.

So that’s me. This is what I’ve learned. It can be very important, in writing and in life, to try something different now and then, to challenge yourself, to question your assumptions. To go to places that are dark and cold and wet and scary and try to discover something there.* That – as much as writing a 50,000 word novel – is what NaNoWriMo is about. I’m really glad I did it.

*See that? Four easy adjectives in a row (four words) connected by “and” instead of commas (four words). That’s eight words in very little time (because I didn’t stop to think of more challenging or appropriate adjectives like “dismal” or “terrifying” or “dank” (oh, here I go again). The mantra of NaNo is “you’ll fix it in the edits” and so I shall.

Here’s to lots of revisions in January. 🙂


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

  1. mabelgygi says:

    “Here’s to… revisions”. Yikes! That’s much scarier than the white page and blinking cursor from your Part One. In revisions, you have to know what you are doing, right?! You have to find and revive your Inner Editor. Or perhaps teach them a thing or two.

    Well done, Maryanne. I can’t wait to see your next challenge for yourself. You rock.

  2. Jami Gold says:

    Ooo, so true about how we can get things done even if we have only 15 minutes. I was constantly interrupted during most of my NaNo days, so if I wasn’t willing to get in a sentence here or a phrase there, I wouldn’t have gotten anything done.

    • Jami, I think that was the single most important lesson I learned: to stop waiting for the mood, the moment, the opportunity and to WRITE. Take that moment that’s right there and use it, for whatever I can squeeze out of it. Even if the result isn’t perfect, it’s better than nothing.

      • Jami Gold says:

        “Even if the result isn’t perfect, it’s better than nothing.”

        Exactly! So true. And we can never have too many reminders about that. 🙂

  3. Ember Leigh says:

    I think the best part about NaNo for me (although I didn’t “win”) was moving that bar up. Like you mentioned, what you felt to be a bad day was in no way at all a a bad day. You bar crept higher, and that’s what happens when we dedicate ourselves to something (maybe mildly obsessively) for such a short amount of time. Our ‘normal’ gets rearranged. And I find myself much more productive in all of my works in progress as a result!

  4. Pingback: Resolutions | A Writer's Notepad

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