I think I was in junior high the first time I began writing a novel. I don't think I even created a full chapter. I had a scene, and two characters, and wasn't sure where to go from there. In college, I typed several chapters of another novel idea that also ended up going nowhere. Both starts could have been viable drafts, but I had neither the knowledge nor inclination to stay with those ideas long enough to develop them into something more complete. Since that time, I have worked hard to convince myself I am not a writer, although I find myself daydreaming scenes, writing picture book drafts, and crafting poetry. This year, as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) rolled around, I decided to take the plunge. I created an account, signed up on the NaNoWriMo website, and on November 1, I began. Here is what I learned on my way to 50,000+ words:
1) Planning matters. As much as I want to be a discovery writer (or "pantser") who sits down and goes wherever the writing muse leads me, I can't write without some sort of plan. I had never made an outline for a novel before, so creating a plan was daunting. However, the value of NaNoWriMo is community, and several fellow writers posted links to helpful online sources that aided me in developing a rough map to where I wanted to go. I suspect that most writers who successfully complete NaNoWriMo have an outline.
|My "book cover" for NaNoWriMo|
3) Word Sprints are great. This might be the most valuable tool I picked up from NaNoWriMo. In a word sprint,you set a timer and see how many words you can write in your pre-determined time limit. The benefit for me was that I figured I could write something for ten or fifteen minutes and then quit. However, when the time was up, I was often mid-scene and was able to continue writing. If I wanted to quit after the word sprint, at least I had written something that day. I used word sprints more than once when I felt stuck.
4) I can write even when I don't feel like it and even when my mind is blank. I confess, I did a novel-in-a-month plan once before, so when I entered NaNoWriMo, I was confident I could finish. However, the writing I did before had been percolating in my brain for years. It was material I knew well and it had an emotional connection for me. This time, I set out with an idea that I toyed with over the summer. It was not nearly as developed. I did not know my characters particularly well, and sometimes I really dreaded going over to my computer and typing. It was WORK to get the words down in November. But I did it anyway, and I am pretty proud of that. Accountability and those little "badges" I earned on the website were enough to keep me going on the tough days. My reward is that I have a rough draft and some notes on how to improve it.
5) I am happier when I write. This was a bit of a surprise. Even though my 50,000 words are a mess, even though I have a tremendous amount of daunting revisions awaiting me, and even though this "novel" may never see the light of day, it made me happy to get an idea out of my head and committed to words on a page. And I am looking forward to the revision process. Because I am not as emotionally invested in this particular project yet, it feels more like a puzzle to be solved, and I look forward to spending more time with this story I have created to see if I really can make it work.
I plan to do NaNoWriMo again. It was a great experience for me, and a lot of fun. Although I didn't participate in a local "write-in," I appreciated having online support from my home region. The beauty of NaNoWriMo participation is you can be as involved or as anonymous as you would like. And at the end of the month, there is a good chance you will have more words written than if you hadn't signed up. Happy writing!