Monday, November 14, 2011

Four Things NaNoWriMo Has Taught Me (So Far)

Monday afternoon I passed the 25,000 word mark and then some on my NaNoWriMo project. So, I'm more than halfway to "winning" NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words for my work in progress. This is now by a fairly large margin the longest thing I've ever written. Before a couple of months ago, my longest ever work was a short story (more technically perhaps a novelette) of just under 10,000 words. I got about 18-20,000 words into a novel project in late-summer/early-fall before I stalled out on it for the time being.

Still, the longest completed work of mine remains that 10,000-ish word story. At this point, I'm estimating that the novel I'm working on, which I currently am calling "Adrift," will end up around 60,000 words. So by that measure I still have more than 50% of the work to go on the first draft. It's a daunting task, but I'm encouraged by the progress that I've made so far.

Thinking about the last two weeks' worth of writing, here are four things I've learned about my own creative process as a result of NaNoWriMo along with some comments on how other writers might look into the same aspects of their process.
  1. I have a limit. For me, this is about 4,000 words in a writing session. Once I've gotten that much written, which probably means about 3-4 hours straight of composing (along with the occasional Twitter break and suchlike), I'm done. I feel tired, I feel unfocused, and I don't want to write another word. Even if I'm in the middle of a key scene, I have to take a break. I suspect that most writers have some similar limits, though I also know there are some who can write many more words in a session. The important lesson here for me is that trying something like "The 3 Day Novel" probably isn't even worth considering for me. I'd be miserable when I was done. The other key takeaway for me is that I can't let myself fall too far behind in NaNoWriMo this year or any other because I'd only be up to so much "catching up."
  2. I work well when I have a plan. Yes, it's the famous "plotter" versus "pantser" discussion. I'm now firmly convinced that I'm a plotter. That doesn't mean that I don't end up going down paths I didn't originally expect in my writing. There have been several developments in my NaNo project that I either didn't expect or that presented themselves in an unplanned way (even if the development itself was planned). Granted, I've still got a lot further to go, but with my 2200 or so words of notes that I made in October (perfectly "legal" for NaNo) I feel much more confident about the path forward. The important thing for other writers here would be to be aware of what writing style works best for you. If you are sure you're a pantser, you probably aren't going to be happy plotting. If you're like me, and are sure you like plotting, don't go off willy-nilly into a long project and expect it to work out well.
  3. Having a support group is important to me. In fairness, I had already sort of learned this before NaNoWriMo, but it's become even more obvious during these last two weeks. There are people on Twitter who I have done multiple word-sprints with throughout the month to-date. We've frequently sought each other out to see if we were available to urge each other on. I've had some very productive sessions during these word-sprints.
  4. It's okay to not fill in all the blanks right away. I tend to write in a very linear fashion, starting at the beginning of the text and ending at the completion. Here, there have been several times it made sense for me to make a note about something I would want to research in more detail later and move on. These weren't things that had an impact on the plot where I would be likely to have a problem if my research led me to an unpleasant surprise, and it let me keep moving forward with the first draft. Would I advise doing this with a key plot point? No. But if it's a bit of period "texture" detail, I think it's just fine to make a note about what you want to research and move on.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year or have you done it in the past? What has it taught you?


  1. I am NaNoing, for the first time, this year. Thus far, I've learned that things just love to go awry even when you plan things out, so allow for extra flexibilty. I've also learned, or am at least learning, how to wrangle my Inner Critic for the first draft. I hadn't realized how important the initial, unfettered "brain dump" can actually be :-)

  2. I'n on my third NaNo and although I'm enjoying writing the story (stories)I'm not really convinced why I'm doing it this year. I've already had to rush to catch up because of work commitments and now I've been feeling ill for a couple of days so I'm up against the wire with my total again. Is it worth it? I'll let you know.

  3. Angela, those are all good things to have learned about your writing process. After I posted this yesterday I came across Jami Gold's "Fast Draft" post, which I found really hit the nail on the head for describing how I've been working recently. I'm not QUITE as ruthless, I like to make sure I remember where I left off when I start back up, but other than that, it's really close to what I've been doing.

    MorningAJ, sorry to hear that you're feeling rushed on this. Maybe it's just not the year for it for you? Best of luck, however you proceed!

  4. I'mdoing NaNoWriMo for the first time this year and I agree with much of what you say. I have things plotted out but am open to the story developing itself as well. I can work in two hour slots (around 2000 words) but can do two hour slots in a day. I've taken some days off but am still above target wordcount because I've put in extra writing slots. One thing that really surprised me was how much I've enjoyed the research to this piece of work.... I had always thought that would be something that would put moe off writing a novel...

  5. Love this post. It's pretty much right in line with what I've learned.
    I shared this post on Twitter!

  6. Congratulations on your word count! That's awesome that you've broken through your "wall" of your longest work. :)

    And thanks for the link in the comments. :)

  7. Craftygreenpoet, glad to hear that you're having a good time with NaNo and your research!

    JaseR75, thanks for sharing the post! It's nice to hear that you found it of interest and that you (like Crafty above) have had similar experiences.

    Mohamed, thank you very much! I *almost* hit 30k tonight, and still might if I get motivated later today.

    Jami, you're very welcome. If I'd seen it before writing this I would have definitely linked it in the body. The real trick for me at this point is going to be seeing this through to completion since I know it will take me past 11/30 and 50,000 word mark. Still, I think knowing I've got something 2/3 to 3/4 done (first draft wise) should be quite the motivator.