An overdue post, in which I divulge in the hurrahs and the boos of NaNoWriMo. What I learned, what I discovered, what I rammed my face into, and everything else…
Firstly, I apologize for the tardiness of this post. Life chucks eggs at you sometimes by throwing every must-not-miss event into one week – and the final week of NaNo to boot. Last week I partied with work. Partied with friends. Attended a magazine launch for my first publication evarrr (more on that later). Did some early season shreddin’. Aaand caught a cold I am now currently suffering.
So when I say I didn’t finish NaNo and got to 37,396 words instead of the target 50,000, I don’t exactly regret it. I think 37k is a pretty damn good accomplishment for the amount of planning I put into my project. And while we’re on planning, I’ll segue straight into a list of things I learned from NaNoWriMo…
1. I need to pre-plan. At least a little bit.
I’ve been making up stories my entire life, and I remember how in the early naive years of storymaking (we’re talking age 5ish), I could make up stories and stories and stories non-stop. I had no concept of “writer’s block.” It was quite amazing really.
Did I lose creativity as I got older? Perhaps. But of course, as an adult I’m creating more complex stories, and hoping to inject some kind of meaningfulness in them that’s more than good guys killing bad guys. Stuff like that requires some real thought. You can’t just plug in event after event. I’ve always been a disorganized, spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment-inspiration person, but it turns out I plan more than I let myself believe.
In past novels, I’d spend an enormous amount of time daydreaming and thinking before putting a single word down on paper. That counts as planning. For my NaNoWriMo, I didn’t do any pre-novel daydreaming; I jumped right in. That probably slowed me down.
2. Cool things happen when you let your story run amok.
Having no plan for my story, I let my characters and the plot run amok. I was then pleasantly surprised when a once-unimportant character revealed herself to be integral to the story. I was also pleasantly relieved when building blocks of the vague world I created gradually fell into place over time.
One thing that’s yet to reveal itself to me, though, is the tone of the story. Which is big, I know. I wrote my story in a style-less, dry tone and that’s another reason why I was so slow: I hated my lack of tone. So that’s another thing I learned: set your tone, because tone sets the scene and scene sets the story.
3. I gotta get on this screenwriting shizz.
I wrote my “novel” based on TV structure. I named my chapters “episodes” each with their own mini-arc with an encompassing arc throughout the novel. That was my mindset.
I realized early on that the screenplay medium is so much better suited for my story. I ended up writing a lot of descriptive dialogue-less prose, for example, that would be way less boring told through pictures. Not that I dispute the possibility of a successful TV-novel crossover…just not for this project 😛
Overall, NaNoWriMo is a great concept if you have a great, reasonably well-formed idea but are, for whatever reason, afraid to commit to it.
That’s my takeaway advice for ya. I think NaNoWriMo is a great concept. It teaches you self-confidence and discipline. It tells you to shut that inner editor up and at least sculpt something you can work with. It’s a great leaping-off point.
But you have to remember that’s pretty much all it is: a leaping-off point. The purpose of NaNoWriMo isn’t to finish a novel in a month, the purpose is to start a novel.
You can’t finish a novel in a month. Well, most lay mortals can’t anyway. (Even truly gifted writers, I believe, carry their novels in their head around for a while before spitting it all out in a short time). One thing I’m not overly fond of about NaNo is the obsession with word count. You can spit out as many words as you can, but words do not a novel make. There’s such thing as quality over quantity in the world of literature!
Still, NaNo opens a world of possibilities for creative people who are struggling with commitment. The wealth of resources the site offers, the local meet-ups (I regret not making out to one), the camaraderie, and the sense of accomplishment are all reasons for signing up.
It’s definitely something to try (and hopefully finish!) during your lifetime.
P.S. If you’re interested at all, my project was called “James Sees Ghosts.” It involves a charismatic but narcissistic lead vocalist of a punk rock band, his thousand year-old guardian angel that occasionally manifests as an Irish setter, and his uncomfortable ability to visually perceive the spirits of dead people.