13 Things Learned from NaNoWriMo 2011

December 1, 2011 at 5:54 am (Articles / Interviews) (, , , )

I’ve been joining National Novel Writing Month (that masochistic long-haul writing exercise where you try to produce 50,000 words in the span of 30 days) since 2008, without ever having gotten past the 20k mark. I’d actually given up on ever completing it.

This year though, a couple of things went down differently – one, I decided to write a story which has, in bits and pieces, percolated in my head since I was 12 years old. This, as opposed to having little or no idea what the story would be about and just sort of hoping something interesting happens along the way.

Second, my friends put together a NaNoWriMo support group on Facebook, just to give us all a place to peer pressure one another to keep writing. This turned out pretty good for me, as my ego will not let me abide anyone having a higher word count than me.

The end result was this:

Yaaaaay.

So. Things learned (which may not apply to everyone who NaNos, but everyone is their own snowflake):

1. It is possible to do NaNoWriMo while holding down a full time job. I work a job that keeps me in the office from 8 to 6 on most days. And I can’t write while I’m in the office (largely because said job also involves a lot of writing). The only way around this was finding time to NaNo outside of work, which is basically after hours, up until I fall asleep. NaNo-ing happened from around 8:30 to 11:30pm, a time I would have otherwise spent doing normal human being things. Watching TV. Reading. Interacting with other human beings. Which gets a bit difficult because…

2. NaNo means you make certain sacrifices. It’s not just missing out on MasterChef or having that copy of Alan Moore’s From Hell sitting despondently on my desk. It’s telling friends I can’t stick around and do friend-type things because I have to rush home and write. The good friends will say ‘I understand this, and wish you the best.’ But some will throw around a variation of ‘So…you get some kind of prize for doing this? No? Uh. <Concerned expression>.’

All other writing activities got shoved aside too, which means there is now a shitload of short story / comics script / bloggery shit I have to shit shovel through. But still…

3. It helps to have a routine. Most November days became wake up-day job-go home-NaNo-watch an episode of Adventure Time-sleep-wash-rinse-repeat. It set a kind of rhythm that made sure I was writing more or less every day.

Brain bleach

The other thing that helps is…

4. Having a support group. NaNoWriMo the organization does have forums and mailing lists, but it was personally helpful to have a group of friends (who I personally know and hang out with outside of NaNo) to be going through the exact same crap I was. We’d ask each other about word count, and what kind of stories we were writing, and what bit of the novel we were wrestling with. There was also…

5. Reading stuff that would help me write. Like those writery advice type articles NaNoWriMo sends you, or which you can find on the internet (like this).

This also meant controlling what I read (because reading is like food and some of it will muck up the writing equivalent of your metabolism). I tried sticking to re-reading books that resembled what I wanted the thing I was making to look like (which was mostly fantasy-ish, other worldy-ish stuff). Which kept me trucking especially as…

6. I had to write every day. Part of this had to do with settling into that rhythm that got me typing shit down even if I felt I didn’t have anything substantial to type. I knew that if I went two or three days without writing, I’d just lose it completely and lapse into an endless cycle of procrastination.

The other bit was I found that getting anywhere past 2,000 words in a single sitting is very difficult for me. My brain short-circuits, and I need time to hug myself and say everything will be okay. This means I had to write a little every day to get to 50k words in a month. Some people manage to go for days without NaNo-ing and then suddenly produce 7,000 words in a single go. These people are monsters. But…

7. You will need to binge write at one point or the other. Because it’s (once again) very difficult to meet the 1,667-word-a-day quota. There were also those days were shit just went down, and I couldn’t write at all.

This means that once weekends or holidays came around, I’d have to make up for all the words I didn’t write. At a certain point I became obsessed with my word count, and calculating how much I’d have to make up for an entire week of not hitting the quota . Daily output eventually looked like this:

I already figured I’d be lagging at some point though, so right at the very beginning of November I tried…

8. Starting really big. I started to NaNo at the exact stroke of midnight, on November 1, which is a holiday in the Philippines, so I got to spend the rest of the day NaNo-ing, like a machine. Ended up with 5k words on that day alone. I’d never be able to produce that much again, but it got me hyped up enough to see the whole thing through. Which helps because…

9. I had no idea what the fuck I was writing. You’d think a story that’s been sitting in my head since I was 12 would have largely figured itself out, and all I’d have to do is type it down. Not so. I realized upon getting to write that all I really had was a concept (the vagaries of which became and more and more apparent the deeper I got). There were a couple of interesting ideas, but things like ‘character’ and ‘plot’ and ‘making some level of sense’ only actually started happening in the last 10,000 words. Which only happened because I tried to…

10. Finish the story. 50k words is way more than enough to tell a story, but what happened to me was I spent the whole first half just trying the characters out, and figuring out the setting, and getting the hang of making interesting things happen at regular intervals, and generally trying not to sound stupid.

People who NaNo aren’t required to conclude their novels within 50k words. But deciding that I wanted some kind of ending meant my characters started to do things they otherwise wouldn’t have done if they were under no pressure at all – extraneous story elements took a back seat and I learned things about my characters that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Which doesn’t mean to say I produced anything good because…

11. My final output at the end of 30 days is really just a very long turd. Starting out, I imagined writing a huge, sprawling dark fantasy that would be about 12 levels of awesome. In reality, what I’ve produced is this kinda funny weird shit something that speaks of heavy anime and video game influences.

Such influences aren't bad, you just feel the need to give characters special weapons, for no reason.

Things like narration and dialogue are completely wonky (like in an existential crisis-inducing ‘My God, why did I think I could write’ manner). There’s a lot of word garbage, and conversely, a lot of paragraphs that are just placeholders for what should be entire scenes, or chapters.

12. At least I can still edit. Majority of what I’ve written is crap, but there’s probably enough of it that’s salvageable to give the story another crack after I’ve put it down for a while and pieced back my sanity a bit. And if not, I can always pull it out again after a few years, for a good laugh. And it wouldn’t entirely be cruel self-depreciating laughter either, because…

13. NaNo is fun. On many different levels. There was getting to share the experience with other buddies who like to write. And finding it is possible to get over those huge mounds of procrastination and self-doubt. And at a certain point I found I genuinely began to care for my characters, and discovering things about them I hadn’t planned, and feeling smidgens of what they feel, and thinking they could be more than just cardboard figures hopping around the setting.

And at the end of the month I get to look back and find I’ve hammered down more words than I ever thought I could, ever. Fun, fun.

 

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Images belong to their respective copyright holders, used here under fair use.

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6 Comments

  1. tomorrowbird said,

    Hi Ate Fid!

    Woohoo, congratulations to youuuu! *\o/*

    I joined (and won!) Nano for the first time this year. Every year I plan to join and kind of… flake out in the first week.

    I agree with every point on this list. Especially number 11. Several times this month, I found myself just describing everything in a certain room, just to get more words in. Sometimes the only way I got myself through writing blocks was constant assurances that no one, except me, would ever see whatever I produced in the past month. I’m pretty sure that what I churned out is complete crap, but I plan on not looking at it until around February next year, so at least I can put it out of my mind until then.

    But you know. YAY for accomplishing goals and stuff. :D :D

    –Rage

    • inthegrayworld said,

      Raaaaage rage rage, yay n__n. It was difficult wasn’t it? O_O. Congratulations to you too n__n

  2. Katrina (@kalsangikid) said,

    Thanks for writing this, Fid. I’ve had something on the back burner for almost three years now, and it never gets off.

    • inthegrayworld said,

      Kat n__n. Haha, you should just go for it :D. Is that fiction? I don’t think I’ve ever read your fiction before o_O.

  3. Lester Abuel said,

    All I can say is “Wow.” The dedication you put into your work just amazes me. I wanted to try this out, but my OC-ness from writing poetry would just reduce my word count day by day O_o

    • inthegrayworld said,

      Wahaha thanks Lester n__n. The nice thing about NaNo is it forces you to be not-OC. With a sledgehammer o_O.

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