Phew, with a few days to spare. Got my purple bar and bragging rights. Basked in the glow of achievement for all of 30 seconds before that niggle in the back of my mind screamed: I am nowhere near completing the first draft of my novel.
After all the effort and that sombre realisation, did Nano work for me? Sure it did. I finished. Last year I failed horribly.
I promise, this will be the last post about NaNoWriMo (this year?). I’m done, I succeeded. Have I learnt anything about writing, myself and if the ultimate answer really is 42? Maybe. Read on dear friend, for before you waits the pathway to madness.
Pantser vs. Plotter
I’m a pantser who needs an outline. Ok ok, I hear you, how can you fly by the seat of your pants with an outline to follow? Well, you can. Last year (2011) I tried to just dive right in and write the 50k based on a general two sentence idea and some basic fantasy worldbuilding (nowhere near enough). What happened? Failure. Why? I kept hitting things that caused me and my characters to stumble. Things like “now what? or where should they go?” and I would ruminate over what happens next for days – falling further and further behind not writing. This time, I had an outline so I had a vague idea of where the characters needed to be after each chapter, sometimes after a scene. I didn’t really know how they would get to where I needed them, and the pantser in me loved that. Sometimes he sent me off plot, but that turned out fine because I was being surprised at where my characters lead me and I was willing to adjust the outline as I went to accommodate the new ideas.
The other thing that the outline allowed me to do is jump around (for better or worse I don’t know yet) and write scenes out of sequence. I no longer had to follow a sequential process that meant roadblocks when I hit a snag. With an outline, I could pantser from one scene to the next – whatever excited me (and if it did not excite, I figured it should not be in the novel anyway).
Gotta build the world first
Quick note. Fantasy and Sci-fi needs a lot of world building when compared to most other genres so this may seem a little overboard if you are writing a crime novel set in your immediate and familiar surroundings.
I spent a lot of October world building. Not enough it turns out, but far more than last year. It helped tremendously. Complex things like magic systems helped me to understand how my characters behaved and how non-magical beings perceived them and their magical abilities. Detailed maps helped me figure out where my characters would end up when they escaped from raging monsters down a river. Language nuances, names and history (backstory) all helped create an environment in which my characters could play and it let me immerse myself in the writing. I did not have to stop and figure out if my characters should turn left or right or what deity the priests worshipped – I just wrote.
Confession time: I love world-building. It is fascinating and I can spend weeks working on a single regional map of my world or trying to devise a naming convention for people (or monsters) from a particular place in my world.
I like researching ideas. It’s a way of learning. Everyone has heard of the poop-deck on an ancient ship but do you know that its actually the roof of a cabin in the back of the ship. (ok smart arse you did). How far can a horse ride in a day without falling over dead? Do you know what the Archers Paradox is? Do you know the difference between Lamellar and Laminar armour? (ok. I am a geekdad)
As part of working on the outline and worldbuilding, I did a lot of research but what I realised is that you cannot research everything up front. While I wrote, I found that my characters evolved and did things that I knew nothing about. At one point, one of my characters was forced to end a friends life and pulled out a slim dagger to stab in the hollow of the armpit – at that point I had no idea that there is actually something called a Misericorde. Research, write & discover, research more.
Writing every day.
Not easy, but it really made a huge difference to me and its something that I hope to continue in the months and years to come. I realised that I can’t always write on the same thing – I need to let whatever I am writing rest for a day or two. This blog, although distracting, has made a huge difference in keeping me enthusiastic to write (thanks followers and likers!).
Bah humbug word counts.
Another important thing I realised when doing Nano, is that daily word counts are not for me. They promote the wrong approach and when I ignored updating my count on Nano, I found I wrote far more and faster. I’d concentrate on what I was doing and at a coffee break I’d realise that I surprised myself with 1000 words that hour. I do not have enough detail in my outline chapters and scenes to estimate word counts, but I think I may try the scene or two a day goal idea that I see floating around.
Stop when its exciting.
Don’t stop when your eyelids feel like lead and your bum has moulded itself to the chair, stop when the story is exciting. There is nothing more motivating than sitting down for the days writing and remembering that you are in the middle of a huge battle and your main character has just tripped over a body and the homicidal cowboy brother is about to brain him with a whiskey bottle. Yeeha.
So will I do it again?
Ask me that next year. Right now I have to sort out the pile of 51k words that spewed uncontrollably from me over the last 25 days. Here’s to hoping some of it is actually worth keeping.
For those of you that made it into our infamous band of misfits. Well done and good luck with the next 50k.
ps. If you are doing Nano (or are just feeling generous), please donate to keep them running.