This past November, I took a giant leap and tried out NaNoWriMo. I didn’t expect to complete it. I mean, I spent ten years to get a 128,000 word first draft out of my brain. Ten. Years. Attempting to write 50,000 in thirty days sounded like insanity. And yet, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe do this every year. What was the harm in trying? At least I’d be writing, and any amount of writing would be better than the zero that I was doing at the time.
Spoiler alert: I wrote 50k words and “won” NaNoWriMo. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the process (okay, maybe not at first) and took a lot more away from it than I thought I would.
NaNo forced me to change my writing process, for the better. Previously, I would spend an hour or more making sure the wording was right in a particular paragraph or section. I would stare aimlessly at a blank page, stressed out on making that first sentence not sound like garbage. This hasn’t been conducive for a while. So instead, I started pre-writing the bare bones of whatever section I wanted to work on. Then I typed it up, adding description and detail. The results? Two to three pages of longhand got me between 600 and 1000 words a pop once I embellished. Once those were typed, a lot of times I just kept rolling. Whenever I got stuck, I’d return to the notebook and write out another couple pages.
The NaNoWriMo website has a built in word count adjuster and graph to show you are each day. A bunch of people also make word count calendars and excel sheets in case you want more personalized tracking. I found one such calendar online, and it really helped motivate me to make the daily goal.
There’s just something about filling in little boxes that is, sigh, so satisfying.
I also learned how important it is to SAVE EVERYTHING, especially when working with Scrivener. You see that last week of November on the calendar there? Those three days of 0 words? Those are the result of my desktop keeling over. The computer blue-screened about half an hour after I finished writing on the 23rd. It wouldn’t restart, so I let it rest the night. Monday evening I tried turning it on again, no dice. Husband attempted booting it through BIOS, no dice.
You might be asking yourself, “Chesley, why weren’t you saving to a flash drive? Or to a cloud drive? Or both?” I don’t have any reason for not saving to a flash drive, other than I stood naively under the, “It can’t possibly happen to me!” umbrella. I did, however, save it to Dropbox. Except when I tried to pull the backups, Dropbox hadn’t correctly synced with the computer somehow. All I had was the skeleton of my Scrivener project. No text files whatsoever. So just a fair warning, if you are saving to Dropbox or Google Drive or whatever other cloud service, make SURE the Files -> Docs folder actually has an obscenely long list of .txt and .rtf files.
I got stupendously lucky. We were able to access the hard drive with a USB cable from Amazon, making it act like an external drive. We had to search for another hour to find the files – hidden – in the My Documents folder. I cried a little. Those (roughly) 33k – 35k words meant a lot to me.
Another funny thing happened by the end of NaNoWriMo – I was (and still am) excited about the writing that came out of it.
Your first instinct is to think you’d hate the resulting tangle of words, because you’re (ideally) writing so fast that you ignore spelling mistakes and punctuation errors, and characters going off on tangential dialogue that makes no sense to the rest of the story. When you let go of form and let your fingers fly, though, beautiful things can happen. You write so fast that your brain starts throwing out ideas like beads at Mardi Gras. Inevitably, some of the ideas will be bad, but there will be some gold nuggets in there, too.
Even though my MC needs a ton of work, and I have a number of consistency/world issues to iron out, I like the partial first draft. Little foreshadowing details and hints of future plot threads emerged out of nowhere, but fit so well with the story as a whole. It’s kind of awesome to let your writer-self off the leash, step back, and watch the cool things that come out of your psyche.
To top it off, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that I’m going to try and do another 20k – 40k words in February. Who wants to join me?!
The one thing I regret with NaNoWriMo is that I didn’t get involved in the community side of it. I didn’t make it to any of the write-ins. I missed the end party because I read the date wrong, and was mighty pissed at myself for it. So for NaNo 2015, I’m going to stop being a chicken and go write with other people.
*Remember folks, save everything. For the love of your characters and sanity, save everything two or three different ways. A computer won’t always give you a warning before succumbing to the deep blue screen.
* The pre-writing (or outlining) I mentioned that I used for NaNo is explained better in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k . It’s an insightful read, and gives good advice on not just writing faster, but writing better while you increase your word count at the same time.