Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Takeaway: Post-NaNoWriMo Thoughts

I did it. I survived another NaNoWriMo. I've been participating since about 2008, but this is only the second event I've actually followed through and finished, so yay for long blustery word binges.

Well, actually, now that I think about it, I probably got more done by writing in 15 minutes bursts, leaving off for a while, and then coming back to write another 15 minutes a short time later. Out of necessity, that's pretty much how I handled the second half of the book. Through half of the event, I had both kids and hubby home for Thanksgiving, so there was always someone needing me for something. I don't like shutting my office door during the holidays, so I stuck to shorter writing sprints. That's one thing I took away from this year's NaNo. I write more words when I write in shorter bursts. Probably because I have a short attention span. Heh.

Since I don't have a NaNoWriMo hub within comfortable driving distance, I decided to join in a couple of the online write-in sessions. The write-ins are fun and helped me feel more connected to the NaNoWriMo community, but they didn't help me much in terms of boosting my word count. For one thing, the write-ins I attended were themed. I'm used to doing timed writings with other writers, where we decide on an amount of time we're going to write, set a timer, and work on our own projects. When the timer goes off, we tell everyone how many words we managed to pull off. And that's about the gist of it.

I've always found timed writings like that helpful, but in the NaNo write-ins, we would be given a prompt and a time frame, then the clock would start. Next round, a new prompt, and then the clock would start. We'd write for anywhere between five to fifteen minutes, then stop and check our word count. Some would share what they wrote, which was pretty fun. I had a good time there, but the prompts weren't useful for me. I ended up doing my own thing.

Throughout NaNoWriMo, I posted semi-regular writing updates on twitter, and by doing that, I found several new followers (that I followed back.) To be honest, I got more out of using twitter for NaNoWriMo than I did using the website forums. I made one or two posts over at the NaNo HQ forums, and never got a reply. Then again, I'm socially awkward, and I didn't know how to meet other people over there, so that's probably just me. Another con was that, the posts over at HQ weren't in real time, obviously, so I had to keep checking back to see if I'd gotten a response.

So, twitter worked better for my motivation overall. It was easier to find other NaNo-ers that way. I was able to start typing in #NaNoWriMo in the search box, and several hashtag suggestions would autofill, giving me options to find other NaNo tags, which was kinda groovy. I'll definitely do that again the next time I join a NaNo event.

On either November 28th or 29th (the days all blend), I hit the 50k mark and validated my novel on the site. Of course, what I've written is a flaming hot mess, and it probably needs another 10-20k added to it for it to be submittable to the publisher I have in mind for it. But it's a good start.

My project is a story that's been bouncing around in my head for a couple of years, now, and until this year's NaNo, every time I've tried to write it, I'd stall out a few scenes in to it, and end up shelving it for later. This is probably the fifth time I've started writing this story from scratch, and once again, about half way through it, I almost put it away. I hit the very same stuck point as before. Instead of allowing myself to dig deeper into the mire, I stopped trying to write about the story and focused on writing about the characters, their wants, and life histories. I just kept free writing and rambling about the characters and eventually the story worked its way out of the mire and in an entirely new direction that allowed me to continue on to the end. Or rather, on to 50k. I'll probably have to cut a lot of that during revisions, but I know my characters better for the effort, so it was worth it. That's another tactic I'd definitely use again.

One crucial thing I believe helped me cross the 50k finish line is that I only worked with the characters who were interesting to me. That should be a given, right? Well not exactly. Have you ever been writing, and you knew a critical event had to take place, but it was boring for some reason, or it felt like slogging through a swamp to make the plot connections? Yeah, I nipped that in the bud.

Even if I thought I "needed' someone to step on stage in order to connect two scenes, if I was too bored with that character to fill the gap, if I dreaded working with them, or felt like I was slogging through swamp water to get to a good scene, I scrapped it - the scene and the character. I held fast to the "kill your darlings" rule. If a character didn't perform as I'd hoped, or they started to lose their lustre, I cut them out of the scene, merge them with another character, or killed them off entirely. It was better to do that than allow a deadwood character to stall my story. Bye-bye dead weight. So, another important thing I learned this NaNoWriMo: allow no free rides for characters in your novel. If they're too slow to perform, uninteresting, make you dread writing about them...give 'em the boot.

Another thing that probably allowed me to reach the 50k mark on time is that I let the book be what it wanted to be instead of trying to box it squarely into one genre. When I began working on this story, I had specific mood, tone, and atmosphere, in mind. I was hoping to write a quiet, suspenseful horror story, but I was always cognizant it would probably morph into a romance novel somewhere along the line. Most of my writing does. Instead of trying to push the story into a mold it may or may not fit, I let go, and let the characters take the book where they needed it to go to reach the ending. I stopped trying to push characters around, I stopped trying to force everything into deep POV, and approached writing with the frame of mind to simply "tell a story". Novel idea, right? To tell a story when writing a book.

Basically I threw out the advice to write my book like an transcript with plot points and added description, and instead opted for a more fluid storyteller approach, which doesn't shy away from paragraphs of straight up narrative. I did that, and I surprised myself this time. The story stayed on track. It didn't go full romance, either, although there is still a romantic thread that runs through it. The only downside I can see so far is that I'll have to trim and fluff it out when I do the rewrites.

Overall, I paid a lot more attention to my process this time, and I think more insight into my own process is probably one of the most valuable things I took away from NaNoWriMo 2015. I plan to join the revision leg of the NaNo journey, which opens in January, and I hope for a similar result when analyzing my revision process.

As for the story I was working on, if I'm honest with myself, I think all the times I started writing it before but didn't finish it was because I didn't know my characters well enough. But more so than that, I don't think I quite knew how to pull off that type of story at the time. The pieces weren't coming together as they should. The idea needed more gestation time.

So there you have it, my final thoughts about NaNoWriMo 2015. If you participated this year, I hope you finished strong and learned a lot about how you write. Until next time, happy revising and happy wishes. ☮

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