Thursday, November 12, 2009

3 Things I've Learned From NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo Lesson 1: Deadlines are good
I've always found it easier to write when I have a hard and fast deadline looming over me. I'm not saying that I write any better, but I'm much less likely to procrastinate by playing Bejeweled or watching Amazing Wedding Cakes if I know I have to get pages done.

NaNoWriMo has been an excellent kick in the pants for me. Although I'm about 10,000 words behind the pace, I've got about 135 really crappy pages so far. That's about 120 pages more than I had at the beginning of November.

Will I make the magic 50,000 words by the end of November? Doesn't matter. I'm on a trajectory right now that will have me completing my first draft sooner rather than later.

NaNoWriMo Lesson 2: Encouragement is better
I've been posting my word count as my Facebook status each day. The encouragement from friends on good days and bad days (and there have a few zero word count days) has really kept me motivated. Having your own cheering section does wonders for the "I-don't want-to-do-this-anymore" blues.

I also went to my first write-in a few weeks ago. Sitting in a cafe with a bunch of other WriMos while they're clacking on their laptops and chugging coffee was a shared experience that keeps me motivated. Writing is such a lonely occupation that it's good for us to get together and share our paltry word counts, our vague plotlines, our moments of fear and loathing. And there was a 13-year-old girl at the write-in who was participating in her third NaNoWriMo. Not the Young Writers Program where they have to write a certain amount of words based on their grade level (and it's less than 50,000 words). She was doing the adult-sized version. Did I mention it was for the third time? If that's not inspiring, I don't know what is.
 
NaNoWriMo Lesson 3: Preparation is best
I deliberately started my novel without an outline, although I'm a diligent outliner when I write scripts. I had an idea where I wanted to start and end, and I figured the middle would work itself out. It's been liberating, for the most part, to just go and write. I've learned things about my characters and gone places with them I probably wouldn't have otherwise.

But I also feel that a lot of what I've written is filler that will be cut in the next draft. I know it's part of the NaNoWriMo ethos to include detailed descriptions of what the character's bedroom looks like or to include an extended flashback of an important scene from her childhood, but I just wrote a scene where my character gets her upper lip waxed for the first time. Slightly comical scene, yes. Important plot or character development, not so much.

I had done some character building before NaNoWriMo started. I created a profile for my main character, but it was a brief one, not as detailed as suggested in The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri (which every writer should read). And I jumped into NaNoWriMo before I created profiles for the other characters. I strongly suspect that if I had done this before NaNoWriMo started, I would be writing scenes with more emotional depth than lip waxing.

But the point is that these are the lessons that I've learned during my very first NaNoWriMo. And, yes, I'll be doing this again because I'm hooked and possibly a little insane. And next time should be far less painful. (Right? Please tell me yes.)

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