Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NaNo nuggets

I'm charging on with NaNoWriMo, and feeling absolutely delighted with both my output and the progress of the story. I've been collecting little snippets of thoughts as I go along, to save myself the need to write a whole blog post from scratch. My stats by the end of day 3:

Projected word count: 6,000
Actual word count: 10,564 (woohoo!)

Number of times I've gotten into the NaNo website: About 12
Number of times I haven't: About 1000
Number of CompuServe posts about NaNo: 487, already
Number of hours worked this week: 22.5
Number of dinners cooked: 3
Number of toddler bedtimes undertaken: 1 (ahem- sorry husband)
Number of days I've been up before 7am: 1 (this one!)
Number of days I've been up well after midnight: 2
Number of consecutive chapters now in a pretty line from page 1 onward: ELEVEN!

All right, I could go on with that, but I'll get to the nuggets. Here's stuff I've learned while doing NaNo, in no particular order of importance.

Freedom comes from odd places

There’s a weirdness about sitting down to NaNo it. The moment your fingers hit the paper, you’re moving forward on your word count. It’s no longer a question of whether you can do it or not- you’re doing it. You’re seeing the proof. You know where you’re going. Targets give you something to aim for, something to achieve- and most importantly, somewhere to stop.

Ignore the NaNoStupids

This is what I'm calling the range of things that happen in NaNo writing- like, repeated phrases, stupid conversations, dreadful dialogue tags, clunky stage direction, disconnected flashbacks, bad pacing, typos, ridiculous scenarios, boring bits, and anything else that makes you go, "Ugh," when you read it back. This is why you shouldn't re-read NaNo writing too much, and why you shouldn't edit. Let the NaNoStupids live free. You can cull 'em all in December, just when they've been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking they've found a permanent home.

Pacing yourself pays

On my second night of NaNo, two extra hours of writing would have given a thousand more words, but there was no point pushing it when there were still 28 days to go, so I got to bed nice and early (for me) at 11pm and had a great night's sleep instead. This pace of writing has been easy for me. All this talk about speed limiting quality- I don’t *feel* like I’m writing fast, getting 2000 words a day. It's perfectly reasonable, timing wise. I’m not exhausted. I’m enthused.

Competition drives you forward

Look at Kristen and Rachel’s totals. I want to catch the pair of them. There’s a fire under my butt right about now. My buddy list looks amazing- only a couple of people yet to kick off out of 26-odd, and the rest are all going great guns, from a couple of hundred words up to All Hail Kristen’s 1/5 of a NaNo novel.

**Most importantly
, it doesn’t matter how much progress people are making, or their speed- it’s being able to see everyone moving in the same direction that inspires.**

Plan to succeed

The detailed plan I did is working perfectly. Every time I finish a scene, I sit back wondering what to write next- and then I look at my plan, and it’s there. I don’t feel like writing that scene, or I don’t know where to start- but then I look further, and see that I’ve given myself half a dozen prompts. They remind me what I wanted to achieve. All of a sudden, I’m in and writing. Outside of NaNo, these scenes get left alone. Inside NaNo, there are no excuses.

Linear bricklaying is a beautiful thing

Not for everyone, of course, but doing NaNo reminds me how much I love to write in a linear way, following the story logically along. I’ve skipped scenes in various places while writing earlier this year, or I've added new ideas to my outline after the fact. Filling those gaps in order means I’ve suddenly got a large section of completed story, when yesterday I had perhaps three or four separate chunks. I'm seeing a completed novel take shape right before my eyes, for the first time in four years.

Unexpected directions

Writing fast takes you weird places sometimes- in the first two days, I wrote three scenes. All had been meticulously planned out- and all three diverged in completely different directions from what I expected. Some parts will work, some parts won’t, but all have one thing in common- the original goal of each scene was accomplished. Everything else is upholstery, and upholstery can be changed after the fact.

Narrative suffers for speed

Having just said I don't think I'm writing fast, I'll concede that there are parts of the process I'm leaving out. In particular, my work is lacking the usual narrative/ bridging passages that tie it together; my characters and settings aren't being described in the detail they usuallly would be, either. What's carrying me now is dialogue and action. The missing details are easily added after the fact. Everything else, the core driving plot of the story, is unfolding beautifully.

A second draft and a first draft are vastly different things

A first draft is what most people want from NaNo, and it's ideally suited- pounding out new words without a care in the world; excellent! But I have definitely confirmed that a second draft is an equally easy thing to write (all right, yes- plenty of people are going to take issue with the word "easy" there, but it's been easy going for me [g])- it does, though, require a different approach, IMO, and that's one in which you do need to plot and think in advance.

Variations on a theme

Knowing the underlying theme of the story actually does help- I'm finding opportunities everywhere to include metaphors, messages, and the bigger picture. Previously, I've struggled to define my theme. I do know that it's about the waste of war, and that's crystallising a lot for me in this second draft. Because of that, even as I'm racing along with NaNo, I'm still managing to find places to deliver the message of the novel.

I'll leave you with a very brief passage where my underlying theme peeks through- a simple fishing scene from 1911, foreshadowing the war that will grind them all up in just three short years from now.

Until the weekend, Wrimos- happy writing! Don't stress! Just keep getting those words on the page, however fast or slow, and know that you're creating something wonderful, and doing something amazing.

And feel free to tell me, of course- what have you learned so far from NaNo?

When he finally managed to catch hold of it, Bill found the hook was caught sideways through the cheek. As he tugged at it, the eye stared back at him, blank, and he felt a shiver. Ripped it through and cut the gills as quick as he could, then tossed it in the bucket without another look.

He couldn’t stand the way they stared like that, as if they were begging him to save them. Throw them back in the river and let them get on with their fishy little lives, the way it’d all been before they’d been silly enough to take the bait. But life didn’t let you take the bait and go back to the way things had been. If it did, there’d be no need for people like Tom and his dad. Nothing to pray for, nothing to regret.


  1. Hey Claire,
    I'm weeping at the thought of all those Forum posts - I'm so far behind!
    Funny, though, I do end up rereading my words, because I write them in the morning and type them in the evening - but forcing myself to speed type so that I have time to catch up on blogs and the forum means I edit less than usual.
    I mean, how many times can a character realise something or wonder something?
    That's a brilliant last line you've got there. Sheesh, Bill's got more power in that wee snip than I've seen from him in a little while.

    This is the first time in a long time that something's given me this much discipline. I've been writing and typing up words fairly regularly, but NaNo is suddenly forcing me to treat it like a job. Now if I can just stop getting side tracked by new romantic scenes, and focus on all the missing scenes the wip needs...

  2. Oh, I love those last lines Claire ... especially -

    "But life didn’t let you take the bait and go back to the way things had been."


    The biggest thing I'm taking away from NaNo so far is confirmation that I must, must, must, plan and outline before I write. I'm so much more productive, and the writing is so much better, when I know where I'm going.

  3. Bill has found the hook that has caught him. Great find, Claire.

    I'm finding the writing easy too. I have a plan that's been sitting around for nearly two years. Now I'm writing instead of staring at it wondering what to do next. This is fun!

  4. OK, you've gotten me back on track. Thanks for posting this. It is a first draft, after all. Pixels on screen!

  5. Deniz- Bill's got the highest word count of any POV character from my NaNoing so far. Expect a new man when next you see him (g). I know what you mean about the discipline- I've been just the same.

    Rach- you and me both on the planning discovery. Ah, life is wonderful with a detailed outline.

    Zan Marie- fantastic! So glad you're being pulled along by NaNo, too :)

    Martha- hurrah! It is indeed a first draft. Leave the NaNoStupids to their business and write on.