Sunday, October 9, 2011
It's almost that time of year again- NaNoWriMo! For the 30 days of November, hundreds of thousands of busy little scribblers around the world will sit down at their computers (and some at their notepads) and attempt to complete 50,000 words of novel.
Last year was the first NaNo for most of the ATWOP girls, but we all jumped in and had a blast. Check out our many November blog posts to see how we went about our writing tasks, and you may come away with some useful insights.
One year after NaNo, I have a pretty clear view on what went well, and what didn't go so well for me, and I'm planning on learning from that before I so much as touch my keyboard in 2011.
From the first day of November, I magically developed something I'd been lacking for a while- focus! I signed up for NaNo, I had a little publically visible word counter on the right there, and more than thirty of my writing buddies were in the chase with me- this time, it wasn't just myself I might be letting down if I didn't get those words on the page, and the strength of that accountability gave me the kick in the rear I'd been needing.
This year, I'm very much hoping the same will be true.
My writing speed has never been a problem when my focus is engaged, but actually finding the time to get those words down has been a challenge for me since my daughter arrived three years ago. It's no doubt going to be an even bigger challenge when her new baby brother rocks along early next year, so I see this as a chance to remind myself- no matter how busy you *think* you are, you can *always* find some time to write. It just comes back to focus.
Focus, and joy. NaNo brought me back a little bit of joy that had leached out of my writing. It came back because I was writing without worrying, and I was writing good stuff without letting my inner critic get in the way, and it was great to see what I was capable of when I let go of all the stress and just did it. I smiled for the whole month of November, or at least right up to the day where my child vomited on my laptop. I didn't smile much then. No repeats of that planned this year!
I went along to the pre-NaNo meetup and one of the write-ins for my local group last year, and I had a blast getting to know other writers from my area. I've never joined a local writing group, and all my writing buddies have been found in international writers' communities online, but there was something really special about connecting with others in my area at a time like that- we all had the same goals, and we all had the same excitement and love for our stories. It was infectious, crazy and fun. I can't wait to catch up with them all again this year- so from experience, I highly recommend you check out your local NaNo group on the NaNo forums (due to be relaunched on Monday).
The bad- a cautionary tale...
The speed of NaNo was great for so many reasons- the enthusiasm, the drive, the proof that fast words can be good words- but it was terrible for one very big thing, and that was perspective.
I decided to go into NaNo last year with my existing novel, Between the Lines, and I started with a new plot twist I'd been wanting to try out. I figured hey, what was the harm? I could always erase my 50,000 words at the end of NaNo if they didn't work, and it was a no-loss proposition- only a month of work, and I'd have learned something important by seeing what *didn't* fit the story.
But it didn't work like that. I wrote furiously from my new plot twist, and the story unfolded in amazing ways. Some of the writing was absolutely stunning; some of the scenes had me (and others) bawling. There was genuinely awesome stuff in there.
Ultimately, though, none of it was right. The original plot twist was the problem, and everything from that point onward took me down a rabbit hole with a dead end.
And pressing delete, unfortunately, turned out not to be that easy. I got myself well and truly lost down the rabbit warren, with no way out. Because tangled in with the not-right stuff was some very interesting character stuff that couldn't be ignored. It changed my perspective on the original story too much for me to go back to what it had been.
One year later, I've finally got a solid idea of how to pull it back, and all I need now is the motivation, focus and time to get it rewritten. But am I going to get that from NaNo?
Oh, hell no.
No way am I taking an existing story in this year. I concede, after all my protests last year that It Could Be Done, that it's not very easy to do at all. I'm not saying it's impossible; I'm pretty sure there must be a lot of writers out there who do manage to use November to do great things in existing works.
But for me, what I lacked was the ability to slow down, stop, and think about where I was going, and what it all meant. I need that when I'm into my third/ fourth draft. My first? Not so much- I'm free to write whatever I like, and that unfettered creativity is a great thing. I'm looking forward to it this year, especially because I feel like it's going to heal some gaping confidence wounds that came up after last year's unrecoverable mistakes. But never again will I use an existing work in NaNo, because one month of furious effort bought me one year of total stall, and it's not worth it.
Are you doing NaNo this year? Have you done it before? And if you have, what have you learned from your past experiences?