As you may have heard if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I am now a novelist. That’s right, I completed, nay won, National Novel Writing Month, so now I’m officially an accomplished author and I totally use literary words like ‘nay’.
Before NaNoWriMo started, I read several hater blog posts about how NaNoWriMo is a terrible and completely invalid experience that deteriorates the moral fiber of our society and pretty much is the reason horrible things like genocide and bestiality exist. These bloggers claimed you can’t write a high-quality, publishable novel in one month and that creating a contest where you win by writing 50,000 words of fiction on one topic in a month, makes people think they have.
Now that I have won NaNoWriMo, I have to say, I don’t know what those guys were talking about. I totally wrote a cohesive, well-plotted and developed, traditional publishing-quality novel in the 50,008 words I wrote in one month. I mean, I know it was the first time I attempted to write a novel and that occasionally along the way I forgot the last names of my characters, so I just made up new ones, but dude, the girl who wrote The Outsiders was only seventeen when she wrote it and I’m almost twice as old as that, so I know this book is going to be a winner. Just because it took me almost 20,000 words to pick a perspective to write in consistently doesn’t mean that’s not a new style of writing I just invented. And how I ended right in the middle of the action there at 50k words? Completely intentional. Cliff-hanger, people. How are my readers going to want to come back for the rest of the trilogy if I actually resolve the plot in any way in the first book? Duh.
Even though I’m obviously a natural at this novel-writing stuff and I can probably just print the thing out and send it off to publishers right now cause I’m that good, I guess I did learn a few things along the way this month.
Things I learned from NaNoWriMo:
1. It was both (and equally) much harder and much easier to complete the 50K words than I thought it was going to be. I had really built this up in my mind as soverymuchdifficult that when I really started to write, and just kept writing and just kept writing the words stacked up pretty quickly and I realized it was absolutely doable. That said; it was a huge time commitment every single day. And there were definitely days I was so stuck on where to go next, and yet it was 9PM and I was exhausted from the rest of the normal stuff of the day, that I really considered writing ‘this is stupid and I hate it’ 284 times in a row just to have the correct word count for the day (although I never actually did that even once).
2. Planning is good. I need to do more of it. People who say they just write and have no plan are a: lying, b: Stephen King and thus have been doing this so long he can write a book in his sleep and it will be rad or c: writing a shitty, pointless book.
3. I haven’t figured out how to translate the voice I’ve cultivated in my blog into long-form fiction. So… blogging is different from writing a novel, is I guess, what I’m saying. I don’t know why it took me 50,000 words to figure that out, but it did.
4. Characters are important. Take note, next time you’re watching a show you love or reading a great book, of the different personalities in the characters you love. You know on Psych there’s Shawn and Gus and Lassie and Shawn’s dad and they’re all so wacky, but radically different in super specific ways? That’s hard. And important. You really have to fully evolve all of your characters before you even start or you’re going to end up having five women who are really exactly the same but just have different jobs and husbands. And they’ll all be white and middle class and when you finally figure that out you’ll kind of feel like a racist.
5. I suck at bad guys. I tend to live my life with the belief that there aren’t really any ‘bad’ people. We all just have wildly different perspectives, experiences and motivations that lead us to make choices and take actions that end up in opposition of each other. Unfortunately, this caused me to feel emotionally invested in the reader understanding and really liking each one of my characters. And that’s kind of dumb and makes for a stupid story. Mental note: it’s OK for my characters to be unlikable, as long as they’re not all unlikable. Also? Stories aren’t real life. Work on that, Me.
6. I learned to quiet my inner editor. That bitch had me in a headlock with my face down to the mat while she reminded me how I look a little cross-eyed in my senior year pictures. NaNoWriMo taught me this rad move where I karate-chop her in her throat so she shuts the hell up for a minute and I can get some work done.
7. Writing a novel is ultimately much like running. Every day you have to have your set time that you work on it. Even if you feel crappy and you’re a little hung over or you had a breakfast that wasn’t exactly right, or you have a meeting and your house cleaners are coming that morning, you still need to get your butt on the road and put one foot in front of the other until it’s done. Or you need to put your butt in the chair and write until you’ve got your words. It might not have been the fastest or easiest run, but it’s going to add to your strength and build up your body and you have to do it. Same thing with your writing. It might really suck that day, but if you pushed forward, then eventually you can go back and fix that, but you need to keep moving forward or you’ll never get it done. Additionally, when you’re in the middle of either activity, if every step of the way you’re focused on how difficult it is and how far you have left to go, it will make the entire thing a million times more unpleasant (and you’ll probably convince yourself you’re having an asthma attack even if you’ve never had an asthma attack in your life). If you let your mind go and just stay in that moment, the distance and words will slip right by and you’ll be done in no time. Plus you’ll have run faster and written better than if you’d spent every step plodding along and every word bemoaning how you didn’t want to be writing right then.
8. I do not need large chunks of time every day to write. I can put in my headphones for 15 minutes while dinner is baking and the kids are finishing homework and get shit done. It won’t be a lot of shit, but it will be some, which is better than the none I get done when I wait for the perfect large block of time.
NaNoWriMo was a good experience for me. I plan to write my story to completion (because Chuck says you need to finish shit), but after that, I’m not sure it’s even revisable. I feel like what I ultimately got out of NaNoWriMo was better understanding of what I don’t know how to do. I feel like I’m ready to learn now. I need to do some reading and some observing and some planning, and then I’m going to start again. I won’t write at quite the breakneck speed of the last month, but I plan to have a good amount of consistency. And I’m going to keep that Inner Editor quiet until I really need her.