NaNoWriMo: A Glance in the Rearview Mirror

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This is the first year I did NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t even really thinking or planning to do it. I knew I didn’t have time for 50K words. But on Halloween I saw a friend doing it on Facebook. I had an idea I wanted to get on paper and I was a little worried about finding the time for it. And I was like, “I bet I can write 30K words and at least get my thoughts out. (Note: October 31st is a big day for me to do impetuous things apparently–you know, boring people impetuous things, not Vegas impetuous things. Anyway, it’s also the night last year that I decided to submit my novel to the Ink Smith contest; and I won:)).

November 1st, I wrote a good 1500 words, and I was hooked. I thought to myself, “Gosh, if I do this every day, I’ll have a book in no time.” Yeah, I’m pretty quick on the uptake. But seriously–suddenly, it seemed kind of real and possible. There the story was, pouring onto the page. It started off pretty decently too. I continued to write, though not always 1500 words at a stretch. I had done no research (for a novel that needs some), no plotting (for a novel that needs some), but at the end of the month, I had an idea where the book was going, and some decent stuff written to try to get me there. I also had notes with questions that needed to be asked to a law enforcement pro (this is kind of a mystery thriller and all my cops sound like Lifetime characters). And I checked a book out of the library which should have some helpful information in it for me. What I did not have was a work of genius, or art. There were times when the manuscript felt forced. There were times when it seemed I kept saying the same thing over and over again because I was going for words, darn it. There were times when I said completely contradictory things about the story because I literally could not remember what I’d written ten days and 10K words ago. There was a book whose quality declined a bit as it went and an ending that couldn’t quite end because not enough blocks had been laid as a foundation.

And yet. I feel like I got as much done as I could with as little preparation as I had. And that was what I needed–the story to begin to take shape on the page in a short amount of time before other more pressing projects came back to me and dominated my time.

Beyond the sometimes frustration with hurried and imperfect writing, there were a few other irksome things (aren’t there always). For example, I didn’t love the whole “winner” thing with NaNo (I knew that, with only 30K words, I would never be a winner; and I kind of didn’t like that). But I’d known from the start that I wouldn’t “win” per their requirements. For others on the Facebook page and elsewhere, there seemed to be even more disappointment over some of the “losses.” And that made me feel a little bummed. It seems like kind of a crash diet mentality that I don’t think is super healthy for our writing. Yet, that’s what NaNo is–a crash diet–and it doesn’t really pretend to be anything else. The long-term results are up to us. It’s just important, I think, to go into it understanding and accepting this. It’s a boost, a jump start, a challenge. Below I’ve listed some of the things I consider pros and cons if you’re interested in trying NaNoWritMo.

Cons:

  1. “Winning”–Meh, I’ve never been a crash dieter.
  2. Writing crap just to get words out.
  3. Writing things that will need heavier editing than they would have if I’d clipped along more slowly.
  4. Feeling like this was a big community thing, but I didn’t have time to participate in the community, only to get my goal met.

Pros:

  1. Lots of writing, ideas, etc. possible if you commit.
  2. Support and new friends if you have the interest and time to make them.
  3. Starting: aka “showing up” as Woody Allen put it. It’s the hardest part, right?
  4. Having something to work with and knowing where you need to go (ish).

Overall: 

For me, I considered NaNoWriMo a win. It gave me the boost to accomplish something in a short amount of time that needed doing. Yes, I could have had a less sloppy manuscript that didn’t need the junk edited out if I’d gone more slowly. But right now I don’t have the time to go slowly with that particular project and it just feels so good to have a jump start there waiting for me when I wrap up a few of my front-burner projects.

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