Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lessons from NaNoWriMo Or...

...How writing 30,067 words in 18 days makes the little voices in your head seem pale in comparison.

For several years I’ve been hearing about something called NaNoWriMo and for the most part I ignored it. For several years I’ve had the opening to a book on my hard drive and for the most part I ignored it. For several years I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to “finish the damn book” and for the most part I ignored it.

In October, Angel did a short presentation at our RWA meeting about NaNoWriMo and I listened and for the most part ignored it. Are we sensing a trend here? Then something began to whirl in the back of my mind. Normally, I worry that things whirling in the back of my mind are signs of old age and should possibly be attended to by a physician.

This time, however, I knew what the whirling was and I could either ignore it AGAIN or finally do something about it.

I looked at my October calendar (because that’s when I’d have to do NaNo prep and explain the program to your family) and then the November calendar (because this is the month you wave bye-bye to most of your friends and family and descend into the writing cave). I had the usual “stuff” going on in November, but did the NaNo folks not remember there’s a big holiday involving turkey and green bean casserole and pumpkin pie in there? Yeah, NaNo isn’t just a US thing, but come on. How about a month when the only holiday is National Potato Day?

Somewhere about the middle of the second week of October I began to seriously consider the program and even threw my book idea out for discussion at our retreat’s brainstorming and plotting session. When nobody rolled their eyes, and when the epilogue made Smarty Pants cry, I thought maybe it wasn’t as sucky as I thought and at some point during that weekend, I made the decision to be an official participant.

I signed up on the NaNoWriMo website. Angel and I attended the Kick-Off meeting and I’ve been to a couple of the local group write-ins along with the one Angel hosted at her home. I made myself a plotting board, and I pulled out the very thick folder of notes – snippets of dialogue I’d written down, characterization bits, even one whole section of a scene where the hero tells the heroine that he won’t allow himself pleasure until he’s sure she’s been pleasured, and that insisting she enjoy sex isn’t blackmail. I took ALL those bits of paper and separated them into piles corresponding to a loose chapter by chapter outline I’d made.

I can already see the pantsters growing faint, and I’m not sure any future books would be written this way, but you see, this particular one has been around for about 4-5 years. Lots of folks have told me I should toss it and start something new. But the characters wouldn’t let me abandon them. They’d talk to me when my head hit the pillow at night. That’s the reason for so many little pieces of paper.

Sooooo, on November 1, armed with a plotting board, folders with all the pieces of paper taped inside and a driving desire to FINALLY finish a book, I began the NaNoWriMo process. About ten pages in, I started getting this sick feeling in my stomach, but for the most part I ignored it.

The originator of NaNo says most people don’t finish a novel because they don’t have a deadline. That may be true. Self-motivation is difficult. Writers with contracts have no choice (hi PC! hi Instigator!) but the rest of us? Deadlines and word count competitions with rewards attached are often the key. NaNo had a deadline and it’s the ultimate word count competition. But there’s no reward.

Or is there?

Why on earth am I busting my butt to write 1667 words every day and hole up in my office looking like Joan Wilder in the opening scene of “Romancing the Stone?” (Just as an aside, one of my writing soundtracks is the music from that movie, minus the “How the West Was Won” theme cause I can’t find it.) Why have I lived on sweet iced tea and stale sandwiches for lunch? Why is my DVR filled with programs I can’t watch til I’ve met my daily word count? Why?

Bragging rights.

I don’t care if this book sells. Okay, that’s a lie. But I want to be able to put that little NaNoWriMo winner graphic on the blog and be able to say “I finished the damn book” and I did it before I was eligible to draw Social Security. (That was an honest concern at one point.)

I’m not a hugely competitive person and I have no idea where this drive came from, but for right now, I’m not arguing with it. The DH has been superbly supportive. He even went to the campground last weekend when there was no volleyball planned just so I’d have the house quiet to write. He’s been great about the not-so-fancy dinners he’s had all month. My mom emails to ask about my word count, and my sister has been a sounding board. My book is set in Atlanta and my nephew went to college at Georgia Tech so sis has a pretty good feel for the town. She’s made some terrific suggestions that are now part of the story, but her best suggestion was that we meet in Atlanta the middle of next month, stay at the hotel where my hero and heroine spend their honeymoon and have a “She Finished the Book” trip. She even emailed yesterday to say “I had my monthly lunch with my girlfriends today and told them about you and your story. They're behind you all the way! The general consensus was ‘You go, girl!’"

So what have been my lessons from NaNoWriMo? I’ve learned I can do something if I want to do it badly enough and that the reward that motivates me might be something I never imagined. I’ve learned that while 1667 words doesn’t sound like much, it can feel like having 1667 root canals when you’re trying to pull those words out of your arse. I know NaNo is supposed to be an exercise in writing minus the internal editor and the search for the perfect word. But it’s frustrating when even the imperfect word eludes you. I’ve learned there’s a whole world of people out there ready to pat you on the back and encourage you. There’s also a world of people who don’t “get” it, so you avoid them.

But my #1 lesson from National Novel Writing Month involves a little carved wooden 1¼ x 1½ inch box off the top of my desk. On January 1st of this year I wrote “Finish the damn book” on a little slip of paper and I put it inside. On December 1st I can write “DONE” on that paper and put it in my validation file. And the next time someone asks me “What is your book about?” I don’t have to shrug and explain I only write short stories. I can tell them that my book is about mail-order sperm and a marriage of convenience but the true story is about the little voice in my head that finally said “Don’t ignore it.”

What big life lessons have you learned? If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, tell us about your experience.


Problem Child said...

As y'all can tell from my word meter, NaNo isn't going well for me. I have a laundry list of excuses, but I won't bore you with them. I'm just plugging along...

But YAY FOR PM!!! We're all really proud (and glad) you've taken this on and are doing so well!!

Mail-order sprem... snicker.

Smarty Pants said...

You're really doing awesome PM. (Although you really didn't have to share the whole thing about me crying. I just got a little teary, that's all. Darn it.)

Even though I'm off pace and probably won't get back on pace, I'm very happy. Those 21000 words I've done so far pushed me to finish the book that's been requested, so now I'm going ahead and editing instead of starting something new. I'm not sure what I'd be starting, for one thing.

Sherry Werth said...

I am no where close to my goal on word count but I am still pleased with what I have accomplished. Participating in NaNo has shown me I can sit down everyday and write something. Even if it is only 800 words and full of crap! The fact it's even on paper is a huge step for me!
I'm sure I won't reach the 50,000 words by the deadline but I'm ok with that. I'll just keep at it until I do. Now, if I can just keep 'Eddie' on vacation and off my shoulder until it's done. : )

Angel said...

Hmmm.... what have I learned during NaNo?

1. The encouragement of anyone, even random strangers, goes a long way. Weekly breakdowns can be weathered with chats with really close friends.

2. Despite the fact that they said they understood before you started, expect the support of family to disintigrate somewhere around mid-month. I don't think this is a conscious thing. Probably more their subconscious's way of reminding you that they aren't your #1 priority for the month. So expect illness, demands for real meals, "discussions" of problems that for some reason can't wait until Dec. 1st, and looks meaning "what do you mean you didn't have enough time to ..."
Did I mention I'm home with 2 sick children today?

3. Word meters are awesome! I love seeing it go up.

4. I've had a few set-backs this month, so I'm not on target for making my word count. And I have no aspirations of making it up at this point, unless I can escape to a hotel for a few days (not likely). Because writing 2000 pertinent words each day is hard. But I seriously want to finish by November 30. Don't know why. I just do.

Pray for me. I think my sanity is slowly loosening its grip. :)


Instigator said...

I'm so proud of everyone! I love seeing those word meters creep higher and higher. But I'm especially proud of you, PM. You're doing it! We always knew that you could :-)

I'm plugging along and if I stay on track should be finished with the rough draft of this book by the 30th. I've hit a few snags along the way but the whole point of this - I think - is to show you that as long as you make some time towards progress you'll eventually get to the finish line of your goal.


PM's Mother said...

Dear Playground Monitor,

Your Mother is the world's greatest procrastinator so she can empathize with "ignoring it". But she also lived for 30 years with daily sales goals and copy deadlines. There again she can empathize. Her rewards were not only monetary, but the satisfaction of knowing that she had done her job well.

She's learned that you do what you have to do! And you have to write that book!

Your Mother

Crystal Lee said...

Way to go, PM! I love what you said about the little pieces of paper. I'm a pantsing fiend and I truly dig the use of those little pieces of paper! Write on PM! As for me, I didn't officially sign up for NaNoWriMo--50,000 words in a month is so NOT a realistic goal for me right now--but my word count is steadily increasing.

Mark said...

Thanks for posting this. I am not doing nano this year for the first time and it feels horrible - like I have abandoned some part of me. For some reason I have had zero urge to create anything for a long time and my WIP sits abandoned. Just hearing about this gives me a little spark to open the file and re-look at it. Please keep writing about the joys (and not-so-joyous moments) as it is great to live vicariously through you.

Playground Monitor said...

Okay... so SP was merely teary eyed. It's an emotional scene.

Even if you're not at your goal, anything you've written is forward progress and is X number more words that you had before. So good for you!

And if I lit a spark under just one person, then good for me (and you!). NaNoWriMo is different things for different people. Not good or bad -- just different.

Write on!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

PM, I'm impressed with what you've done. Because I remember sitting in a hotel room in Dallas with you, and you telling me about this story and the other one (the video), and I remember saying to you that they sounded fabulous and you should write them. So now that you've got the drive and you're doing it, I'm so proud of you!

And based on that one chapter I read, this is a great story!!! You rock! Sometimes, no matter what anyone else tells you, it's not until something inside you finally decides "This is it," that you'll accomplish a goal you've been wanting.

My NaNo experience isn't going so great, but that's because I have a proposal due on Nov 30 and I have to make sure it makes sense instead of blasting ahead with the word count. Plus I can't get motivated when I still need my editor to tell me she thinks the direction is correct.

My #1 big life lesson is this: I CAN succeed if I stick with it long enough. :) Never give up. I'm proof that perseverance works. :)

Natalie Anderson said...

Great post PM - I'm so glad this is working for you - as you already know I love the Nano thing - I find it a great motivator. Except I'm not going at all well 'offically' this month and nowhere near 50k or amything - but I am plugging on and getting there - which is the biggest thing I've learnt thru my Nano experiences (I do all my first drafts Nano-style). I've learnt my personal phases as I write each draft and know when I hit the shit that if I just keep on going I'll get there. And I also know the benefit of having a day off now and then too. Keep going PM - Chris Baty reckons (and I totally agree) that in a 50k draft, words from 20-35 are the hardest. Once you're at 35k you're on the downhill slide - so just a few more days and you'll be on the easy run down to victory!!!! And what a victory it'll be :)

Kathy said...

Way to go, PM! I know how long you've wanted to write this book. I'm so proud of you! :)

I'm learning to keep at it even when the muse doesn't spark.

I like watching my word count add up. Those who know my penchant for counting bookmarks will understand. LOL!

amy*skf said...

Like Mark, you've made me regret not signing up this year for nano--I thought I was fast-drafted out from October workshops.

Now, I just wish I was where you are. And how great for you--you are awesome--I think you've motivated me in a diferrent direction though. I have my draft done--now I have to edit it and write a {{{synopsis}}} (those were supposed to look like scary sound waves coming off the word.

I will write that synopsis--and I'll let you know when I'm done.

What I've learned from nanos--if you get stuck move to a diferrent scene, or write 'something scary happens here'

amy*skf said...

ahem...different. That's how a person might spell it.

Playground Monitor said...

I commented on the NaNoWriMo website forums that I was ready to kill my characters. Someone responded with this:

And if you feel like vying for the "Longest Death Speech in a Work of Fiction" Award, logging that sucker in at 19,898 words, go for it! :D

Believe me, I'm tempted. Though I doubt those 19898 words would be any easier than getting my H and h to HEA.

Angel said...

Oh, Amy, hugs on the synopsis! Those things are almost as much work as the first draft. Let us know how that's going.

You, too, Mark and Natalie. Keep us up to date on those wip's. We need all the motivation we can get!!!