November ends today, and I have banked another 50k words towards a novel, so I “won”—the kind of winning I like best because it’s based on my own goals and standards and is set up so my win doesn’t take away anyone else’s chance to win, and yes, that is the kind of person I am.
I thought I’d celebrate this milestone, my tenth official win according to NANOWRIMO, with a few takeaways from my process this month.
Daily effort = results
I had good writing days and not-so-good ones. I had times filled with inspiration, and times that definitely were not. But making myself write something every day pays off.
Okay, yes, there will be a lot to cut. A LOT. There are entire scenes that are now irrelevant. But finding out why they are irrelevant is important—it means I’m figuring out what the story actually is, like carving a sculpture out of a stone. I have to remove the parts that aren’t right so I can see what is.
Adding comments along the way helps.
I’ve gotten in the habit during nanowrimo to add comments to my draft as I go along, as needed. Sometimes, it’s because I know I need to come up with a name for a character or place or a concept, or I did make one up but I have forgotten it and don’t want to go searching right now for it. So I type something else, such as CHARACTERNAME in caps, or the wrong name, such as Jill?, and then attach a comment there to fix it later.
Other comments are questions or reminders or concerns about what I just did, a kind of red flag to say to future Cama that this needs fixing but I need to keep writing right now.
Outlining can be an organic process.
Although all of what I’ve written here is true for me and doesn’t have to be true for you, this takeaway point especially deserves the caution “Your mileage may vary” because writers tend to have strong feelings pro and con towards outlining. So this is what works for me: I create an outline before I start but also after I start. When I start fleshing out a scene suggested by my outline, I often go off track and discover new things, which leads me to go back to the outline afterwards and alter it further.
Talking my way into the story
Sometimes, I have trouble getting my footing with a scene, aware of what I want to see happen, but I’m just not feeling it yet. In those cases, I start writing it almost like a movie director, explaining to the cast and crew what to expect. “Okay, in this scene, my protagonist is freaking out a little because of the news, and then she’ll get a call from her cousin…” and as I write those instructions down, I almost always slip back into narrative, with dialogue and some descriptions and reactions weaving in. If I run out of steam with the narrative, I switch back to talking through what else has to happen.
As you can guess, this means my current draft of 51,769 words is really a mess.
This year, I’ve been working my way through revising several novels drafted during past nanowrimos, and I was often surprised by how much is not there. But I shouldn’t be surprised. As I worked through this fast first draft, I often skipped scenes or put in placeholders, so it is obvious why the past drafts are so incomplete. But the gist is there, plus many discoveries and insights that would not have emerged if I hadn’t made the vow to put “the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair” for 30 days straight.
It’s also nice to be done.
Um, so I’m not done because I have this ugly draft of a novel to work on, plus the other ones to develop, all part of a series so it’s been helpful to see how each book in the series gives me more insight to improve other books in the series, including a lot of world-building and character development. So I’m not really done, but I am free to choose when and how I work on my writing moving forward, including taking Saturdays completely off, which is my preference when I’m not trying to earn a badge on the Nanowrimo website for updating my word count every day. Which, let’s be clear, I definitely did, even if some days I only wrote a couple hundred words.
I hope November has been good to you, and if you are writing, that your writing is going well, too.