What I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo

2,000 words per day is totally doable, even while working full-time and having some semblance of a social life.

Planning helps a lot, at least for me.  To be fair, the last time I tried to write a novel, I was sixteen.  Not being sixteen also helps.  Back then I would start all of my stories by jumping right in with the first scene that came to mind, with no idea where I wanted to take things.  This time, I started with a general plot outline consisting of ten roman numerals that sketched out the main arc of the plot.  As I wrote, I filled in the details with numbered and lettered items within each roman numeral.  The last few still have no more details to them.  That way, I had a sense of direction, but I was also able to make the details up as I went.

Everything I write, even fiction, is some sort of true.  My novel is about FAERIES, for godsake.  But every piece of every character could be traced back to a person I’ve known or an interaction I’ve had in real life.  I’m pulling from everywhere, from my experiences job-hunting, from movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read, from what I know about gardening and herbal medicine and camping and wilderness survival.  It’s gratifying in a surprising way, like each tiny part of my life was ultimately preparing me to write a novel–nothing was useless, nothing wasted.

Personally, I didn’t get very involved with the whole NaNoWriMo community thing.  I used their website to update my word count and track my progress, and I read some of the encouraging letters from established authors, but that’s about it.  For me it was more of a personal challenge, an excuse to shut out the world, say “no” to things people asked me to do, and spend time alone.

Participating in NaNoWriMo gives you something interesting to say when someone asks what you’ve been up to lately.  Everyone wants to know about your novel, and they want to tell you about their own experiences writing stories.  And everyone wants to know what the title is.  Who can think of titles?  Sheesh.

I am really only motivated when I’m being held accountable in some way.  I told everyone I know that I was going to write a novel in November, and I signed up on the website, and therefore I went, “Welp, I better do this thing.”  If it hadn’t been for NaNoWriMo, I would not have started writing this.  Even if I had started, I would have fizzled out as soon as other things in life demanded my attention.  Writing is usually sort of on the back burner with me.

What I wrote was mostly shitty!  Hooray.  There’s some good stuff there, but a lot of it is going to have to get cut and changed around.  I don’t even want to touch it until I have a complete first draft.  One of the biggest realizations I came to last month was that if I start editing before I finish a draft, the draft will never be done.  That was the fate of my sixteen-year-old self’s novel attempt.  Instead, it’s better to get a complete rough draft, even if it’s shitty.  Then you can fix it later!

Having a computer is waaaaay helpful.  You can research as you write!  And typing is so much faster than writing, which is how I did all my stories pre-college.

Google Image Search is a great tool.  Over the course of the month I put together a massive Powerpoint slideshow of pictures I found through Google Images, representing each main character, important places in the story, and even floor plans of houses.  Whenever I needed to visualize someone or something in greater detail I would turn to those pictures for inspiration.