This year I finally did NaNo (National Novel Writing Month). I knew going in I wasn't going to hit the 50K words, but that wasn't the point. The point was to jumpstart my writing, which had gotten un-fun and was feeling stagnant. I knew I needed to shake things up a bit and knock all the cobwebs out of my creative brain.
It worked wonders, and even taught me a few things I'm definitely adding to my writing process from now on. I enjoyed it so much, I'm going to do the Camp NaNo session in April and July.
(For those who don't know what NaNo is, it's a writing event where you write 50,000 words in the month of November. Thousands of writers participate so there's a great feeling of camaraderie to push yourself)
I went into NaNo with the goal of blocking out a rough first draft of a new novel idea. I did my standard outline/summary template I use for every book, but my process changed some. Due to a hectic schedule, I didn't do much world building before I started writing, which is a first for me. That's something I've always created first in great detail. This time I knew some important details, some general details, and a lot of conceptual ideas, but nothing concrete.
This "lack of preparation" forced me to focus on the bare bones of the story, because that's all I had to work with.
Which turned out to be a good thing, because I learned some important things:
1. Leave notes and forge ahead
I've always been a note-leaver, but this was a whole new experience, because there was so much I needed to research or create. Only the main characters have names, everyone else is XX. I have an entire classroom discussion where the details are all XX, because I haven't figured out what they're discussing yet. I just know it's something that frustrates my protagonist enough to break a rule, and it'll help establish the setting and world.
Details that did appear often had no connection to what I'd written in previous scenes, but they were good things so I had (add) or (turn into subplot) or (lay groundwork) after those. These are all place I know I'll flesh out in round two. They gave me direction on where to deepen this story and how.
Why this helped: It freed me to focus on the goals, motivations, and stakes of my protagonist, and not get caught up in non-plot advancing details. Sometimes the opposite was true, and I wrote a scene that I know will be a pivotal world-building moment and I'll need to add the goal aspect into it later. But overall, what mattered to the story is what got put into the draft. This means on draft two, everything I add to flesh out the book will have meaning, because I know the entire story. I know what matters and what connects to other important elements.
(More on leaving notes while you write here)
2. Write in scenes
I write chronologically, but this time I wrote the scenes that moved the plot and story and didn't worry about transitions or even if the timing was working. Days changed on a whim when I decided things needed to happen faster or slower. When I hit a really great scene ender and that scene felt "done," I stopped and moved on. Some scenes are super short--like 300 words short. Others break 1500 words. If a scene was giving me trouble, I moved on to the next scene. If I was really unsure about what happened, I wrote what I did know and moved on. Often, I'd figure out what was missing later and go back to it.
Why this helped: Transitions are one of the tougher things to do in a novel. They frequently contain all the boring, story-stopping information that gets a character from one place to the other. I skipped that. I went right for the good stuff and didn't bother with how the characters got there. It freed me to write what mattered without adding words that aren't needed. Odds are I'll do very little transition work in the next draft, because most scenes won't need it. That'll keep the pacing fast and the plotting tight. And kept me from writing setup I'd probably have cut later anyway.
(More on writing scenes here)
3. Break up the writing time
I've always been a morning writer, but to maintain the challenging NaNo schedule (nearly 1700 words a day) I had to find every spare moment to write in. In the wintertime, my husband and I have a tradition of curling up in front of a fire at night and reading. This time, I wrote instead. That doubled my writing time per day. On busy days, that gave me hours to write I didn't have before.
A lot can get done in a little time. This combined with the scene-writing style meant that I could write a short scene that moved the story even if I only had half a hour to write. It didn't matter how long I worked, because I saw real progress in getting further along in the novel. A whole scene!
Why this helped: It reset my mindset about when I could and could not write. I still think I'm more creative in the mornings, but with my rough-draft plan, I didn't have to worry about being perfect. It was all going to be fleshed out later anyway. And breaking it up meant I didn't get as fatigued from long hours at the keyboard. My mind was actually fresher in the evenings and not as tired. I was excited to work on that next scene.
Shaking up your writing process from time to time is a good thing, because as we grow as writers we develop different writing needs. Trying new things can add productivity or allow us to think about our stories in ways we haven't before. This can be very freeing and keep our stories fresh and fun.
(More on finding time to write here)
Who else did NaNo this year? What was your experience like? Learn anything new about your own process?