I know that a lot of you out there are participating in the National Novel Writing Month and some of you don’t even know what it is. I’ll give a shorthand explanation below. But this is the tale of my early successes, ultimate failure, and the insights I’ve gained from it that I feel can prove useful to others such as yourselves. So here goes.
The Goal: Write 50,000 Words of a Novel in a Month (November)
The Book: Average Joe and the Beauty (ending), Average Joe and the Side Story
The Plan: Pre-Write (Brainstorm, General Outline, Chapter-by-Chapter Outline, Research) For The Month of October, Start Contest On Time, Daily Incremental Word Increases During Work Days, Large Production Hikes On Off Days, Finish AJB, and Make Great Progress Into AJSS.
Soooo, things didn’t quite go as planned. I started my prewriting late into October but still managed to make a nice amount of chapter outlines in a style that I was experimenting with. My chapter outlines are typically vague when it comes to details regarding the setting and place in time. I typically flow through a story and hit a point where it becomes important to know what time of day it is or what part of the month the characters are in for silly stuff like weather patterns, lunar cycles, and all the other continuity that we real life air breathers take for granted. This new style of outline helped me keep track of all that with ease and made setting up scenes a breeze. While more time consuming than my standard methods, this new style of outline has proven much more comfortable to me than I expected and has proven to be just as flexible as my previous outlining style. As always, things changed once I started writing scenes for the contest so that flexibility in my outline was paramount.
The Phoenix Rises…
I only had about ten days of actual prewriting done for the contest, which is probably a generous number but those ten days worth of notes gave me a strong start for the contest. What can I say, I’ve always been a last minute homework, project, and test crammer. Hell, I completed last year’s NaNo only through some last minute miracle cramming so I shouldn’t be surprised. I started the contest on day one and started writing early before I had to do whatever the task of that day was. I opted not to do a midnight start for reasons I don’t remember. I also don’t remember how each and every one of those first ten days went but I remember producing fairly well and then getting a huge mega boost on the sixth or seventh day from writing all night. The site was down the first night so I was also behind on posting my actual word count by about a day.
…The Phoenix Burns and Learns…
I hit a snag when I ran out of outline. I was also on a slow part of my story that required more setup and detail than I’d prepared. It was here that I learned the awesome and crazy skill of “living in the scene”. My general outline had character motivations, events, and outcomes. The chapter outline I made up detailed the time, which characters were in the scene, who the chapter revolved around, where the scene was taking place, where the scene would end up, in addition to the character motivations, events, and outcomes of that scene. What I didn’t have was what “living in the scene” gave me. Living in the scene is an extra way of imagining your scene. It can be accomplished through intense imagining of a scene which requires unwavering concentration. I had to close my eyes at times and interact with the characters to see how they moved and interacted with the environment around them. Acting out the scene (as quietly as I could or mentally) also became necessary during the intense final struggle of the book. There was a lot of emotion and a lot at stake and I really had to dig into all that which slowed the typical breakneck writing process of the month. I also had a unique creature at the end that I could only vaguely describe. I had words to describe it but they weren’t visceral enough so I took time out to draw the creature. It came out pretty good and all the words I needed came easily after.
So I guess what I didn’t account for was the importance of the setting and how it affected everything in the scene. The environment is a huge character and requires a huge amount of imagination. Conjuring that much detail is tiring and should be a part of the prewriting if possible, I think. If not you certainly can’t rush through building them, I know I couldn’t. Anyways I kept writing but my daily word count plunged significantly and then came the days that I didn’t write at all. Strangely though I didn’t feel guilty about my lack of writing like I normally did. I only sat back and played videogames, particularly Dark Souls. I didn’t even fret about it. I kept on like that for a week before I picked up my pen and paper or touched the Average Joe files on my computer. When I started writing again it flowed pretty well and I wrapped up the chapter I was working on much better than I expected. But my word count wasn’t anywhere close to where it needed to be. I felt that the story was definitely getting what it needed though and my ruminations felt natural. I didn’t feel the need to rush that process to finish the contest. NaNoWriMo was secondary and soon lost its significance altogether for me. I still had a desire in me to “win” but my desire to be at peace and enjoy life was much stronger for the month. So by the 20th of the month I knew I could pull another miracle like last year if I really tried but I had no desire to do so. I kept working on the book at a slow rate and by the end only mustered a little under 15,000 words. Utter failure for the contest.
The Phoenix Fails and But Considers What He’s Gained
So I knew it was over by the 20th day and my production had almost halted completely. After a ton of heavy research I managed to complete this difficult chapter I’d been working on that was a huge departure from the rest in terms of setting and characters. Now today on the 30th I am officially tapping out and preparing to post my final paltry word count before the contest even ends. But you know what—I’m okay with that. Like last year, I have gained a tremendous about of insight into what makes me tick as a writer. I’ve gained some invaluable tools in my writing process: like being able to live in a scene, using drawing to flesh out ideas and characters, and using (bad) acting to understand the physicality of the characters. These techniques were born out of desperation, coffee, and lack of sleep but they’re better than the alternatives. I plan to enter into next year’s NaNo but this time with much more powerful mental tools at my disposal. As for now I will continue to pluck away at my projects.
+Pick your NaNoWriMo project early. I was going to write a completely original novel for the contest but changed my mind at the last minute because I thought what I chose would be easier and would align with my business goals.
+Outline your ass off! Do it all year if you can. If you have separate projects just for NaNo do it as early as possible. Don’t just make a general outline, make a chapter outline as well. Make it as detailed as possible, you can always change it if you need to but those details help the writing flow a lot easier than coming up with them on the fly. October is a great month to outline as all of that research and those notes are fresh in your mind for November. Just be consistent with it.
+Remember that editing is its own step, its own process. Do your BEST to ensure that you’re not editing too much, you don’t want it to take too much time away from your writing.
+Try different techniques to visualize your novel, to see the action in your mind as you write. Practice early, preferably during the outlining process. Doing this can cut down on the changes you make mid-chapter. Most of my issues arose because I had no idea how something looked or how a “crafte” (magic) felt, sounded, or how it affected the environment.
+Write out a detailed description of your environment beforehand along with a list words to describe it. Admittedly I can’t even see myself doing this but I wish I did. If you can’t tell already I have the tendencies of both a “prepper” and a “pantser”.
-Don’t play lots of videogames. As a matter of fact, If you want to win unplug your XCubeStation 9 and have a loved one hide it. If you have self-control, hide it yourself and then hire a mentalist to make you forget where you put it because we all know that you don’t really have as much self-control as you think.
-Don’t wait for a muse. The act of writing itself helps get the creative juices flowing. I am always surprised at how quickly I can get going even when I reaaaaaaaaally don’t feel like writing.
-Don’t do anything I did this year. Basically all of my above tips amount to this.
So that’s my NaNoWriMo story this year, what’s yours? Comment and link to your blog if you have one so that I can read your NaNoWriMo stories. Thanks again for the browse and good luck next year!
My NaNoWriMo 2013
Part 2 ½