I was turned onto NaNoWriMo by a colleague, who was challenging her Writers’ Workshop class to set a writing goal for November in the young adult division; she suggested I participate too, since she knows I love to write novels. I was ambivalent, at first, for two reasons: it occurs during a busy month (Thanksgiving and the month before Christmas– shopping time), and I would be looked upon to succeed because I had written novels before– the pressure was on.
Now, I’d never before written so intensely or routinely as I have over the past 25 days. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the momentum. I do have a process, which I needed to alter significantly in order to meet my 50k word goal within the time allotted. Normally, my process involves doing some preliminary work– some pretty detailed character sketches, a sketchy (at best) outline/plot. With NaNoWriMo, however, I needed to nearly quadruple the time spent on the brainstorming phase– not only would I need to brainstorm, I’d need to plan, even tediously plan because I couldn’t give into becoming stuck. I needed to have the foresight to also know what kind of research I’d be using because I wouldn’t have the time to stop what I was doing to spend on research. Luckily, and perhaps skillfully, I chose a topic that didn’t require as much research as my previous writings.
During my writing season, usually Spring & Summer, I write habitually, but not on a schedule, and, when I hit a block, I walk away for a couple of days in order to return refreshed. And, usually, that does the trick. Writing when I’m off from school enables me to write in the morning, my writing time. It’s the part of the day I feel most refreshed and creative. During school (November, when I’m waking at 5:30), I needed to find a new writing time, most often right after school and before dinner prep time. It didn’t turn out nearly as bad as I’d envisioned; perhaps, I just hadn’t given afternoon writing a chance.
Prior to this exercise, and I viewed the entire time as an experiment of sorts, I wrote with purpose, and I’d tediously read back what I’d written the day before, every day, editing as I went. If something wasn’t good, I’d scrap it, altogether. I’d become stuck in editing mode until I felt it was good writing before moving on, even if I was working on one chapter for days. For this exercise, I didn’t have the time to edit as I was going. Instead, I had to retrain myself to write through the crap. But what I learned was that, there will be crap, and there will be whole sections, when, upon completion, I feel thoroughly satisfied with how my writing turned out. I’ve been noting where I’ve written through in order for the purpose of moving my story forward, so I can go back at a later time to develop, alter or scrap it, altogether. I think these sections will pop out at me during editing, screaming at me to work on them.
From the start, I viewed this as a writing project versus writing a novel. I knew that I wanted to write something that wasn’t so inherently based on personal experience as what I’ve written in the past. I took this on, initially, as an exercise of moving outside my comfort zone. I chose a character who is unlike anyone I really know (perhaps very loosely based on a mixture of people I’ve heard about or read about or seen in movies)– but I wanted to see if I could develop someone who mostly came from my imagination. I also set out to create a situation for her that was made up– from start to finish. I have drawn upon what is opposite from what I know, or attempted to. In the writing, however, I found myself infusing aspects of my day and morphing them into something completely different. I questioned a lot, thinking well what if she reacted this way or that way– and often chose the more/most outlandish of the choices. Now, roughly two-thirds into what has shaped itself as a novel in the making, I’m finding that while the premise is completely based upon imagination, there are, in fact, facets of my reality that appear there. So, my original hypothesis, if you will, did not exactly come to pass; instead, I’ve realized, no matter how my characters are unlike me or anyone I know personally, or how the plot can be something I only remotely am familiar with, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, separate the writer from the writing. And, I’m okay with that.
Because writing has been a hobby for me, I’ve been writing for myself, primarily, for years. There have been a handful of occasions, that I’ve tried to publish my work, and once I even got really close, then I back away. So, because I haven’t been forced to meet deadlines, I’ve been working at my own pace. The only goals I’ve set are the goals for the content of my material. As far as a time frame is concerned, there has never been one for me. This project forced me to attain daily goals and ultimately big goals. The first being to thoroughly plan prior to November 1st, the second being the daily word count of 1,667 words or more per day, the third being reaching 50k words before November’s end, and now that I’ve accomplished all of those, my goal is to complete the first draft of my novel prior to the month’s end. A lofty goal, I know, and one that I may need to modify. But, if nothing else, I’ve learned that goal setting is something I can and, moreover, should adhere to because I want to take it to the next level by becoming a published author.
As an ad hoc member of the Writers’ Workshop community of writers, I was invited to participate in writing activities such as the Kick Off party and café dates, in addition to being a member of the group Facebook page. Writing this blog has also led me to making other acquaintances who have NaNo-writing in common which led me to belonging to another group Facebook page. Really, the last time I felt a sense of the writing community was when I was in college writing workshops (poetry and fiction). I’d forgotten what a force of support a writing community can be. What also feels good as a writer is having the ability to share my own experience/advice with others. For example, I told the student writers the best piece of advice I could give them was to never end a writing session at the end of something (a conversation, a chapter, an event or thought); always end in the middle, that way it gives you something to come back to which allows you to easily and fluidly settle into writing mode. It was so nice that, now 25 days in, one of the students thanked me, telling me how useful it’s been through this project for her. From herein, I will seek out a community of writers (whether it be fellow bloggers or tweeters or people in my physical world)– a writing tribe, of sorts.
Thank you, said-Colleague and NaNoWriMo and inspirers from many walks and my family/friend supporters (who monitored my progress often– because it made me feel like what I was doing matters). I took on this project with not a lot of expectations– certainly not with the expectations that really have proven to be useful and surprising results. I got so much more out of this project than anticipated, and I can only hope that is evidenced in what I produce as a result of it.