As promised, and I’m sure you are all nervous with anticipation, some general thoughts and reflections and musings on my NaNoWriMo experience.

First off, the 50,000 words came quite easily. I stuck close to the suggested daily word count, which worked for my rather open-ended story idea and daily schedule, but each time I sat down and focused on my story, I could pretty easily get 1000-1500 words knocked out in 30-45 minutes. One or two more brief sessions got me to the magic 1600-2000 word level for the day. It helped, of course, that I only had a basic idea for a story, wasn’t adhering to some rigid outline, and that my idea was loosely biographical. On the rare day when the words were tough to come by, I could just recall to another event that happened to me and turn that into a fictional scene. Basically they were fictionalized blog posts on those days.

I tried not to sweat the details. I had characters who I called different names at different parts in the story. I made illogical jumps in time and space. I began threads that I discarded and did not return to. My focus each time I sat down at the keyboard was to keep the cursor moving to the right with a wake of text behind it.1

I worried going in that this loose idea I had been playing around with for nearly a year would peter out at some point, and I’d find myself sitting at 23,000 words and having no idea how to progress. I didn’t come close to having that problem. In fact, had my focus been pushing forward with a legitimate first draft rather than just hitting my daily target, I can see this easily stretching to at least another 25,000 words. In a way, that’s heartening. The big stumbling block to writing a book for me has always been the idea of getting all those words out. In a 30-day exercise, I proved that I can do that.

Of course, what I wrote isn’t truly a novel. It’s an arbitrary number of words in an arbitrary number of days. There’s a big jump from that to getting something that I could confidently send it off to whoever it is that helps you get published. It does feel like I cleared a mental hurdle, though.

I have a couple friends who are novelists. One has been published once and has been working on a second novel for some time. Another has produced a couple decent manuscripts, at least decent enough to get an agent, but hasn’t had any luck getting picked up by a publisher. Both of them told me the key was to get the idea out. Don’t look back while you’re writing, just move forward. Take notes about a change you want to make to chapter one, but if you’re in chapter 13, stay there. When I first got that advice, it made a lot of sense but seemed unwieldy in practice. After going through this, though, it seems like the best path towards successfully putting together a first draft.

And that’s what I have: a clumsy first draft. Could I get to the end and then go back and clean it up? I suppose. If what I produced over the last month has a kernel within it could become a successful story, I think it would take a total restart, more planning ahead of time, and a better idea of where I wanted to go. It’s one thing to take a bunch of disparate memories from grade and middle school and write a story about a kid’s summer. It’s another to make that story coherent.

But I’m not sweating those details now. I just cranked out 50,000 words in a month and while I won’t compare the output to something a real author would do, I am pretty pleased with myself for getting through the process. If nothing else, I’ve learned that a modest investment in time and a little commitment can result in a large piece of text.

And no, you can’t read it. Sorry. I promise all my loyal blog readers will get a discounted copy of my first novel.

  1. One famous person, at least in geek circles, likes to call this making the clackity noise. But my modern keyboard is nearly silent, so as much as I like that description, it doesn’t quite fit my process.