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.
- 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. ↩