Lessons Learned – NanoWrimo 2010


I finished with NanoWrimo (National Novel Writer’s Month), crossing the 50,000 word goal on November 30th, chalking up 50,193 words total, and of the 200,530 participants, only 37,479 (18.6%) actually finished. Yay me, and I would be remiss if I did not kudos Twana, who blasted through like a hot knife through butter.

It was a brutal month and I knew it would be when I signed up. So what did I get for all the toil, trouble and inconvenience to my family? How has this helped me or my writing? What did I learn?

I’ve had a week to think about this and here is my list of Crap I learned doing NanoWrimo 2010.

I thought: I would write a fictionalized account of the experience my wife and I had adopting our son from Ukraine. This would be an easy thing to write about, and I could just remember the events and write them down. I thought it would be interesting.

I learned: I was wrong on all accounts. Because it was so true to life… it was boring. The first 15k words I put down were as dull as the day is long and I deeply despise that part. I learned that it’s ok to play with a ‘true’ story and tweak it for sake of keeping it interesting. I wound up introducing computer hackers, Russian Mafia and finally… sewer cannibals to keep the story interesting.

I thought: I need to complete several novels for the sake of experience. On the ‘Writing Excuses’ podcast, the three authors who host it once told how many novels they completed before they were actually published. One said six… another said twelve… still another said two. Steve Alten (Author of Meg and Grim Reaper) said he rewrote his first novel seven times, quit his job so he could focus on writing, sold his car to finance hiring a professional editor, and then shopped it around for another two years before it was finally picked up by a publisher.

I learned: My expectations were realistic. I wasn’t shooting for writing the Great American Novel. I just wanted to make it to the finish. I looked at the whole thing as an exercise, not an easy one, and I was quite correct. In short… writing one novel is practice, that’s all. I’ve now written drafts of two novels (Find my Baby and Life64), and by the experiences above, I have more to go before I am ready.

I thought: I was bored with my story and my characters. I had loaded it with facts about the adoption process and about the details of a home study, getting the legal papers done and so on. Snore.

I learned: I whined about this on W4A, and Karl said a simple truth: Then jump to the part that is interesting and start writing there. I haven’t properly thanked him for that bit of advice, so I will do it now. Thanks Karl. I was so immersed in the whole thing that I couldn’t figure that out for myself, so thank you for helping me see the way.

I thought: I love writing! I would never NOT want to write.

I learned: Even something I love doing can become work if I have a deadline to meet. It became work; a second job, and trust me, my real job is more than full time as it is.

I thought: I would always want to talk about my writing.

I learned: Sometimes, when the work is really rough, I don’t want to talk about it with anyone. My sister-in-law would ask, “how’s the story going?” Or someone would ask to read a part of the story. I absolutely avoided it at all costs in this case. “Sewer cannibals? Interesting…” they would say if I let a little slip. I hated it. I want to fix it, and then bore you to tears talking about it! Not before.

I thought: Nanowrimo would be a fantastic opportunity to grow myself as a writer. I likened it to running a marathon.

I learned: Nanowrimo was a pitch into the deep end of the pond; a sink or swim experience. I watched some folks around me go under the surface and never re-emerge. I watched others like Twana, fight alongside me, treading water. Most of all, I demonstrated to myself the wherewithal to be among the minority that finish.

Nanowrimo made me think and contemplate the truth of what it means to be A Writer. It does not mean I have arrived; far from it. But I think I have a sharper, more realistic grasp of the implications of being A Writer than I ever have. That is precious and unfortunately, not something that can be shared or explained, as it will be different for each person. 

Nanowrimo will be coming around again, next November. Think about it, eh?


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