The NaNo Experience

This was my first NaNo where I actually finished something.

I tried a bunch of times in high school and college. Every time I got about 20,000 words in and just lost interest, or got distracted, or wrote along at my own pace. Most of those books eventually got finished and then sort of forgotten, or I started re-writing halfway through.  I always sat back and told myself, “It’s fine. I didn’t really *try*. If I’d tried I would have kicked ass at it.  God, I’m awesome.  I’m just a great writer.”

Well, this year I got off my lazy ass and actually did it.  And I learned a lot.

50,200-ish words.  It was far less difficult than I’d thought it would be.  It was actually pretty manageable.  And the book I have now is the pinnacle of unfinished, it needs just massive amounts of work, but beneath all the edits I want to make there’s a lot of potential for a great read.  I’m proud.

There are a ton of articles out there that tell you what to do next after NaNoWriMo.  (Seriously, go read this excellent one by Chuck Wendig.)  I am still experiencing the whole “properly editing and publishing a book” thing for the first time, so I’m gonna stay away from that.   I’m taking the introspective route instead.

This is what I learned in NaNoWriMo 2014.

 

Potential doesn’t mean squat unless you live up to it.

This is a life lesson, really.  And I lied a little: this long-awaited lesson was part of my decision to do NaNo this year, not one I learned from it.  But it applies here so, so much.

The obvious connection: my book is a mess.  It’s supposed to be a mess.  It’s a mess I am going to clean up and polish and dress up nice until it’s ready for the shelves, but it’s a mess.  And it won’t stop being a mess unless I edit it.  Seriously, guys, go read that Chuck Wendig post: he gives some great advice on how to do this.

The less-obvious connection: I was a lazy-ass teenager.  I mean, really lazy.  The first couple years I did this, I sat down, wrote a little, and then patted myself on the back for all the hard work I could have done.  And there are a ton of posts out there telling you that if you didn’t win or finish or whatever, that’s OK, keep going.  That is awesome advice, provided you don’t stop listening after “that’s OK”.  Because it’s fine if you didn’t write your book in a month, as long as you actually write your book.

 

Set your goals.  Meet them.  Whatever they may be.

 

If you don’t, don’t beat yourself up: try again. 

I think this is the fifth or sixth year I’ve actually tried NaNo.  It’s the first year I’ve won.

I’m also pretty sure this is the fourth or fifth blog I’ve started.  It’s the first one that didn’t die in a week.

You see where I’m going with this: just because you didn’t achieve what you wanted to doesn’t mean you won’t in the future.

 

Schedule.

Everyone always says that if you want to be a writer, work your schedule so you write every day.  This is excellent advice.  NaNoWriMo is the best time to do that.  You have a set daily goal. You have a deadline.  You have a set ultimate goal.

It gets you in the habit.

And once you have that habit, don’t stop: write something else every day for a while, and then use that set-aside time to sit down and edit.

 

Chill the hell out.

You cannot take yourself seriously.  You just can’t.  You’re not going to write something beautiful and flowing and worthy of becoming part of the literary canon on your first draft.  Check out a couple of the early draft pages in this exhibit: even works that did make the literary canon didn’t necessarily start out as brilliant.

 

Don’t give up.

An anecdote.

I fell behind on Thursday.  I’d hit my word count every day up until Thanksgiving, and then I was charged with making mashed potatoes, four loaves of bread, two pats of home-made butter, and actually being social for two nights and a day.  (Side note: this is my favorite holiday ever.)  No big deal, actually, by Thursday night I was only a thousand words down.  But that evening I slept funny, and Friday day I spent three hours in a car with a sore neck.

The result kicked my 23-years-ancient self’s ass all weekend.  I was flat on my back in a CVS neckbrace until Sunday night (and I’m still wearing it when I drive).  Friday evening I broke down crying in my room, alone, because I had 44,500 words and I was convinced I was in too much pain to make it that last 5,500.  I felt my teenage self rise up inside me: “It’s ok, you totally could have done it! This story is awesome, it doesn’t matter if you hit the deadline!”

Except I know I can write a book. I’ve written tons: I wrote five full books before I hit high school.  The deadline– producing regular content on a schedule– has been my big goal this year.  And I worked so hard.  So the thought that I wouldn’t hit that mark was, in that moment, pretty devastating.

Saturday I got up and hit 48k, and Sunday morning I hit (and validated) 50.

It seems like my entire life has felt like last Friday night lately.  My 2014 hasn’t been the roughest out of my social circle, but it’s been a pretty shitty year.  Most of the stability I’ve built my life on crumbled, or is in the process of crumbling, and there’s not much I can do about it.

But it’s December. We have one month left in the year.

I– and everyone else who’s had a horrible year– can push through to the end.  And we can come out of it with something amazing.

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