Unfortunately, I will not be joining these legions because I barely hit the 30,000 word mark by December 1st. November turned into a hell of a busy month for me and Nano was just the icing on the busy-bee cake. I started off well, hitting my targets into the second week and then just ran out of energy.
How and ever, it was a brilliant experience and I would recommend that all aspiring writers try it at least once, if only to learn about what type of writer you are. To complete my short series on my NanoWriMo experience, below is a list of a few take home thoughts, which I hope will help to make me a better writer.
1) I can write much more and much faster than I previously believed:
This is probably the big thing that came out of the process for me. I always thought that I could not write quickly because I like to edit as I go. Yet, doing Nano I now see that I can hammer out 2000 words in a day. That said, I think that much of what came out during Nano (to paraphrase Truman Capote) not writing but typing.
2) Allowing myself to write freely made my characters richer in ways that surprised me:
Even though much of what I wrote on a day to day basis felt like ‘blah blah blah’, my characters tended to go in directions I did not plan or expect them to. For example, one of my main characters is Polish, but when I started writing the story I did not have much of a backstory for him. Simply by ploughing through the story, ‘he’ revealed to me that his father was a factory worker who had taken part in the 1980 uprisings in Gdansk. This was news to me. I hadn’t planned or outlined it but one afternoon as I was hacking at my word count, there it was. This has never happened to me before. I usually have a very good sense of where I want a story to go before I ever sit down to write but this was a revelation.
3) Outlines are not necessary but they sure do help:
I had a very brief outline prepared before I started NanoWriMo. This was deliberate. I’m a big planner and I wanted to see how I would fare without that safety net. In some ways it worked out well (see point 2 above) in others I found myself lost in a myriad of plot-holes and meandering thoughts, all of which felt like preamble to the actual story. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing but it dawned on me around week three that what I was writing during NanoWriMo was the draft before the first draft. There was a ‘lot’ of character development and exposition that I may not have written if I had just put together a full outline first. I know some people are ‘pansters’ who just sit down and start typing but I think (especially if I come back for more Nano action next year) that the outline is still my friend.
4) NanoWriMo is not the ideal outlet for a literary novel with a complicated structure:
If I made a mistake at all in planning for Nano it was the story I was attempting to tell. It is, essentially, a series of interlinking stories based on the theme of immigration. I had a brief outline for one of the stories, a general sense of the others and that’s about it. However, NanoWriMo is probably better suited to stories that have a classic narrative arc. This can form a skeleton on which you can fall back on and might make it easier to keep from running out of steam. I didn’t do this and closer to the end it became a problem.
So there you have it. Did you participate in Nano? Have I put you off ever trying it for yourself?